It’s been a long day for Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand. Despite the pretty surroundings of a Shoreditch tea shop, there’s only so much Earl Grey and cloudy apple juice one can drink, only so many comments about the twee paraphernalia of floral china cups and granny-knitted throws. But, even after hours of chatting about Beach House’s fourth record, ‘Bloom’, the Baltimore-based musical partners remain deeply committed to their cause, their latest work and their album ethos. They are passionate, intelligent, maybe even intellectual about music. They have experienced, lived, the epitome of musical obsession, recalling tales of delving through vinyl singles in their local record stores and hording their finds like long lost treasure. They are angered that the thought that this kind of record hunting rarely exists these days, especially in the younger generation.
“Children are so greedy today,” Alex exclaims, tall and bird-like with a sense of venom in his remark. “They brag about having ten thousand tracks in their iTunes, but they probably don’t listen to even two hundred of them.”
This definition of success by quantity, gluttony, gets into Alex’s bones and is shared by Victoria.
“It’s harder to keep things special and personal,” she adds. “Everyone has access to everything, which means there’s hardly any time to have that one special thing, to keep it to yourself.”
Alex admits that the duo “fantasise about people listening to us in secret” as he remembers his own childhood of nabbing the latest seven-inch and relishing his first, solo listen, despite the fact he’s only twenty-nine and cassettes and CDs were probably more common.
It’s the usual frustrations from musical artists – that the shuffle culture is killing the art of the album. It’s a battle that Beach House have been fighting since their first self-titled album in 2006, but probably didn’t realise they were in the midst of until the success of 2010’s ‘Teen Dream’.
“We’re institutional as artists,” Victoria says, stern and serious. “We follow what we love. The end result has many sides to it and we can’t control that outcome. I’d be surprised if someone like Katy Perry liked our music. Can you imagine her saying she loved ‘Teen Dream’? The majority of music isn’t art any more.”
“There was a time when pop music would achieve artistry,” Alex adds. “But then everything became some kind of epic Eurotrash.”
But Beach House, the modern mothers of dream pop, have done pretty well for themselves in terms of recognition, making it to the “top of the charts”, albeit seventh in the US vinyl charts. “That probably makes us the seven-thousandth record in the US Billboard,” Alex says humbly as he gathers his oversized jacket to make for a minicab to the Eurostar, heading on to yet another city, walking and talking to save time.
Every album has been critically acclaimed and they are loved by the likes of musical royalty, Beyonce and Jay-Z. They’ve even had their tunes on adverts, which seems like a giant leap in the opposite direction of protecting your songs from the shufflers, although they say they have very strict guidelines on what their music can be used for (‘Ten Mile Stereo’ was used on the Guinness Dark Life advert in 2010, which is fine because everyone loves Guinness and everyone loves a Guinness advert!).
‘Bloom’ is bound to be no different. It’s rich and glossy, poppy, but psychedelic. Its harmonies and fuzz are lush and euphoric. It has been meticulously planned and its sound honed by producer superstar Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Santigold, TV On The Radio and ‘Teen Dream’) over seven weeks at Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, Texas, and Electric Lady in New York.
‘Bloom’ prides itself on being an album’s album, a collection of songs that flow together with a bit of “uncontrollable chaos”, as Victoria puts it. The duo say it’s a step away from the mundane three-minute pop song dominating music and even their former stuff, which Alex admits they started to find boring.
“‘Teen Dream’ was full of colours, but our music is always evolving and changing. It’s too laborious to go back to chorus and verse. I don’t ever listen to ‘Teen Dream’. For me, it’s a place in time and we’re grateful for it. It’s not ‘to hell with that one’. It’s just not what we’re doing anymore.”
But ‘Bloom’ actually remains rooted in pop, with touches of everything from French sunshine pop of the ’50s and ’60s to the simplistic electro beats of the ’80s, all mixed with homage to the dreamy sound of The Zombies and the surrealness of Animal Collective.
Dark moments appear on ‘Bloom’, described as focusing on the themes of death and revival, but the band don’t think it’s so easy to judge.
Without giving so much away as a look of acknowledgment on the idea of baring the stories or reasons behind the songs, written mainly during the ‘Teen Dream’ tour, Victoria denies it’s anything to do with the cycle of life.
“It’s not a concept album and nothing to do with spring, despite the name and its release date,” she firmly says. “Our albums have always been about our lives, and our lives are just touring, putting energy into our shows and coming back to Baltimore. We did a hundred and eighty shows, then we started writing ‘Bloom’. We had more than twenty or so songs, which we whittled down to ten during a stay in Texas. We started playing with the sound and the energy of the album, the size and nature of the songs, and we found there was more narrative in this one than the others. But the thematic mood can’t be summed up in two or three words – it’s not just life or death.”
With the words “I refuse to divulge what they’re about”, it’s clear that ‘Bloom’ is to be whatever its listener wants it to be. Alex says it’s about a journey, their journey, and that every Beach House album has influenced the next, but to be honest, they just want it to be a clean slate of a dream pop record that will whisk its owner into whatever dream state they want.
The most important thing for Beach House is that the listener listens to the whole album.
“There was a time when records were exciting,” says Victoria, staring out of the cab window as we rush to make their Brussels-bound train. “You’d go into your record store, hunt for what you wanted and, when you found it, you kept it to yourself.”
“That’s what we’re obsessed with – finding music,” Alex interrupts. “You find music and you feel it’s important to you and it’s important in your life. That’s our goal and that’s all we’ll ever ask for.”
Collaborations, famous fans, chart positions, global adverts, it’s all meaningless to Beach House if their album is chopped and shaped like a chicken kiev. A music lover who buys the album, preferably on vinyl, keeps it to themselves, listens to every track every time and relishes the journey it takes them on – that is success.
Words by Gemma Hampson
This interview appears in the July 2012 issue of Clash magazine, out now.
Find out more about the issue HERE and subscribe to Clash magazine HERE.