With their fourth album “Bloom” just out, we talk to Alex Scally - one half of Beach House - to find out if they had expected their success, what they're looking for when writing music, what dream-pop means to them and how they feel about the album leaking onto the internet so fast.
Little over two years ago, if you talked to Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally ( Beach House), they most likely would have told you the success of the acclaimed “Teen Dream” (Sub Pop, 2010) was beyond their wildest dreams. In fact, even today they don't understand it, nor do they really care. In a matter of months, the duo went from being part of the fine print on the festival bills to playing big stages in front of thousands of people with tissues in their hands to dry the tears. The Baltimore two's live show is all emotional intensity, it's very hard to keep your heart from turning upon hearing songs like “10 Mile Stereo” or “Gila”, no matter how tough you are. Their reputation is absolutely justified, which is why their new album, “Bloom” (due out on 14th May in Europe, on Bella Union, and a day later in North America, on Sub Pop), is one of the most anticipated albums of 2012.
And the truth is, Beach House have done it again, and better. As they themselves say, such beautiful music (I wouldn't be surprised if there are reports of people suffering Stendhal syndrome, to be honest), should just be experienced, in complete surrender. We talk to Alex Scally, a few weeks before the release of “Bloom” and their performance at the upcoming San Miguel Primavera Sound in Barcelona, to find out what they look for when writing their music, where they think their songs sound best, what internet means to them and how they feel about The Weeknd sampling two of their tracks.
I guess “Teen Dream” left you satisfied, proud of the work you did, but also with a huge responsibility due to the great acclaim it achieved. What feeling did you have once you finished producing “Bloom”?
I think we were incredibly happy because it was really hard. It took a really long time and it felt like it almost killed us. So we were really happy because it was kind of like keeping a sick infant or something, keeping them alive when they are about to die, and then finally it survives and becomes strong. Does that make sense?
"I think the sounds of “Teen Dream” are kind of small, you know? I like them, I respect them for what they are, but they feel like small little songs. They have this one feeling in them, whereas “Bloom” is immense."
Totally. Do you think the success of “Teen Dream” can be repeated?
Any sixth sense?
We don’t think about that. We didn’t think “Teen Dream” was going to be like it was so, no idea. It’s all really natural for us, we just do what we want. We are driven by ourselves, not by whether something will do well or not.
The last time we interviewed you, you said that you associated “Teen Dream”’s sound with sex. What does this new album suggest you?
Maybe it sounds like that but maybe, then, it also sounds like after that when you have to break up and maybe when you get with somebody else. It may sound like this, the whole cycle repeated again and again and again into infinity.
Your album titles always hit the spot. Is “Bloom” a record to listen during spring?
Mmm… I think that’s for the listener. I don’t think any of our records are season dependant. But everyone is different. Everyone is so completely different. You know, when I talk about music that I like with other people I can’t believe how much my opinion is different from another’s. So I think music is utterly subjective. And I think if people like the record, they’ll like it for a lot of completely different reasons.
Essentially, the sound in “Bloom” is not that different from the one in “Teen Dream”. Was that something you were looking for?
Well, I honestly believe it’s quite different. I think the sounds of “Teen Dream” are kind of small, you know? I like them, I respect them for what they are, but they feel like small little songs. They have this one feeling in them, whereas “Bloom” is immense. If the songs in “Teen Dream” are like a planet, then these songs are like galaxies. They are not so simple, they have beginnings and ends, and they just don’t repeat and loop. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe but I feel the songs are the most imaginative and creative songs we’ve ever made in our entire lives. That’s how I feel about that. They might sound kind of similar, just superficially, if you don’t really listen to it, but it’s very, very different. Maybe you haven’t listened to it enough.
I have really, really listened to it a lot! I really feel the sound is bigger, more expansive. I was just about to tell you that I listened to “Wild” like a year ago at a festival. It was a great song, it had and uplifting and energetic mood. I do really think there are differences.
Yeah. So I guess what you meant when you said that they sounded pretty similar is that you are defining the sound of our band. Because there is something that is always the same in all our records. And that’s who we are. There are certain things about us that are always going to be there: Victoria’s voice, the drum machine, the instruments that we love… You know, we still love a lot of the same instruments so it’s not like we are using new instruments. The keyboards, the organs, and the guitars sounds… it’s just the kind of stuff that we like. So, yeah, from record to record there is a certain amount that is going to sound similar.
How will these bigger sounds you are describing fit in your live shows?
We’ve been practising a lot. It’s challenging because you have to play in a much more intense kind of way. Hopefully - and I hope we will, if we are able to do it - it’s going to be a lot better. We are going to enjoy it more, so people are going to enjoy it more. It’s going to be like a big explosion or something. I’m excited because I don’t know how it is it going to be, but I have a feeling it could be very beautiful.
Some people feared that due to your fast growth you would want this record to sound 100% epic. But it sounds both intimate and epic. How do you achieve this?
I don’t know. I think this is exactly what we want. We just make music that feels natural to us. And I think those are the things we love. We want music that takes you somewhere but also makes you feel. It’s very hard to describe. From inside of us, we don’t really think about it too much. This is just what we do. This is something that happens with every artist, when you grew older you don’t want to do something you’ve done before. I don’t think we would ever want to make a song that doesn’t have a lot of emotion and feeling in it. That’s always there, our desire to have that feeling. I don’t know… I don’t even know what I’m talking about any more! [ Laughs]
How do you work in the composition and writing? Do you equally share this work?
It’s fun. We tend to do everything together, except Victoria is the lyricist and the singer, so she writes all of the words. Mostly, I write some, but she writes more. But we work on the music together. We start with something that is very, very small, and we let it grow naturally and we build it, and build it and build it until it becomes a song. This might be one of the reasons it might be both intimate and epic, like you said. Because we start with something that is very small and we try to complete it until it is a real song.
Talking about building songs… My favourite one is “Irene”. It’s also the longest track you’ve ever recorded. Its seven minutes long, but it could last for an eternity. Were there early versions longer than the final one?
No. And actually that’s a very new thing for us because in the recording studio that was a live take. There are three songs on this album that are kind of live songs, we just recorded them all of us together - with Victoria, Dan, our drummer, and myself, playing at the same time - so I think you really feel that energy in that song, which is a big part of it. I think we are going to try and do this a lot more in the future, try to have the albums including a lot of live takes. Because there is a certain energy that happens, like in a show. Most albums do not have that kind of energy.
It’s the name of the song. Huh… It’s very hard to describe and it’s kind of a secret for us. But I think it could be a secret for anybody. For some people it will be a song about love, for some it will be about death, for others about birth. It’s a big song. It was kind of funny to take a song that is that big and give it a simple woman’s name.
“Teen Dream” had wonderful B-sides. “The Arrangement” still gives me goose bumps. But the last two records have only ten songs. How much, let’s say, good material did you end up with after the “Bloom” recording session?
Well, we had a lot of it actually. We had some others tracks that might turn into songs later. And then our single for Record Store Day, a 7 inch, has a B-side on it that we really love. It’s a song we absolutely adore that is called “Equal Mind”. But it just didn’t fit in the album; it wasn’t part of this world. So I’m excited that people will hear that song.
Some time ago you played at the Manchester Cathedral. I think it’s a quite suitable place in which to listen your music. But, what do you think is the perfect space for your songs?
I’m not sure. But there was this one night that we played in North Carolina. There was this lady. We were down in a canyon with big trees, and this woman had parked her car, and was really drunk. We got out of the club and we saw her across the street with her car door open and blasting out our album [ Laughs]. It was resonating all over the canyon right out of her car stereo, and I think that is maybe the best it has ever sounded to me in my entire life. But I think that is completely up to anybody that is listening to it.
The new record includes a song called “On The Sea” and you already had a song titled “Saltwater”. The sea seems…
It sounds kind of ridiculous, right? [ Laughs]
[ Laughs] The sea seems to be a great influence on your work. Is that so?
I don’t know. I think water is pretty important for everybody, right? Humans are like 70% water or something…
"And I think we never wanted to make great art for our covers. More than anything I think we want abstraction. We want it to be very open, something you can interpret or fill in the blanks."
“Bloom”’s cover art has dark tones for the first time in your career. Why did you choose to do this?
Because I think that it's a huge part of the record for us. Does that make sense? It’s not just the beginning, it’s the end. And maybe the beginning again, and the end… like a repeating cycle.
I find there is quite a change between the art-work of your first two records and the last two. You’ve moved towards textures, they seem like visual abstractions. Could you please tell us more about this cover art?
I think it’s intentional. You know, a lot of people for their record covers, they try to make some really great piece of art. And I think we never wanted to make great art for our covers. More than anything I think we want abstraction. We want it to be very open, something you can interpret or fill in the blanks. It is a very low-resolution photograph. I think people can feel a lot with it. Some people can feel as if it looked heavenly, others like it was just hypnotizing, others can think it looks dark and frightening, some people can also think it looks just peaceful. We wanted to do something that felt both bold and open.
How do you feel about “Bloom”’s early leak?
Here’s the thing. All our albums have leaked, and it has never hurt us. I don’t really care about people downloading music for free at all. I think, if anything, it helps us because people go to our shows and talk about us. I don’t think there’s anything wrong. But the thing I hate the most – the thing that makes me sad – is that they won’t experience the album the way we want them to experience it. We really want them to hear the album in its highest quality; with the artwork and to be able to read the lyrics. Or on vinyl, be able to open it up, put it on, play it and listen to it from start to finish. We have this really very specific way that we always imagine people to experience the album, and we feel it is beautiful that way and it very much is the best way. What really saddens us is that so many big fans of ours are first experiencing the album in a bad way. I feel like leaking could be fun, but what I wish is that it happened differently: that they wait until we release it, and then everyone could choose between having the real experience or the compromised experience. And then, when it is out, you can spread it around for free. I wish they wouldn’t open their presents before Christmas. It’s a different era. Music is freer, but it doesn’t really belong to people, they are stealing. I think it’s okay that music is spread, but I think people should be respectful. That’s the big thing, people are not being respectful.
Not being respectful in what way?
They are not respectful of our wishes on how to experience it. We did all this work, we spent a year, we spent all of our money, we did all these things - so we should have the right to at least have the people listen to it the way we want, whether they pay or not.
Is the Baltimore scene as well nourished as it was when you first started doing music?
It’s changing always, like everything. Nothing is the same for more than one instant. But it’s vital, there are still a lot of bands and there are interesting places. I wish I could be there more, but I feel like I’m never home. There are still lots of good bands and I think you’ll hear of them when the time comes.
Let me ask you a silly question, is Baltimore as bad-ass as it is depicted in “The Wire”?
Yeah, yeah, it’s true. What they did in that show is completely true. But that’s not our lives. If you’re raised in the ghetto, like gangster, then that’s your life.
How can you explain the current dream-pop revival?
I didn’t know there was one. Maybe because I don’t know what dream-pop music is. Who knows? I don’t understand society. I think that is more your job, your question to figure out, because I don’t understand why anyone does anything.
Ok, so… If I tell you we, the media, think that there are lots of new acts that sound like you, do you think this is accurate or have you not been listening to enough music to speak about it?
I haven’t heard a record that sounds like us. But, it’s true, in the last year I’ve been working on this record, so I haven’t listened to new music. But I think I’ll listen to it soon. But I think that it is very subjective, but I have no idea.
You say you haven’t listened to any new music, but have you listened to The Weeknd?
The Weeknd? Oh… the guy who sampled Beach House. I’ve heard those songs.
Did you like them?
No. Actually, the “Gila” one was OK, but the “Master Of None” was pretty awful. They did a terrible job with that one. I would say it to their faces if they were right here: “Man, you did a terrible job!” . But, whatever, those guys, their whole culture, they just take stuff and don’t ask for it or anything.
So, is this something that bothers you?
No. If for some reason one of these songs got really famous, then it would bother me because I don’t want to be known for something I didn’t agree to.
Are you guys conscious that Victoria’s hair is already an indie classic?
I guess so. I’m not aware of it. I don’t think I’m aware of much of the stuff you’re talking about! [ Laughs]
You know, there’s a blog solely dedicated to her hair.
Yeah, I know, I heard about that. I’m sure that flatters her, but I don’t think she is very aware of it. We are very much not into the internet, we try not to be into it.
Is there a reason?
Yeah, because the internet is boring as fuck! It’s not real life, it sucks, it’s cowardly. Everyone on the internet is like a big coward. People say things they would never say in real life, people say things they don’t even think about, they say them without caring… There are a lot of good things about the internet, but we try to live as musicians and live a real life and be really inspired all the time. We value real experiences over fake ones.
How do you anticipate the visual aspect of this record in be? Are you going to shoot videos for each of the songs like you did with “Teen Dream”?
We have a lot of ideas for videos, and they are in the works. But more than anything, we are putting a ton of energy into our live show. We plan on making the live experience very visual.
I think I have exceeded my time. Thank you, Alex.
You’re welcome. Sorry I didn’t know about anything that is going on. See you at Primavera Sound!