Beach House - The Stool Pigeon
There’s a knock at the door. A German-sounding man in his fifties politely asks if Beach House would mind letting two crack-smoking sisters use their dressing room for a while. Tensions are high. It’s late 2007 and Baltimore’s dream-pop duo are topping a variety bill that has attracted only a handful of people to one of London’s smallest venues. For a little-known band, this does not feel like an auspicious beginning.
Fast forward a few years: there are more albums, more scars, a different sound and a different outlook. Victoria Legrand even has some words of advice to give her old self, if she could. “I’d say: ‘things are going to happen that you won’t want or expect, but it’s for the better. It’s going to allow you to make room for the more important things in your life. So chill out’. But I always say that to myself now too. I say, ‘Victoria, you just need to take it easy and stop being so neurotic’.”
Legrand is sitting in the passenger seat of an old Toyota parked within a gated community in Towson, just outside Baltimore. It’s cold. She bites her words at first, but it doesn’t take her long to warm.
For the last year, Legrand and Alex Scally have put everything into making Teen Dream – an album already tipped for 2010’s best-of lists. There is no personal life anymore, she says. Just Beach House. The day job is long gone. “I would bartend during the day and usually someone would come in and tell me way too much information. But you give them back energy because you don’t want them to go and kill themselves. I don’t really miss that.”
She has trouble remembering what year it is, having spent just one month out of the last 12 at home, and relationships have suffered. “We were forced to let things go. If you have a loved one, it’s hard to say goodbye. But it’s okay, you know? You grow and you change. I feel like we’re slightly different people now. Our obsessions are more intense. We’re both really high-speed people in so many ways. Mentally overactive and at our worst, dissatisfied. It’s like trying to stay calm in a hurricane. So a lot of silly things just filter away, but it’s all been very natural. You can’t have everything in life.”
As much as 2010 is expected to be a breakthrough year for Beach House, the pair have routinely maintained that this is just the beginning. And of course, you would too. But what if this is their peak? What if, in 15 years time, Beach House find themselves playing Teen Dream as part of ATP’s Don’t Look Back series?
“You can’t control what happens to you in life,” she says. “It’s like when you get on a plane and you go, ‘have I had a good life up until this moment?’ So if the plane goes down, you know you have. That’s very much how I feel. All the work I’ve done up until this record, I’m proud of. And it’s been difficult. Some of it you doubt, some of it you’re happy with. But you believe in it all. So as long as you keep having those feelings, I’m not fearful of what will happen. But it’s an interesting place to be: to realise that a moment in your life is the best moment. It doesn’t have to be depressing or embarrassing or humiliating. That’s just how life is. It’s brutally honest.”
Legrand, now 28, moved to Baltimore on a whim after becoming disillusioned with acting. Born in Paris to the brother of French composer Michel Legrand, she grew up between Maryland and Philadelphia before returning to Paris to study theatre at the International School of Jacques Lecoq.
After meeting Scally through a mutual friend, the two decided to combine her classically-trained piano and operatic singing with his still-fledgling guitar playing. They spent the summer of 2005 holed up in a basement where intense writing sessions utilised the antiquated feel of their instruments: the rich tones of near-broken amps, old organs, a “strange archaic beat machine” and the sleepy drone of Scally’s slide guitar.
They still have the “same shitty instruments” and they’ve kept that simplicity intact. But just as Beach House have a fixed idea of what they want from the music, so too do the audience. Until now, the feedback has remained consistent: the same touchstone adjectives keep appearing. And maybe they’re right, Legrand admits. Even now, disrupting the template with more complex songwriting and production, certain things remain: the tension of infatuation and the pitfalls of love.
“We’re not melancholic people but I think there’s definitely a colour in our music that’s always there. Heartbreak, I think, comes when you just love uncontrollably, when you take risks. Some people get real into comfort and, sure, it is a form of love. It is. But then there’s dangerous love. ‘I’m not supposed to do this’ love. ‘I’m not supposed to love you’ love. ‘You’re the wrong person to love!’
But when you experience heartbreak, you come out the other side of it and you’re stronger. And the next love you experience will be more intense and even better. Because you allowed yourself to fall on your face and you gave yourself completely. In some ways being in Beach House is a similar feeling. You throw yourself wildly into something, very passionately. The rupture between that and a domestic life of nine to five, there’s a heartbreak that occurs. And, like love, sometimes it last years, sometimes it may come back to haunt you.”