The mysterious US indie-rock combo Beach House – centred on lead vocalist and keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally – have established an impressive longevity. This year they unveiled their seventh album, 7 – otherworldly glam-rock.
Scally connected with the French-American Legrand in the music underground of Baltimore, Maryland, forming Beach House circa 2004. They released two albums before 2010’s breakthrough, Teen Dream, on Sub Pop. The band have been unusually consistent. In 2015, they issued two records, Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars, within weeks. Last year, Beach House presented a compilation, B-Sides And Rarities, including their abstract cover of Queen’s ‘Play The Game’ for the Red Hot Organization. It signified a psychological clearing-out.
For Beach House, 7 is a regenerative project. They instituted key changes – most basically, transforming their rehearsal space into a home studio. Beach House had worked with producer Chris Coady since Teen Dream. But, this time, they sought Peter “Sonic Boom” Kember. The Brit maverick is best-known as a member of the ’80s band Spacemen 3, but he’s subsequently recorded with MGMT. Kember played facilitator and disrupter. Beach House utilised their tour drummer, James Barone, for sessions, too.
Beach House are routinely dubbed ‘dream-pop’, something they’re ambivalent about. However, with its heavier rhythms, rock guitar riffs and electronic layers, 7 feels more psychedelic, and more proggy, than their past albums. Though 7 has been positioned as a ‘political’ record, the pressers referencing US upheaval and #MeToo, Beach House avoid the obvious. 7 is as much about the dark side of an emblematic modern glamour and ironic juxtaposition.
Over the years, Beach House have attracted a cult following in R&B and hip-hop circles. The Weeknd sampled them twice on his House Of Balloons mixtape, while Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Money Trees’ borrows from ‘Silver Soul’. 7‘s lead single, ‘Lemon Glow’, could be an emo (-rap) banger.
Now, Beach House are “excited” to be touring Australia in early 2019. Previously, the duo have played major festivals here – last hitting 2016’s Laneway. This go, they’ll headline traditional venues. Mind, Beach House will also perform an outdoor show as part of the Perth Festival and join the countercultural Golden Plains. In the interim, the pair are still sharing new songs – only recently the driving 7 outtake ‘Alien’.
Beach House are infamously wary when it comes to the media – and music industry machinery. In some ways, they’re less mythic than post-mythic, eschewing any external narratives. In 2015 Scally explained to Rolling Stone, “We just have a very deep belief that we can’t just produce soundbite answers for people. We don’t want to wrap things up in a nice box, just for the sake of commodification.”
Today the multi-instrumentalist is gracious, if cautious, as he chats to Music Feeds – a cat (possibly) mewing in the background. Notably, Scally is especially gratified to be commended on their acoustics at Laneway. “Oh, that’s lucky,” he says. “We’ve been working with the same sound guy for 10 years, so I’ll tell him that and he’ll be pleased.”
Music Feeds: In May you returned with 7 – and you really shook things up for this album. How do you look back on it now and on what you achieved musically?
Alex Scally: You know, when we were working on the record, we felt excited about it. It felt fresh to us and we were really happy to do it and put it out. I haven’t listened to it properly since it came out. But Pete, Sonic Boom – who helped produce it – emailed us, texted me, the other day and said he listened to it and said that it felt good; like it had held up. Sometimes you listen to something a year after or something and it’s like, “Oh, boy…” So I don’t really know what to think about it. But I’m glad we went through it and got it out into the world.
MF: I know one of the things that you challenged yourselves with was not worrying about what could be reproduced live easily. Obviously, you’ve been performing material from this album on the road. How has that process been? How is it translating?
Alex Scally: It’s cool. One of my favourite things about touring a lot is the way songs continually change and evolve. It’s cool. You’re able to figure out ways to play most of the songs and get it cool and they have a different feel than the record – which is cool.
MF: A lot of people have stated that they felt 7 was a darker album. I think the darkness has always been in your music, actually. But I wondered what kind of headspace you and Victoria were in when you wrote this material?
Alex Scally: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of stuff happening on that record, in our opinion. Just a lot of different feelings. There’s irreverent things, there’s political things, there’s just your regular touring, just the emotional drain… You know, it happened over the course of a year. So you go through a lot of states in a year, right?
MF: To what extent do you discuss the lyrics, both of you? Are you a part of that or is it more Victoria’s domain?
Alex Scally: It’s really her domain, but I contribute them as well to some songs. We work on them sometimes together. Sometimes she’ll ask me, “What do you think about this versus that?” and I just give an impartial opinion. But sometimes we work on them just from like a kind of structural, almost rhythmic, place, or just [for] a sonic quality of the words. Yeah, I really like the way Victoria writes lyrics. So there’s really not much negativity in that discussion. It’s just mostly positive feedback and letting things happen.
MF: You’ve had this partnership for such a long time now. Has the dynamic changed over time – in the studio environment, even when performing?
Alex Scally: Well, it doesn’t really feel like it’s changed, but it must have, right? It’s like the way parents always feel like their children look the same but, as an uncle or something, you see them every three months and you’re always blown away that they’ve changed. So I think it’s like that maybe!
MF: As a band, you have the most incredible fanbase – even within the music scene. So many hip-hop artists are big Beach House fans. Tyler, The Creator has mentioned it since the word go. But how do you feel about the fact that you have this cross-appeal within the industry?
Alex Scally: Yeah, I guess I’m not truly aware of all that. But, I mean, whenever someone finds out that they’re appreciated – people would laugh if then they didn’t feel fortunate to feel that way. So, yeah, we’re happy that we do appeal to or interest anyone at all. So we’re grateful for that… I’m sorry I don’t really have much to say about it, except, “Cool!”
MF: You seem quite a self-contained unit, in a way. Are you open to collaborations? You must have been approached by some of these guys wanting to have ‘features’ or do collabs? Or do you prefer to work within your own sphere?
Alex Scally: I think we’re pretty in our own world. We’re down here in Baltimore… So, yeah, I think we’ve just been always too busy to do that kind of thing. We’ve always been so carried away in our own realm that that opportunity has not really come up in a substantial way.
MF: You have let people sample your tracks and they’ve been used in quite interesting ways. Did any of those songs pick up your ears?
Alex Scally: It’s always cool to hear how people do that, you know?
MF: Well, in 10 years’ time, if you want to be a super-producer, I think the door’s open!
Alex Scally: That’d be amazing, actually.
MF: Of course, you’ll probably be finishing your album tour cycle after this Australian run. Do you have any ideas about what you’d like to do next? What’s on the horizon?
Alex Scally: Yeah, we’ve never known what’s on the horizon. So it’s impossible to answer. There might be more music, there might not be more music, there might be some music in some other form, or maybe there will be some collaboration… We don’t really know. We really have no idea at this point. We’re just putting one foot in front of the other.
MF: You’re playing slightly different venues this time. In the past you’ve done big music festivals. But this time you’re playing venues and even arts-oriented festivals. Do you take a different approach to those?
Alex Scally: Well, we much prefer when it’s our own show, because we’ve been working on our live show for the last six months pretty intensely – you know, we’ve done 60 shows and we’ve been constantly writing it and rewriting it and refining it. So we’re happy that we’re gonna be in a lot of venues, because then we can really do our show and do it the way it’s meant to be done.
Beach house will appear at Perth Festival and Golden Plains Festival in 2019, as well as their own headline shows in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. More details here.