Beach House Devotion

Beach House Devotion
No one sets the mood quite like Beach House. With thick swathes of organs, bossa nova rhythms and reverb-drenched fret play, the Baltimore dream pop duo conjure a hazy, sepia-toned sound that’s all about the atmosphere. And while the group gave a glimpse of how enchanting this can all be with their 2006 self-titled debut, they’ve blown the doors wide open with their latest, Devotion. Composed of singer/organist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally, Beach House have chosen evolution over departure for record number two, keeping their woozy, intimate formula intact as they draft a warmer, more impassioned blueprint. Legrand’s lovesick melodies and vintage organ tones are still here, as are Scally’s wistful slide guitar licks. However, they’re now delivered with a new air of confidence and denser compositions, which at times hint at a newfound love for blue-eyed soul and even some Nashville-tinged balladry. Topping it off, Devotion also finds Legrand maturing considerably as a vocalist, adding new depth and range to the duo’s crawling late night tales. With all these advances to what was an already exquisite formula, it’s likely this Beach House can expect a whole lot more visitors this coming season.

So with the release date of Devotion creeping up, how do you feel about the album?
Legrand: I’m exciting for the record to come out. I’m excited for it to have its little existence in the world. I guess it kind of does already because a few things were leaked. And I think even more than the record coming out, I’m excited to go on tour and perform again. I mean, I really like driving around the country, stopping at rest stops, going to the [American] South West, seeing the desert — I love all that. And I’m lucky to get that opportunity. So yeah, I’m pretty excited about everything. And I’m trying to work on the live show right now and make some outfits to wear on tour, so I’m watching a lot of Project Runway [laughs].

So you make a lot of your own clothes for touring?
Well, not generally. When I go out or go thrifting, I’m pretty good at finding things like dresses and stuff like that. And I keep a lot of stuff from my childhood to use for photo shoots and music videos. Recently, Alex wore a jacket that my mom had from the ’70s that I just kept because I think it’s awesome. I just kind of store things because you never know when you are going to need something a little larger than life. So lately I’ve been trying to find little things to help inspire me when I perform on stage.

What were the circumstances like surrounding the band before you started to make this new record?
Very intense actually... We were doing lots of traveling and performing, and we didn’t have as much time to write as we would have liked. But when we were home [in Baltimore], we would basically have these crazy sessions, in the practice space, working with what we had and figuring out what didn’t work and just trying to preserve the inspiration we got on the road… We wanted everything written before entering the studio so that we really could just focus on recording. One or two of the songs were actually written a while ago, and in a way, we already had seeds for the second album right after we finished the first.

Was the recording/writing process for the new record a lot different than when you made the first album?
We actually didn’t think anything was going to happen with the first record. We made the record ourselves in Alex’s basement before we were even signed or anything. We paid $1,500 or whatever and recorded it in two days. And it was just a completely different recording experience with the second record. Devotion took about a month total, two weeks recording and the rest mixing, working 12- or 13-hour days because this record just has more layers, more lyrical content, and things are just a lot more present, so there was a lot more work involved. And you can tell because there is a lot more craziness involved and intensity [on Devotion].

Yeah, this record is a little less sleepy and casual than the first one and even upbeat at times. Was this a conscious shift on your part?
We naturally felt the desire to move a bit more on the record, and I think that came across in the music — the stranger keyboard parts, bigger chords, my singing style being much more present. It’s just not as distant and passive and fleeting as the first record. We just got a little bit older or something; there are more scars on our bodies. And we just wanted more from ourselves and what we were doing. But we didn’t want to go completely off-the-wall different, we wanted it to be a natural evolution.

You cover Daniel Johnston’s "Some Things Last a Long Time” on Devotion. What inspired you to do that?
I actually recommended that we try to do that song as a cover, not knowing whether it would end up on the album or not. I just thought there was something about the original version that reminded me of our first record, kind of strange, a little haunting, a little bit off. It just sounded like something we would play. And it’s just such a sad, very lonely song. And our arrangement of it kind of reminds me of Neil Young’s "Expecting to Fly,” the drums are super far way and everything feels on different sides, with you just in the middle.

You know, there’s a Built to Spill cover of "Some Things Last a Long Time” as well?
You know what? I love Built to Spill and I didn’t know that until very recently. I feel kind of stupid about it now actually. I read something online where someone preferred their version to ours. And I was like, "I probably would too. I love those guys.” But I generally don’t really listen to other people’s music when I’m writing or doing anything like that because I don’t want to be directly influenced. But yeah, I would love to hear their version.

There’s also this soul kind of feel to the record. Was that something you guys were aiming for?
Yeah, we are definitely both into soul and down with the whole Motown thing. And like you said, it is a little more upbeat than the first record, and I think it’s because of this impulse in both of us. We’re not a band that likes sitting down all the time; we can be kind of intense, I think. And that feeling is coming from our desire to want to move more, musically and physically. Like on "D.A.R.L.I.N.G.,” it has a slight Motown or oldies beat. So yeah, that’s all in there.

And with your vocals, you sound a lot more confident with what you are doing now and less shy. Is that the result of touring or something else?
It is the result of touring so much, but also I’ve been in theatre my whole life and always performed on stage, so I’ve never been uncomfortable in front of an audience. The first record is not so much about performing; it’s very much a recording recording. It’s like the songs are good when you are hearing them float through the window. There’s not so much acting involved. I mean, I wouldn’t have to move very much to perform those songs. The vocal phrases are very much punctuations of the music, and they come out and leave and come out. With the second record, there is much more lyrical structure and crafting. And I think inherently of that, I got to reveal a lot more of my character — a lot more me came out, not to be cheesy. So I think with our live show we’re going to share a lot more of ourselves. I don’t think it’s in either of us to be very distant from our audience.

So are you going to change up the live show a lot?
Well, not a lot, but we aren’t going to be sitting down all the time anymore. I think it’s really important to try to take your audience away somewhere else, and however little way you can do that, you should do it. That’s what I was trained theatrically. People don’t come to a concert to see the reality they just left at their house — they are coming to see art, to be taken somewhere else so they can imagine something different in their life just for a moment. And for artists, it’s the same thing. To perform every night, to do the same thing, there is a part of you that dies; a part of you that has that energy that makes you feel like you are somewhere else, too. So I think we are just trying to work on this, trying to establish more of a connection with our audience. But it’s not going to be some punk show or anything, where we are in your face with a microphone. Just more life, a more visceral thing.

How do you think the lyrical approach to Devotion is different from the first album, if at all?
The lyrics on the first record — with the exception of "Heat and Lungs” and "Childhood,” which were these crafted little tales — were just punctuations; the music surges up and then the words emerges, and that happened in and out, just ebbing and flowing. And with the second record, I kind of became a storyteller without really realising it on some of the songs. It always felt like I was going on a journey, so I really had to stretch the words out and delve a little deeper into my ability to create a landscape and to create a lot of different landscapes.

So is there some overreaching lyrical theme with a title like Devotion?
Well, the title Devotion, I believe, came out of "All the Years.” After I wrote that song, the word devotion just kept coming up in conversation. And once that happened, I looked back and I was like, "You know? It really does make sense.” If I piece things together and look at the codes and things like that, there is kind of a theme here. It isn’t really a + b = devotion, but there are bits and pieces of some sort of theme and enough fodder for the mind to interpret there to be one.

How do you feel about all the praise the first album received?
I think we were surprised by the reception of the first record. We wrote that record out of our own volition without intending it to become anything. And it actually becoming anything was a surprise to us.

Why do you two choose to work strictly as a duo and not collaborate with more musicians?
The advantages are that you only have each other to tell each other what to do. It also gives you have a lot more control. But I think the best thing about it is you get to avoid piling on a lot of things that are unnecessary. Because there are only two of us, we can only make the kind of music that can be made by two people. If it sounds like more, we know we have succeeded in pushing ourselves because it means we figured how to get something bigger with just the two of us. I think just by having two people it helps us guide things on a very basic, minimalist level, and we can build things up from there. I think playing as a duo is a real benefit. It’s like starting with very little and working up gradually as opposed to starting with too much of something and too many directions and opinions. I think a lot of times, with bigger bands, there always has to be a ringleader, and with Alex and I, neither person is the boss; it’s kind of just two minds meeting in the middle. And sometimes we butt heads, but sometimes a little bit of conflict works well.

What do you hope listeners might take away from Devotion that they maybe didn’t get from your first record?
I would hope that it would reach out to more people, and communicate something to more people that the first one didn’t, and that it would have a little more life in it — that we were able to show the same side but in a more interesting way. We tried to put more colour into things and more depth, and I just hope it touches more people, and by touch I mean gently nudge. I just would really like more connection.

This is a bit of a cheesy question, but I like to ask people it: what is the main motivation behind what you do?
Doing this is like the recycling of energy; the feeling you get when you’ve recycled a lot of energy inside of you and put it back into the world. It’s kind of an addictive feeling. It can make you very happy. It’s kind of a rush, too. It’s an intense feeling of relief and accomplishment. I think that’s why I do it, and Alex does it as well. There is no better feeling than creating something. (Carpark)