Beach House Are Loving Losing Life
The Baltimore dream-pop band on their new album, music's apolitical nature, and more
There are great bands that reinvent themselves with each new album, others that hit a sweet spot and stick with what works, and then there’s Beach House. Over their decade-plus career, some might argue that the Baltimore-based band has largely adhered to a formula, but with 7 — their excellent seventh album, which is out in a couple weeks — it’s clear that the duo has been playing the long game.
Each Beach House album has marked a smart but subtle shift in their approach, so much so that their transition from chintzy bedroom rock to modern-day masters of dream-pop has felt remarkably fluid. Their discography holds up to careful dissection, and with 7 they might just have bettered themselves once again. But it’s a disservice to think of this as the best Beach House album, rather just another marker on the road to what has been and will probably always be a deeply inspiring career arc. That it’s felt like a series of peaks rather than an ebb-and-flow is a testament to Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally’s talent and chemistry, and that they so consistently wield their partnership in new ways is an exciting prospect.
There’s a line on one of their new songs, “Drunk In LA,” that acknowledges that process of getting older while also getting better. It’s one of Legrand’s most beautifully grim poetics: “Memory’s a sacred meat that’s drying all the time/ On a hillside, I remember I am loving losing life.” Beach House have always been a band intensely focused on their craft, working so hard that most of the labor feels invisible. So much of their music comes down to what feels like instinctual pull, but 7 is evidence of their tireless work.
It was an album born out of a desire for changing their status quo. After working with producer Chris Coady on their last four albums, both Legrand and Scally felt confident enough that they could handle everything themselves. But they still rounded up a fresh set of collaborators, which this time included their live drummer James Barone — who plays on the album and will accompany them on tour — and Peter Kember, aka Sonic Boom, whose work with Spacemen 3 and Spectrum impressed the band to reach out and see if he might like to co-produce the album with them.
Both contributors mean a lot to the band. Legrand described Barone as someone “we would have all hung out with in high school,” and Scally said that, more than any other drummer they’ve worked with in the past, Barone understood the musical touchstones that have been instrumental to the band’s development. As for Kember, he was responsible for elevating the songs through tiny but immeasurable gestures. Legrand cites a moment during the song “Pay No Mind” as indicative of a distinctly Sonic Boom touch: “That comet sounds that happens. It sounds like crazy sizzling stars exploding in slow motion. That’s the kind of thing he contributed.”
But with seven albums now under their belts, it’s apparent that Beach House are prideful in their self-sufficiency. They describe themselves as having always been “intimately connected to every step of the process,” and 7 sounds homespun and warm again in the way that their earliest albums did. The band has come full circle from their more hands-on beginnings, and their talk of reinvention and rejuvenation with this album gels with that rediscovery of doing everything themselves. The creation of 7 coincided with the completion of their home studio, where it was easier to fully flesh out ideas and even easier to commit them to some working form. That process allowed for more spontaneity, and 7 sounds like an album from a band that’s working with everything at their disposal.
I met up with Legrand and Scally earlier this month in the restaurant attached to the Ludlow Hotel, where the band was staying during their obligatory press trip to New York City. They’re adept at steering the conversation to what they want to talk about and, above all, what interests them is the music and the process of creation. The way they ping-pong off each other feels natural and gives a glimpse inside how it must be to function in a studio setting with them. Read our interview below.
VICTORIA LEGRAND: I think we learned something very important with those two records. Something was sedimented doing that. It was this huge endeavor and I don’t think we could ever do something like that again, but we learned a lot from it. We stored that up. It’s not that it was negative, but I think that we realized that we didn’t want to do a record the same way again with the same people. I remember having a conversation about something needing to change in the future, but you just don’t know when and you don’t know how exactly. But the desire to shift was planted at that point.
ALEX SCALLY: We had this whole obsession with releasing a record and not doing any press for it. To have people hear it before anyone reviews it, and not put it through the wringers of the commercial process. It was this whole philosophy. And I think that we maybe naïvely thought that it would bring back or keep alive a certain purity…
SCALLY: Yeah, innocence. And I think it did. But I remember afterwards feeling like… We’ve done that, we don’t need to do that anymore. We learned a lot but I think we also learned that there’s no going backwards in creativity or innocence or purity. Or maybe creative purity just looks different every year of your life.
STEREOGUM: When did you start picking back up for this album?
LEGRAND: It coincided with you and James [Barone] putting together the home studio. Bringing more professional gear into our practice space gave us the ability to start recording whenever we wanted.
SCALLY: When the cycle finished up, we started right away without putting much pressure on it. And somewhere along the line, we had the idea to avoid the studio, which stifles us. We decided to get some equipment and put it in our practice space and record at a high level without spending all this money to go somewhere else. And that ended up being a huge boon for us creatively. Woah, we can just make a record all of the time and no one can tell us what to do..
At the end of 2016 when we started messing around every once in a while, I don’t think that we thought this record would be coming out now. But it just took off and everything kept feeding itself. When we recorded the first group of songs, we thought it would just be a couple of them and then it ended up being five. That’s when we started working with Peter [Kember, aka Sonic Boom]. It was a positive feedback cycle that made it happen really quickly when we just didn’t think it was gonna happen.
LEGRAND: I remember the beginning of this album happening really sneakily. It really did just come from under… Oh, this is happening now.
SCALLY: It’s kind of like the action movie where the cop retires and he’s just like, I’ve had enough.
LEGRAND: But he gets sucked back in.
SCALLY: His wife gets kidnapped and he’s like, Alright, guess I gotta go out and do this.
LEGRAND: This is meant to be. I’m always gonna be finding some crime. Or maybe the crimes find me.
STEREOGUM: Do you feel like there’s any connection between working on 7 and the way things played out with your very first album? That process of starting anew and not knowing exactly where it’s going…
LEGRAND: Sort of, in an abstract way, for sure. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen, you’ll just try anything and everything. The parameters are wide and open. If there’s gonna be a crazy beat, we’re not gonna turn that down. It’s just what is happening. That interplay between us, those fundamental exchanges we had very early on… The ability to work together fluidly and know if something is working or not… That has not changed.
SCALLY: I don’t think there is a lot of difference between our outlook then and our outlook now. I think it’s always been the same. We’ve started each record not knowing if we were going to make a record. And then once it appeared that we were then, OK, cool. We’ve been graced with the reality that it’s always been exciting for us. We haven’t yet hit that wall.
LEGRAND: I think it’s the inner child, too. I really do. I always talk about that. If purity is a thing — and I don’t know if it is, actually, or if it’s just a feeling that you get and it’s not necessarily pure — but I think that’s the child. It’s always there. As long as you’re curious and you’re excited about something, you’re probably going to chase it to whatever extent it goes. And whenever it goes, it ends up being a record, and it’s been like that pretty consistently.
STEREOGUM: I wanted to talk a little bit about the statement, or whatever you want to call it, that you put out alongside the album announcement.
LEGRAND: Seriously, what do you call it? A thing you have to write? Not to be rude, but it’s true. If I could, I would just have the bio be the title, the credits, maybe the lyrics. But we have to put things into context. And some of what we wrote in the bio we regret now because they’re a little too… It’s kind of like a duh. Shit is going on politically, but this is not an overtly political record. Let’s just get that out of the way. This is not a record about everything that’s directly happening. Does it touch on human feelings and does it touch on darkness and chaos? Yes. It echoes those feelings that have existed in the past, present, and probably will continue into the future as long as humans are on planet Earth. There are forces that we all experience.
SCALLY: I think when someone says, “Describe what happened,” you always create a weird little fiction that isn’t really what happened. But it’s some version of what happened, and that’s what the bio is. It’s us trying to name some version of what happened, but unsuccessfully framing the evolution of it.
LEGRAND: I just had an incredible idea. If you were insane and you documented the first moment to the last moment… a journal where it was to the minute. Just had idea. It was this. Just had breakfast with Peter and James, then we went into the other room. And the bio was, like, 289 pages long, so that someone could go in and be like, On 1:25 on Thursday March this, the beginning of “Pay No Mind” was…. Because that’s really telling how everything happened. It’s very hard looking back to go, And this is how “Dark Spring” came about. We do know and remember very specific and crucial moments, but in trying to describe how exactly everything happens, you throw your hands up in the air.
SCALLY: One big misconception in the bio is the term “self-imposed limitations.” That sounds like it’s an intellectual exercise. We only realize those were self-imposed limitations looking back on them and seeing how we moved past them very naturally. At no point in the past were we like, We’re only going to do this and use this. We called them “self-imposed limitations” but that implies imposing it by yourself, which was idiotic and bad wording on our part.
STEREOGUM: So there was never a moment where you decided not to put something on an album because you couldn’t perform it live? That was a sticking point for me in what you wrote.
LEGRAND: There were moments in the past when we were making something and we were like, We can’t put this texture in because how would we recreate this live? We want to be able to play a song live and not have a huge part of it be missing. We do care about that. The energy live is really important. We have to have a certain energy. We are a band, we’re not DJs. We have a responsibility as musicians to do that. It means a lot to us.
While writing this album, it was more about just not letting that thought sneak its way back in and prevent us from having an incredible moment in a song that could feel exciting and get your pulse going. Like on “Dive,” or that sound in “Dark Spring” at the end… the siren. That’s a crucial part of the story, of whatever that story is. And if we couldn’t recreate it live — that’s not the case, we can, but let’s pretend — that would have affected the song in a negative way.
We just didn’t want to inhibit any level of creativity. There’s a certain younger mindset… You get older and it’s funny. When you’re younger, you have all these rules you make up for yourself, but I feel like as you get older, you say, Fuck those rules. What does that rule even mean? It’s nothing. It just doesn’t matter. Who cares?
SCALLY: For our first two records, we were obsessed with there never being a snare drum. For some reason, we hated snare drums.
LEGRAND: I don’t remember that at all.
SCALLY: I think it was because we associated a snare drum with every rock band ever.
LEGRAND: There was a standard rock hit thing… But that’s what I mean. There are so many things in life. Like, kids who are like, I can’t wear white T-shirts because it’s too… Like why?
SCALLY: The bottom of my pants can’t be too tight or the bottom of my pants can’t be loose.
LEGRAND: Like, OK, whatever. My sneakers can’t be too fat. It’s the same thing. You build ‘em and you break ‘em. It’s constantly happening. And it’s not just in art, it’s in everything. But that’s the trip. You have to embrace it. You can’t be like, I hated who I was because it’s still a part of you. I’m very adamant about this: Who you were 15 years ago is still inside of you. You’re never going to be able to fully get rid of that person. You can’t fully reinvent yourself, but you can just go with the flow and embrace the changes and not take it so seriously. You have to laugh about it. Because it’s all so ridiculous, it’s deeply ridiculous. What’s not ridiculous is getting older and working and really enjoying the muscles that you have from doing things often. I think that the paradox is that the more you work at something… I do believe you get more deft at making bigger brushstrokes. And I think this record has…
SCALLY: More solid lines…
LEGRAND: Bigger canvases, a stronger solid line. This is the way I do this and this is how I do it. There’s something a little thuggish about it, too, because it’s a swagger or something. Like, when you see 75-year-old people, they’re killing it because their give-a-fuck is busted. I really enjoy getting older. I appreciate young people because they’re vital and have an incredible energy — at our shows, there’s so much life going on and so much enthusiasm. But would I go back and experience that again? No. I enjoy this, this depth. 7 is a good example… I’m excited for whatever future there is because I did really learn a lot from this record.
SCALLY: It’ll be fun to be, like, playing in that club in The Matrix. The underground disco where they’re, like, hiding in a cave with no sun. You know that scene?
LEGRAND: In that movie?
SCALLY: Yeah, in that movie The Matrix there’s this club scene that’s, like, their commune of post-apocalyptic survivors….. This joke is not going anywhere, sorry.
LEGRAND: I was like… Is there a club called The Matrix? Are we playing this club in the fall?
SCALLY: I thought everyone knew The Matrix.
LEGRAND: I only watched it one time.
SCALLY: I’m so sorry I made a Matrix reference.
STEREOGUM: You were talking about getting better as you get older. What’s your daily creative process like? How often do you get together to work on music?
SCALLY: We’re really different. I work daily, writing. Vic has giant creative outbursts. Just different…
LEGRAND: But compatible in the sense that if we were both there every day, we might get nothing done. If we were both in there…. He’s always working on something, and sometimes when I come in — not because I come in — but when we’re together, there can be huge steps taken in certain directions. I find being together is ultimately the most powerful part of it.
SCALLY: Sometimes a song will be written in six hours, sometimes it’s three months. “L’Inconnue” has been being written for four or five years. Some songs are just like that.
LEGRAND: The French part [on “L’Inconnue”] started years ago. We always liked it, but we never found where it belonged. But some things are written at the time of the record and other things come back from the past and find their right moment. And some things never find their moment. That particular song is an example of something from the past that never found its right moment, but for some reason the world of 7 — with its kind of futuristic, psychedelic, sacred universe — just made it fit.
SCALLY: We always do a back-and-forth. Every song needs a certain amount of back-and-forth. Whether the chord progression or the chords come from her or me, it doesn’t really get anywhere before things shoot back-and-forth for a while.
LEGRAND: And there was, lyrically, more of a back-and-forth on this album, too. Because in the past it’s been mostly me, but I feel like there were a lot more instances were there was a much more down-the-middle feeling.
STEREOGUM: Is there any song in particular that feels like more of a collaboration lyrically?
LEGRAND: I think “Black Car,” “Dark Spring” … there’s a large portion that’s not just one person. Fusion is a good word for it. It’s all over the record. The one exception would maybe be “Drunk In LA,” which is full-on just my brain…
SCALLY: Those are the best lyrics.
STEREOGUM: You sort of split the songs up into two categories in your statement… Half of them being about glamor and expectations placed on women and the other half being about beauty in the wake of collective trauma. Do you still feel like those groupings make sense?
LEGRAND: I think we just did that for the bio. It was really more of a loose guideline. I don’t think the record necessarily needs to be viewed at all like that.
SCALLY: But I do think these songs do naturally group…. If I had to make another analogy, one group are the male songs and the other group are the female songs. Not in an I wrote those and she wrote those way… just their energy feels.
LEGRAND: Like in the violence or in the chaos or in the darkness or in the force of propulsion. The way in nature there’s male and female energies. Like on “Woo” and “Girl Of The Year” … the glamor and the destructive thing, that’s tied into that feminine side, but very dark and intense. More pink colors, or even crystal.
SCALLY: Things are very visual for us, as you might imagine, and I feel like those other songs are a lot more bloody, where the others are more crystalline…
LEGRAND: I wouldn’t even say bloody… I hate certain words in the world right now. Hate them. But I know what you’re saying. The other songs are more mirrors and smoke and ballet shoes.
SCALLY: You’re better at that kind of abstraction. I’m treading where I can’t stay afloat.
LEGRAND: I do hope those things can be felt, which is important to me. I always think that if I’m seeing something hearing these songs, then someone else has gotta see that. For example, if I see a really dramatic scene that the music is making me feel, someone else has got to. I really believe in that connectivity thing. It’s somehow tied to the concept of “no original thought” because if you’ve thought it, there’s a chance that someone else has already thought it or was thinking about it at the same time.
SCALLY: I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I feel like it’s kind of connected to that… The faux ownership of songs. We’re in this process right now of doing interviews which, no offense at all, is not our favorite part of putting out a record.
LEGRAND: It’s difficult because we have to present a thing a certain way and talk about it coherently.
SCALLY: For us, it’s mostly just trying to stop mistruths from being created. It’s not necessarily a positive process. We’re just trying to stop anything that wouldn’t be honest from ever appearing. Which can be exhausting sometimes. But I’m really fascinated by how — since we finished the record and the songs are just starting to enter the world and we’re starting to rehearse them for tour — I’ve started to realize that what I feel about the songs, the way they sound to me, is now really different than what it was three months ago. I feel a different way about the songs. Not my feelings about it, but what it means has almost shifted. It’s almost like the music changes, completely.
LEGRAND: It shapeshifts.
SCALLY: It changes. What it means changes, how it feels changes. Even to us as creators, the music is changing and meaning something different with each passing day.
LEGRAND: Music is truly an incredible art form. It’s a giant risk, making music. That’s the thing about creativity: You’re taking a giant risk. And I believe that they are always, ultimately, risks worth taking because you learn something. An artist’s career is really nothing but a giant process. I don’t ever feel like there’s been a definitive moment for us. I feel like every moment is vital and important. It’s truly insane the way you feel making something and the way you feel six months later. You remember moments of how you felt, but it continues changing and manifesting itself in other people’s lives. Like, what are we making? Are we really just making little magic bubbles that just float off…?
SCALLY: I think there’s almost a disconnection. Once the music is created, it’s no longer ours. There’s no ownership over it. We’re giving it away. You’re never going to feel the same as that second ever again about the music, even though it’s still the same recorded, physical thing. It’s energy and what it means is different.
LEGRAND: That’s the difference between a painting and music. A painting sits on the wall and it’s exactly the same painting it was from the second that the artist painted it. It’s the same. The lines didn’t change, maybe the colors will change a little bit and fade over 50 to 100 years, but the ultimate composition will stay the same.
SCALLY: You don’t think it’s the same for painters? That it’s a shifting identity of that work?
LEGRAND: I guess I’m just talking about the actual physical manifestation. Music: You make it with instruments and real things, but the actual thing that it is is invisible. It’s invisible. And it sounds different everywhere. We’ve heard our music in a valley, we’ve heard it on an airplane, we’ve heard it in a bar. It always sounds different. But a painting, depending on your day or your mood, might feel different, but the actual physical entity of it is still attached to the wall.
STEREOGUM: Do you feel a certain responsibility to be engaged with politics as a band?
LEGRAND: I think our responsibility is to persevere in continuing to make things that make people feel either better or work through something. That’s our responsibility. We’re not orators or public speakers. We’re musicians, performers, singers, guitar players, drummers… To some extent, there’s a theatrical responsibility. We provide a world to go into, to go through, to go elsewhere…
SCALLY: I think that the whole pressure to have musicians be political is really bad. It’s really limiting. There are so many bad actors in politics on both sides. There’s so much bullshit, there’s so much misinformation. There’s always somebody muddying the waters and making something bullshit, no matter what cause you believe in. As personal people, we feel very strongly about a lot of things, but I don’t necessarily believe that it’s my right or duty to preach that to other people.
Where politics have entered our world is generally when it can be boiled down to a very simple thing. I think that we are very, very big believers in the power of love and empathy. This is going to sound hippy-dippy but… we really, really care about love and empathy. We don’t think that’s political, we think that’s just human. So where we’ve interacted through our band into the world of politics is through the marches that we’ve been a part of because we don’t necessarily see them as political, but more in support of some very basic human things… Which is love, support, empathy. Away from division and away from violence. It’s apolitical because it’s so non-specific.
LEGRAND: It’s just not our place to decide for other people or to judge them. That’s how we view it. Someone else might believe that this is great for their career to do this and will help them, and that’s their own path.
SCALLY: That’s where it gets dirty, too. That’s the saddest thing in the world, if someone’s just doing political stuff because they think it will further their…
LEGRAND: It’s good for marketing.
SCALLY: That’s one of the reasons why it doesn’t have a place. We believe in charity. There’s a place for it in music where it doesn’t feel like you’re branding along with something or soapboxing.
LEGRAND: We want the music to be free in its form. Attaching it directly to politics would stifle the imagination and the possibilities of it. I feel that. That is my reaction when asked, Is it a political record? I say no because I won’t stifle the possibilities of it. “Dark Spring” does have some sort of propulsive force — it feels like change, transition, darkness, chaos. But that’s where it is. Anything else is really up to the listener.
SCALLY: The thing about music is that it’s so abstract. Asking if something is political is insane. If you take the most political song of all time, like “The Times They Are A Changin’…” He says “congressmen, senators,” stuff like that. But even with those lyrics about something as specific as our United States legislative system, that song is about a much bigger thing. It’s about a huge energy field that he’s feeling. It’s so reductive. I don’t think that’s a political song. It’s a song about getting older, a song about seeing things for what they really are. It’s a giant emotional field that he creates for that song.
LEGRAND: Making a great political song is a different thing…
SCALLY: I would argue that there might not be anything as simple as a political song. Or that it’s always a reductive statement, to call something a political song. I think one of the reasons that Dylan ran away from that so hard is that he didn’t want to be labeled as that. This is music. Don’t align me with all these movements. I’m just feeling things and I’m putting them down — they’re abstract and huge. I’m not this one moment in ’60s counterculture. I’m just a person that makes music.
LEGRAND: And obviously Bob Dylan is a whole different level than us, but the reaction from an artist to another is the same. I feel a very similar reaction. I don’t ever want to be stifled by that. I was to stubbornly be as free as possible. That is freedom: to be yourself. Not to be labeled by someone else. Because no one should just be that. Anyone should feel like that they can say whatever they want.
SCALLY: Jennifer Hudson just sang that song at the anti-gun violence march.
LEGRAND: It was great.
SCALLY: I had trouble holding myself together because that song is just unreal.
LEGRAND: But it’s an important question… Overall, the politics of the heart, the human sagas: pain, suffering, the chaos. These are things that don’t have sides. They are just there. They are within everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican or whatever. When you come down to it, it’s human issues, human problems. It’s human pain, it’s human suffering. It’s much bigger and much deeper than that.
7 is out 5/11 via Sub Pop.