Baltimore’s Beach House first appeared in 2006 with their self-titled debut, a gorgeous collection of dizzying songs built around Victoria Legrand’s awash-with-reverb harmonies, church-style organ and Alex Scally’s languidly strummed guitar. It was their style and approach, reminiscent of Mazzy Star, Yo La Tengo and This Mortal Coil, that found favour with a like-minded audience. With their sophomore release, Devotion and follow-up Teen Dream, Beach House have retained the same essence and appeal that made their debut such a captivating listen, but pushing themselves beyond the realms of peer and influence to create a body of work that stands on its own.
Recently touring Australia and appearing as part of the travelling Laneway Festival, Chris Berkley caught up with Victoria and Alex of Beach House to talk about their gradual rise, and amongst other things, how to keep cheese out of the live set.
It’s nice to play those big outdoor venues and I guess it makes quite a change to the last time that Beach House were here, those shows for Devotion were so intimate.
Are you coping okay with the big venues?
Victoria: I think we are, I mean it was two and half years ago that we were last here and a lot happens in a year. I think we have definitely made a lot of adjustments and gotten used to playing quite large shows. But we also still really like the intimate shows that we play, like we played one at Mullumbimby.
I mean it’s not just something that’s happened in Sydney, it’s been a worldwide thing for Beach House I guess, in the twelve months since Teen Dream came out you’ve been doing these bigger shows and having probably more rapturous fans. Is that something that you guys saw coming?
Alex: We’ve toured the US maybe eight times and Europe six times and every single tour they’ve been bigger shows and we’ve tried harder to change our show. It’s been really steady. It wasn’t an over night thing, it’s been a very, very natural growth and you know it is still really fun to play intimate shows, but it kind of is better for us now to play to six hundred people than three hundred, it’s almost like the songs mean more in a bigger space, really loud. There’s something about the growth that has been completely natural, it’s not like we’re doing what we were doing three years ago but for some reason we’re now in front of twelve hundred people. They go hand in hand with one another, the songs have got bigger so the crowds have got bigger.
And you both coped okay?
Victoria: I think we’re both coping. It’s not even coping, it’s we’re lucky to be doing what we’re doing and we’re enjoying it. It’s extremely miraculous to be able to be on this continent.
Is that something you have asked yourselves, “Why?”. I mean obviously apart from your tremendous talent, is it something that you guys have sat around and talked about?
Alex: No, we’ve been doing this for six years now and I don’t think at any point we looked back and wondered why. We love making music and the goal has always been to play it and enjoy it and do it well and to get better and that’s what we’ve been doing.
Victoria: I think working and trying to constantly improve. I agree with Alex, I think that is the key to our focus.
Alex: I mean you always want to experience new things so if we were still playing in two hundred person places, that wouldn’t be bad but it wouldn’t be new for sure.
Have you felt yourself especially Victoria, you’ve had to grow into this role of being the front woman, are you’re making bigger moves on stage. I’ve noticed there is more hair swirling going on!
Victoria: All the physicality of it has been like as the music and as the size of the audience has sort of fed each other back and forth, I think the physicality of it is also back and forth with the music. I always think of our live show though as an entity so it’s not just my hair, or it’s the three of us, it’s Dan, it’s Alex, it’s all the bodies moving in space through the dark, through the lights, through the shapes that we bring with us, so it’s all about composition really. I think that’s a part of Beach House, it’s a contained wildness and it’s not like a Florence and the Machine – get out and do some cheesy hand clapping thing – I don’t think that’s ever going to be part of Beach House.
Alex: We’re never going to do audience participation.
Alex: I just think that that’s the silliest stupidest thing, I guess for some things it makes complete sense, but when it’s forced it’s one of the most cringey moments.
You’re doing “Hello Cleveland” and stuff like that now?
Victoria: Yeah, “Hello Sydney!” I think it’s interesting to think of the idea of a front person because you’re not, you’re an entity, you just happen to be a person that’s in the middle who may just happen to be looked at a little bit more but really you’re all functioning, you need each other.
Alex: It’s the voice though, the voice is how everybody connects to music and it’s the centre point.
Victoria: Yeah, but you see what I mean, it’s never going to be that all of a sudden I leap forward and I start trying to be Kate Bush or something.
I’m interested in this stuff because it seems that Beach House is one of those bands where the two of you from the start created this private universe which is what Beach House feels like it was about, I mean even for the recording of Teen Dream, the pair of you went away to that church in upstate New York with Chris Coady to make the record, are you still reasonably protective of the way you go about your stuff?
Victoria: I would say yes we are extremely protective, we’re hyper aware of the things that could possibly damage a universe that is extremely important, it can be very fragile and it’s the thing that feeds the entity – The Beach House.
It’s also that thing you were saying Alex, like with the shows you want to do bigger shows every time round, I guess you don’t want to make the same album every time around either, do you?
Alex: It’s not bigger, it’s for instance we took an immense amount of care putting this record together and I don’t mean to say this in a snooty way but larger venues have really nice systems and really good things and you can do really precise quality work and I think that that is a big thing, we’re growing artistically so everything has to go up. It’s not just “bigger is better”. We don’t want to get into an arena where everything sounds like shit, we want everything to be pristine and perfect and have the right feeling and have the right sound. So that’s what it’s more about, knowing exactly what you want and knowing how to get it. We also don’t like huge venues so I think there’s a huge part of us that is set that wants to keep….like you can still have an insanely close experience with a thousand people, but it’s all about choosing the right venues talking to anyone booking you and say we don’t want to play this kind of place and making sure, we don’t ever want to lose that intimacy, we don’t ever want to lose the feeling of feeling really connected to the music. I don’t think we ever want to make pop songs and just slam them out, get a bunch of Gatorade commercials!
Victoria: Bigger is fine as long as it’s done with care and I think when there is a lot of great care then you can have that intimate experience with twelve hundred people because it resonates it’s like when you make a record or a song and you put a lot of care in every moment I think that that energy hopefully is, not reciprocated, but it reverberates.
Have you both sort of had to keep an eye on each other as well, I mean how is your relationship? I would like to think that a song like “Take Care” could almost be about the pair of you in terms of making sure that each others alright the bigger the band gets and the more intrusions that come along to Beach House.
Alex: I think we are a whole touring family, there’s a core of four of us but then some tours will have six people just helping out and doing tour managing and whatever, but we always keep it very, very family like, everybody helps with everything, everyone takes care of one another.
No one who doesn’t have the secret handshake is in?
Alex: Yeah exactly! But it has to be about love and it has to be caring, it can’t be just do your job, that can’t be what this is about for us.
Victoria: It’s not quite secret handshake, but it kind of is because there are a lot of people that you come across and you brush by, but I think that there are few people that you can actually feel something with, feel protected by or feel safe with.
So with all this touring that you guys have the last twelve months how much have you been thinking about album number four, Alex, have you mapped it out?
Alex: I think about it almost constantly (laughs) because for me touring can be really hard but one of the best things about touring for us has always been that when you play your old songs hundreds of times you know what you never want to do again and you get really excited to be playing things that aren’t those songs so like that again we’re thinking a lot about it all the time we have tons of songs already started and as soon as we get back from this trip it’s going to be full on so we’re extremely excited about it.
It must be exciting to be getting off the road.
Victoria: Yeah, and then it’ll be exciting to get back on the road with a new world.
Transcription: Caleb Rudd
Photos: Matt Palmer (from the Brisbane Laneway 2011 festival)
Interview broadcast on Static on 27/01/11. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).