For Beach House, Everything Is Necessary
Baltimore dream-rockers Beach House have racked up some serious indie cred over the last few years, their hazy avant-pop tunes landing them steady slots at top music festivals like SXSW, Austin City Limits and Pitchfork.
The trio's smoky-voiced front woman, Victoria Legrand, certainly doesn't hurt their cause. Her husky vocals are instantly recognizable — like she's just polished off the day's second pack of smokes but somehow still sounds sexy.
On the phone, however, Legrand sounds surprisingly like a regular gal.
"Hi, hon," she says, brightly, as we begin our phone interview. "Let's get down to business," she jokes, poking fun at our abbreviated allotted time slot of ten short minutes.
Beach House — guitarist Alex Scally, drummer Daniel Franz and Legrand — released their fourth album, Bloom, this May. And "blooming" they are.
It's commonplace in today's fast-moving, hypercritical e-culture to see modern indie bands lauded for their debut album and celebrated at hip music festivals, only to be hung out to dry and considered dated by the time of their sophomore release.
Such is not the case with Beach House; each of their four records has been comparably praised for its artful, dreamy pop songs. If anything, they're growing more popular and respected among the hippest of music circuits — a difficult feat nowadays.
Perhaps it's because they really don't seem to care about anything other than their music.
"Our biggest priority with Bloom was actually writing the songs," Legrand explains. "And being able to write these songs after a lot of touring. A lot of pent-up creativity was finally released on Bloom."
Legrand discusses her music as these über-personal visions. As she speaks, she (intentionally?) divulges only a portion of the visions she fully sees; she is wordy yet vague, always careful to keep a little bit of herself on reserve.
"Our priority with this record was getting every song the exact way we imagined it," she continues. "You want it to sound the way it sounds in your mind and in the practice space, and it's hard to exactly re-create that. It's a level of your own idea of perfection, which can be tortuous to attain."
The band abandoned their East Coast digs for the sprawling South to record Bloom, traveling to Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, Texas — an isolated El Paso-area border town with a population of about 2,000.
"I don't think most people have been there," Legrand says of Tornillo. "Or that most people will."
The isolation proved advantageous to the band.
"We were very specific about going there," Legrand explains. "But for very unglamorous, technical reasons. We're writers and musicians; it's not just about going someplace cool to record just because it's cool."
The band spent a total of two months recording in Tornillo, approaching the process with an "all-work-and-no-play" type of attitude.
"We're such control freaks," Legrand says of Beach House's work ethic. "We have everything written and arranged before we get to the studio, so it's really about the work and the time, and not about playing around. There's not a lot of looseness going on in the studio."
Beach House also seized the reins on Bloom's art direction, including everything from the album's cover to the photos snapped inside.
"The cover is a photo we took of ceiling lights," she says. "When we were putting the album art together and figuring what the vibe would be, we chose a few select images."
Legrand's thoughtfully precise explanation communicates even the art's personal significance to her.
"Everything is very necessary," she concludes.
Beach House is protective of and hands-on with their music both in and out of the studio, as displayed by their recent Starbucks snub; earlier this year, the band declined a potential offer from the reigning corporate coffee retailer to sell Bloom in their stores.
Legrand is careful in her words as we broach this topic.
"It's complicated," she says of the situation. "I have nothing bad or political to say, but [the deal] was something that could have — and would have — happened, but we just very politely declined, stopping it before it became a reality."
While many indie bands may have jumped at the chance of such a shoe-in cash cow, Beach House approached the offer cautiously and thoughtfully. Ultimately, Legrand reiterates the band's steady loyalties: To the integrity of their music and respect for their fans.
"A lot of our decisions are based on our fans," she explains. "And on preserving that fan base, which is something we've built very gradually and delicately over the last eight years.
"Sometimes things come your way that might seem exciting," Legrand reflects. "But I think sometimes overexposure can dilute something that is very special."
Legrand is caring and calculating in each step her band takes. From recording to art direction, she puts thought into their every move — including into Beach House's onstage style aesthetic.
"I prefer sticking to all-black clothes (onstage)," she says as our conversation shifts to the more lighthearted topic of fashion. "I've evolved into this androgynous area. I feel natural that way onstage. I don't like to wear dresses."
Often sporting slacks and blazers onstage, Legrand draws style inspiration from both men and women.
"I find men's style inspirational," she says. "Like Prince and George Harrison, but also people with androgynous style, like Patti Smith and Annie Lennox. There's many women who have chosen to just have fun (with fashion), and it gives them a sense of power.
"I think being gender-neutral is a good place to be," she continues. "I find there's a lot of sexuality in things people don't necessarily think of as sexy right off the bat. I think you could look at someone in a huge sweatshirt and find them sexy. And hair is extremely sensual."
Onstage, Legrand pulls off this cool androgyny and simultaneous sensuality, her furled, long brown hair whipping each and every way as she sings and kind-of-sort-of head-bangs her way through songs.
But again, Legrand strips away the fluff from the business and vows to focus on the music.
"[Sexuality] is not something I'm trying to avoid in any way," she adds. "But for me, personally and performance-wise, music is my priority. Everything surrounding the music needs to be composed in a way that enhances it and not distracts from it.
"Music is first," she reiterates. "But exposing body parts is not exactly my interest while onstage. I'll leave that to Katy Perry."
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