Beach House: “Nostalgia is dangerous. There was a lot about ‘00s indie that sucked”
The dream-pop duo have weathered fickle tastes and emerged with the innovative ‘Once Twice Melody’. “This is the most all-consuming album we’ve ever worked on,” they tell Rhys Buchanan
Main image credit: David Belisle
Beach House have proved masters of the immersive over their eight-album journey so far. From their earnest dream-pop beginnings in the mid-’00s – when Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally met on the Baltimore alternative scene – to the magical breakthrough of 2010’s ‘Teen Dream’ and the expansive beauty of 2015’s ‘Depression Cherry’, they’ve always been a band of gentle progression rather than grand reinvention.
The pair had pulled the formula to its most outward-looking with 2018’s full-length record ‘7’. This was the era in which #MeToo’ movement went global, and the weight of such dialogues naturally crept into the process. They said at the time in the album’s accompanying statement: “The discussions surrounding women’s issues were a constant source of inspiration and questioning.” It resulted in their heaviest sound to date, veiled in a dense darkness alongside their hallmarks of romance and glamour.
The pandemic saw the band channel personal strife once again for their eighth album ‘Once Twice Melody’, due out next month (February 18). Though they’d started writing pre-lockdown, circumstances came as a green light for them to fully lose themselves in the process. When NME calls the notoriously press-shy pair for a rare interview from their Baltimore studio and rehearsal space, Legrand says the set of circumstances pushed their energy inwards: “It definitely felt like more of an internal, emotional and fantastical world in terms of the desires and where I consistently felt I was gravitating.”
It was a case of being stimulated by all the emotion and realities of the new world, Beach House connecting with nature and yearning for human contact, she adds: “Those places were constantly triggered or stimulated over the last three years every time we went to work on something.”
The band’s sweeping textures and soothing synths have often felt like an escape hatch from all of life’s problems. Given that the past two years have presented one of the most confusing and challenging times for us all, do they feel like their music is about tuning out of those grim realities of the world? “I think we’d be lying if we denied that,” replies Scally.
Legrand believes creating in itself has vital through these times: “It’s innately built into us humans that to create is to live – not just in creating life, but creating ideas, creating things, building things, designing things, painting things; that’s a sign of life.” She’s keen to point out that Beach House’s music is “not just escapism; it’s something else too.” Scally agrees the word ‘escapism’ alone can be misleading. “I think there’s a connotation that you’re not dealing with reality. I think there are times when fantasy is the best way to deal with reality; [it’s] almost the most responsible way.”
‘once Twice Melody’ is the band’s wildest fantasy yet. A double album of 18 tracks structured in four chapters, it offers you the chance to lose yourself in all its magic and wonder, much like the band did over its three-year creation.
Legrand says that nature played a profound part in the magical unfolding of the listen: “We’ve always been into natural elements, things occurring naturally, creating things out of moments and following them like a path. Those elements haven’t changed in the way we discover and build things. I think it’s increased, throughout the record, there’s a lot alluding to its sacredness and power.”
Though it’s their most all-consuming undertaking to date, the record is unmistakably Beach House. In tweaking their own acquired taste of a trademark sound over the years, the duo have found cult fame rather than celebrity. “It never seemed like a choice that we made,” Scally says. “It’s just the way it is.” He adds, with a chuckle, his own theory as to why they never became household names: “We’re not cool enough.”
Whenever the band have risked becoming a bigger beast, they’ve always managed to gently pull it back, more intent on serving the art than their own status. 2012’s genre-defining masterpiece ‘Bloom’ saw them play one of their biggest headline shows at the 5,000-capacity Rumsey Playfield in New York’s Central Park – a rite of passage for many en route to global stardom – but a dramatic thunderstorm dampened the moment.
Legrand says that the freak natural event contributed to them scaling down the operation. “This rain came and we couldn’t be outside with our friends and families. It felt like a big show, but it also felt like, ‘Shit – it’s Mother Nature putting a big hand down on the celebration. I think it’s a bit of destiny: every time we’ve gotten to a point where it could feel like we’re about to explode or something, it just doesn’t.”
“We naturally step away from things that don’t feel right to us,” adds Scally. “After that, we went against super-large venues. We did a whole cycle where we barely played above 1,500 people, even if it meant we had to play four shows in a city.” They took the step up when they felt ready. “We spent two years like that then we went back to bigger venues when we knew how to handle it and felt comfortable.”
Given that Beach House have also gently evolved their sound through the years, do they attribute steady growth to their longevity? “It’s hard to tell because we’re on the inside and it’s all been incredibly natural for us,” muses Scally. “There’s not much thought to it. We start creating, this is what comes out and this is the pace that it’s changing.”
Legrand picks up the thread: “We also forget what everything was like before, almost as some subconscious survival thing. To start anew or keep feeling that innocence, you have to innately forget what it was like before so you can move forward. Adults still have their children inside of them, it’s just that everybody has a different size because life beats it down, you lose it or you’re damaged and it’s traumatized. For whatever reason, we seem to keep that little playful thing intact and maybe that’s part of it too.”
With ‘Once Twice Melody’, Beach House have reached a position where they can be at their most playful. Perhaps counterintuitively, they’ve become more independent with each success. For the album, the band had almost complete autonomy, taking on production duties themselves and working largely out of their own studio space. Legrand says that level of freedom brought about its own challenges and complexities.
“[This album] kept demanding more thought and inspiration… Hopefully it makes for something beautiful” – Victoria Legrand
“We became so fully submerged in this universe. This was the most all-consuming album that we’ve ever worked on,” she explains. “By far this was the most intense: we felt like life was rife and we felt completely consumed in our art. There were dangerous elements to it, there were beautiful elements to it – I feel like it was a very challenging album in many ways.” It demanded a lot of the band. “To see it through and it was very damaging. It’s kind of like when someone has a baby and they’re like, ‘That’s the last baby – I am fucked up.’”
It’s a risk coming out with something of such great proportions – but it wasn’t always going to be that way. “I feel like this record in so many ways was such a creative Katamari Damacy ball,” she says, referencing the iconic Namco videogame where a magical ball rolls around picking up everything in its path. “It kept demanding more thought and inspiration. Complete freedom comes at a cost; it’s almost madness when you have that much control. With it being just the two of us, it made everything more intense, the danger, the difficulty. Hopefully it makes for something beautiful.”
Needless to say, the band are excited to take it out on the road later in 2022. “We’ve always loved touring,” says Scally. “It’s terrifying and exhilarating; it’s a proving ground. We miss people terribly, not even in the sense of an audience or fans but just people. Strangers are wonderful; humans are wonderful. If you stop thinking that, you’ve stopped living.”
“That sentiment is on the album, too,” Legrand adds. “It will be challenging but hopefully a wonderful reminder of it. It’s where flesh, bone and blood come together, it has to happen, we’ll go out and feel alive, that’s what music is.”
A lot has changed since Beach House first burst onto the scene in the late 2000s. The likes of Kings Of Leon had just kicked open a door for indie and gone mainstream, leaving pathways for weird and wonderful alternative forces to flood through the gap – see Dirty Projectors and Yeasayer, who were further propelled by then-massive indie blogs such as Stereogum and Hipster Runoff. ‘Bloom’ will celebrate its 10-year anniversary in May. Do Beach House remember the era fondly?
“History is full of these crazy sea-changes in music,” says Scally. “There was definitely an explosion around the internet between 2000 and 2010 and it felt really exciting because it felt like the press wasn’t coming from a broadcast place; it was coming up from the ground and bloggers represented that.
“It felt like more people were getting pieces of the pie because a band could come up, put stuff on MySpace and get signed; they didn’t have to go through some channel of power. That was really exciting – like, ‘Maybe the major label thing is breaking.’ All of those things are still surviving to this day but, obviously, corporations have wrestled back control of music.”
“Strangers are wonderful; Humans are wonderful. If you stop thinking that, you’ve stopped living” – Alex Scally
“I think nostalgia is dangerous, though,” Legrand adds. “There were a lot of things that sucked about it too – every band was still just dudes; there’s gains and losses with every change.” Yet she admits it’s fascinating to look back on. “The thing I miss the most is hanging out with bands at festivals. That’s also partly down to the world we live in now… A huge part of living is being with people and sharing music, stories and laughs.”
From their outset, Beach House never saw themselves completely ripping up their formula – it was about taking it one step at a time. “There was never any future, except the next day, we’ve always just put one foot in front of the other and we’re incredibly grateful to still be standing,” says Scally. Legrand jumps in: “We’ve enjoyed the journey and all the experiences, even the ones that were intense, you’ve got to make the most out of what you’ve got and see where you end up. That’s how we’ve been rolling.”
There’s no doubt about it: Beach House aren’t just survivors from that period but also winners. When we ask if there’s a pride to reach such a place on their own terms, there’s scope for modesty. “We’re proud and lucky, incredibly lucky,” says Legrand before Scally agrees. “We worked hard and made good decisions, but you can’t discount luck and fortune in anything.”
It makes sense, then, that a ‘seize the day’ mentality has pulled them through the pandemic and helped them emerge with’ Once Twice Melody’, one of their biggest triumphs to date. As Scally puts it: “In times of uncertainty which is an increasing feeling for young people – all you can really hold onto is what you make out of every day. That’s what we’re praising and adoring.
“With this record, there’s an energy of the here tonight then gone forever, this grasp it and really hold on to it, make the most out of it. That is our solace, that is our flame and I can’t see it any other way.”
– ‘Once Twice Melody’ is out on February 18 via Sub Pop