Columbia City Paper shoots the breeze with Victoria Legrand of Beach House about their new album- Bloom, intense touring schedules, timeless songwriting, and of course- Lana Del Rey.
VL: How’s the weather?
FR: There was a cold snap here today. All of a sudden things went from 75 degrees to 55 overnight.
VL: Same here. Alex is building our stage design out back. I’m actually at his house. He’s working outside and I’m inside. It’s drizzling. What a bummer.
FR: Yeah. I’m really regretting not wearing socks today. But y’know…
VL: Well, maybe that’s good in a way. Is it raining?
FR: No, it’s really nice outside. It doesn’t make any sense. Anyway, let’s get started. I’ve been listening to Bloom a lot. It definitely feels like a Beach House album- but, to me, a different shade of you guys, but still part of the same organism. How do you think it compares to your earlier work?
VL: I don’t really like to compare records. It’s a hard thing to do. It’s totally a matter of opinion. As a person on the inside of every detail, I like to think that the core of Beach House or whatever makes Beach House what it is, it’s going to be different every time. But the core of what we do stays the same, how we work together, how passionate we are about stuff, how exacting we’ve become. A lot of things have stayed the same but a lot of things have developed, matured, and evolved. So on that level, I don’t think it’s like the past but we all quite naturally grow off one another. I could go into detail about what point in the process this starts happening but usually we start going in a new direction immediately after recording an album.
FR: Before I even heard the album or “Myth”, I was immediately won over by the artwork. To me, it calls to mind this conflicting imagery of intense, fluorescent lighting as well as soothing ambience. How did that come about?
VL: I think this time with our art for the LP, CDs, posters, things like that- we were trying to go for more of a unified vision, a unified feeling. That image with the lights and the other four images in the artwork are all images that were taken spontaneously throughout our lives- whether it was on a cell phone or whatever. It’s not trying to be high art or mind-blowing. A lot of the things we do and love are based on a feeling. So it was a moment in time and looking back on it for us, it absolutely resonated with the music. I think we kind of work abstractly as well. It’s the same thing with titling records- a word has a certain vibe to it and to us it makes sense and it stays with us and it sticks around. This image, and the other images inside the album art, have that same feeling. For us, it’s a feeling and a moment and it doesn’t go more analytical than that and I think that translates to the viewer or listener. Obviously, what you said, I wouldn’t argue with that.
FR: Teen Dream had a really intense touring schedule. I think it was something like 64 dates in 17 countries. With more shows approaching, how do you guys prepare for such a rigorous schedule?
VL: For Teen Dream, we did about 180 shows and that’s like a school year. I think that more than that can be kind of destructive. I have some friends who have done like 200 shows and they seem absolutley fried. We’ll play a lot of shows this year but we’ve so far scheduled things in a way- here’s the thing about experiences, you get better about durations of time, what you want to do, what you’re capable of doing, how you can bring the best show. You don’t want to fly in and fly out of places because you can’t do production. We’ve been rehearsing a lot here in Baltimore at our practice space and getting prepared stage-wise and show-wise. I was talking earlier about building and getting merchandise together and all kinds of special things and doing all that detail work, it takes up a lot of our time. That’s how we get ready to tour. We try to get some rest- but it’s this really enjoyable, militaristic lifestyle when you’re actually touring. We really love it- the process of getting to the city and then basically building the stage that day and then you get to play the show. All of the energy you have, the goal is the show itself. It’s been about six months and we’re all really excited to be back on the road. This is the longest we’ve ever not toured since we’ve been in a band and we’ve been playing since 2005. Before we had gone one to three months max without playing shows- so we’re ready. Well, we’re ready as we’ll ever be. The first couple of shows will be getting used to the setlist, working things out, and making sure the rhythm of the show is as effective as it can be.
FR: Do you have a favorite place to play?
VL: In the world?
FR: In the world.
VL: Well, it’s hard to say because there are a lot of places I’ve enjoyed playing. I have to say, on a general note, the type of places we love to play are smaller, close shows. The ideal size is nothing bigger than 1200. Obviously anything smaller than that will be an intimate show and anything bigger than that will be a huge show- it will be harder for some people to see stuff, it’s not the ideal situation for us. I definitley love going down south and I’m not just saying that to please anybody. I really, genuinely have this sort of same pull like when you’re heading west. It’s almost feels like magnetically the west is calling. There’s something that happens when you’re heading down 95 and you get past that nightmare of a traffic zone. But once you get free of that, it really feels like a different world. I feel like Baltimore is a total mix of the south and the north. It has that sense of being messed up, downtrodden, dark, y’know? But it doesn’t have the speed thing that New York has or Philadelphia tries to have. So I feel like the further south I go, the happier I get. But yeah, the south- there have been a lot of amazing venues you wouldn’t expect to really like. It doesn’t have to be this high quality place. It can be a shithole. A lot of those factors… that’s what we love about touring, it’s totally different every day and a lot of unexpected things can happen. It’s really great.
FR: As far as characterizing Baltimore, when I think of popular things to come out of Baltimore- I think of Beach House, I think of Cal Ripken, and I think of HBO's The Wire. Have you ever seen The Wire?
VL: I’ve only seen a few episodes of it. So I’m not a loyal Wire-watcher. But maybe on tour…
FR: Maybe so. Getting back to the music, “Myth” is a pretty flooring lead single. Can you tell me how that came about? I think it’s really interesting- the album is called Bloom, it’s coming out in May, but every time I hear “Myth”, I get a snowflake vibe.
VL: I think an important feeling for us, and this is something we will try to create live as well, is a sense of timelessness. A sense that when you’re experiencing the album or when you’re at a show or even for ourselves, it’s important that we don’t feel that since the album comes out in Spring, it has anything to do with Springtime. The album title and the time of year it’s come out are two things that weren’t meant to be on purpose. In a boring way, putting it out in May is the soonest we can put it out and it being called Bloom, we weren’t thinking “Oh yea, it’ll be a Spring record”. For us, it’s a lot bigger than that and that’s why I think the timelessness is important. You were talking earlier about the artwork and I think it’s important that you do not feel like you’re in a literal, specific place. You could be in an atmospheric place in your mind or imagination and I think, for us, that’s the ultimate direction with the titles and songs. These songs, in a way, a lot of them are journeys. And,in general, with all music, I think that’s the effect it has on people. Something is speaking to you, calling to you, and it’s taking you someplace else. So we hope that maybe people can see beyond literal connections and go a little bit deeper than that and more abstract instead of “Spring. Flowers…” It can be that for some people but I know, as an artist, it’s not what it’s about. It’s an experience from beginning to end.
FR: In the past, you've worked with the guys in Grizzly Bear.
VL: Years ago. Yeah.
FR: You collaborated on “Two Weeks” as well as the Twilight song. Will there be any more collaborations in the future? What was it like working with those guys?
VL: I have no collaborations planned for right now because my focus, as usual, is on Beach House. That’s the most important thing for me and Alex, our dedication to Beach House. It’s kind of hard to remember what it was like working with them. They’re really nice guys and it was really easy and it happened really quickly. But I don’t have anything planned right now. I have plenty on my plate.
FR: Music now is available in a variety of formats. You have digital downloads, CDs, vinyl of course, and even cassette tapes are making a modest comeback. What is your favorite listening format for music and on which do you think Beach House sounds best?
VL: For me, personally, I listen to tapes on a walkman that I connect to my stereo- and I listen to vinyl. For me, the order is tape, vinyl, then digital files. If I really desperately want to hear something, I buy it and listen to the mp3. But that’s when I really want something right away and I don’t have it. For me, I really like the physical, tangible music. I like albums. I like looking at old vinyl. With new vinyl, I usually think the packaging is pretty awesome. I think it’s something that’s extremely classic and should never go away. I don’t think it’ll ever go out of style. I just think it’s something that got maybe put on the side because people got so impressed with CDs and mp3s. In the end, though, vinyl is the most durable and the best sounding for most albums. Also, we recorded our last two albums, including this one, on two-inch tape. I think that we are audio-philes. Alex is probably more of one than I am but we both have an idea of production for Beach House. Tape can really create incredible feelings with sound and a computer cannot replicate warmth or this flow that a record player can. Like a Gene Clark record, my dad gave me a copy of that on vinyl and it’s kind of hard to find. But that’s even better too when you find something that’s handed down to you from your dad or your uncle when he says “Here’s a stack of records!”. It becomes really meaningful. It’s like someone giving you a book or a memory. It’s hard to give someone an mp3 and be like, “Here’s this mp3 that I clicked on for five seconds of my life… it really meant a lot to me..” It’s good for sharing. Music sharing is an amazing thing that humans do. And if you want to make a mix tape or a playlist, that’s awesome. I just think that for me the experience is taking time out for yourself. Putting an album on, cracking a beer, or not cracking a beer and taking like an hour. If you can spend an hour on Facebook, you can spend an hour listening to a record. It’ll make you feel a lot better.
FR: So the music scene has really gone sideways in the past ten years from Napster to iTunes to Spotify. The way people listen to music has changed and we touched on that a bit already. But where do you see the music scene going in the next ten years?
VL: I hope that we find some sort of equilibrium. The way things have accelerated for me in the past six years… ten years for me feels like a different era. We’re lucky because when we started putting our music on the internet in 2006, it was still a pretty innocent time. MySpace was still a place where bands felt was exciting because people were liking their music. There was still an innocence. But in the last six years, it’s accelerated to a point where I can only see it spinning out of control. I think there is an end to everything and I just hope people become more discerning about how they want to experience things. And that if fans and music listeners listen to a ripped version,they realize it’s not something that the artist decided to put out and that you’re doing yourself a disservice in terms of quality. You’re not having the experience the artist wanted you to have and that they worked so hard for you to have. I really don’t know where it’s going. For all the people that I talk to about how fast they think everything’s going, about how artists are built up and discarded in like five seconds…. I mean, an artist who is coming out with their first record has so much pressure on them immediately to deliver live. They don’t even have time to build up years of touring. We had a couple years to develop and play in front of no one. Even if we had buzz in the beginning, we still played shows in front of zero people. We weren’t so blown up out of proportion that we didn’t have a chance to grow naturally. I wish the best for artists starting out now and I hope that people can be clever and figure out ways to take back the system to a more physical experience of music and learning how to use the internet as a tool and not an identity. That’s a big thing. Artistically, artists need to find a place where they’re like “I’m an artist.. what’s my relationship to my fanbase?” Is it that you Twitter every five seconds about what you had for lunch or what you’re doing with your dog? Or is it, “Hey, we have a show tonight and the first ten people to Twitter back get on the guest list”. That’s an interesting and fun way to use it. You’re not compromising your artistic identity but you’re also using the internet as a tool. I think the industry’s always going to have problems. It’s been like that even when there was no internet. Industry is kind of like the opposite or art. But it’s a crazy mess. I just think that teenagers and twenty-five year olds and forty year olds- we all need to have the same collective conscious thought that we need to take a step back and slow our lives down and not be so much in this alternative reality world. Then, we might enjoy our lives more and that might affect everything.
FR: As a female frontwoman, I’m interested to see how you’ll respond to this next question especially in how this pertains to the industry versus art angle. How do you feel about Lana Del Rey?
VL: Ohhhhh, I don’t want to talk about it. It’s hard to say. It’s really not my place to talk about artists because I don’t know what’s going on in her mind. But I do feel like there are ways of being sexy or sensual or alluring or attractive that don’t rely on exposing your body parts or playing into stereotypical Maxim magazine-style notions of what a sexy person is. So for me, the female artists I’ve always looked up to are the ones who don’t play the game that set female artists backwards. Instead of talking about music, we’re talking about how hot someone is. For me, my only concern about that was just… are people even talking about music anymore? Or are we just talking about nonsense? That’s another big concern I have. The world seems to be more preoccupied with drama or boob jobs or lip jobs or image and all that shit more than whether or not this person is actually a freaking artist or do they actually write good songs or do you actually enjoy the album? I found it slightly irritating that I felt most people were talking about things that had nothing to do with music. I also saw how it could be really hurtful for an artist to encounter that type of negativity, kind of a backlash. Like I said, I can’t speak for her or anybody. I can’t say what her reasoning is or how she was marketed or how much control she had. But I do think that the female artists I’ve always looked up to, they are being themselves, they are smart and intelligent women. I can’t say anything for her, I don’t know her. I was mostly disappointed though with the fact that it was all anyone could talk about for almost a year. I found that depressing and I saw it as a really sad reflection of the state of the internet and the state of music journalism. I felt like people weren’t talking about whether she was a good songwriter or made good records.
FR: She’s almost become iconic. But for all the wrong reasons. Or maybe they're the right reasons.
VL: For me, what I meant when I said the industry is always going to have problems- even in the 80s when you had glam-metal bands when it was all about hair and metal pants and having women with their tits out and cherry cola or whatever. I almost felt for a second like we were back there. People were still being tantalized by the same shit they will always be tantalized by. For me, it was a weird throwback to a time period and I was like, “Jesus!” Because up until that point, I’d seen plenty of artists that never made me feel that way. But for some reason the world started talking in a way that reminded me of another era. I hope as well that people can learn from that experience. I’m curious to see what she’ll do next. Maybe she is an artist and will learn from this experience and see how vicious people were. Because the internet can also be really fucking vicious. So artists have to protect themselves and be aware that if they do certain things, people are really going to… like… get them.
FR: I think it was one of the few times where people put up their hands and said “Whoa, whoa… we’re calling bullshit…”
VL: I think Hipster Runoff handled the situation really honestly and hilariously. I think what you learned from that experience is who was an honest person and who was part of the problem. And that’s sort of where it was actually interesting because it did divide people between people calling “bullshit” and people playing the game. And the people playing the game were so clearly playing the game and the people who were like Hipster Runoff were kind of like showing that this was a potentially huge problem with “us”, y’know? People being on the internet and how we talk about stuff and the language that we use and the dumb things we are still attracted to- and have we really only come this far? I have hope. I think that was just a moment and it passed. And thank God it passed. Now you know what can happen.
FR: The guys at Hipster Runoff brilliantly dissected that entire experience.
VL: Well, it was more than Lana. She became more than what she is. She became a representation of an idea or of a potential problem in the future. What happened to her was almost like a learning experience for the internet or something, y’know? I hope she’s okay.
FR: Me too, me too. To Lana!
VL: She is a human being after all.
FR: Yes, she is.
- Fr. Jones