Far Beyond Driven
Perseveres--Hopelessly Devoted To Crafting The Perfect Follow-Up Album
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One evening in the lazy, unfrozen first week of February, Victoria Legrand, Beach House's 26-year-old vocalist and organist, returns to her Charles Village home to tackle her taxes before doing the last interview on a day full of them. The indie-music media is rightfully ravenous for details about the duo's sophomore album, Devotion, out Feb. 26. Roping a number of phone interviews with Australian reporters into a bundle, she and her bandmate, Alex Scally, 25, have been fielding questions all day about influences and stylistic changes. It's all part of the hard work that goes with producing new music, but talk can get overwhelming when you have to think about the video shoot scheduled for the following morning and pick a T-shirt design before the tour.
"We feel no anxiety about the record coming out," Legrand says, relaxing in her living room with her calm cat and a glass of white wine. "No real anxiety about the tour either. We just have anxiety right now because there's a huge list of things we have to complete before we leave."
Perched on a footstool, Scally agrees. "With the amount of time [this band] is taking up in our lives, we kind of need it to support us," he says. "So we've just been going through a lot of less than exciting business activities to try to ensure a successful release."
Beach House traveled heavily behind its self-titled 2006 debut--three national tours--and the duo quickly wearied of playing similar sets night after night. "By the time the first record came out, we were already done with it," Legrand admits. "We really did it up with the first record, and by the second we were ready to move on. We got totally sick of playing the same songs."
"Playing the music every day pushed us into new music maybe faster than if we hadn't toured that much," Scally adds. He recalls feeling particularly disconnected from the audience when the band had reached Europe. Beach House's sleepy, nostalgic mood had surpassed its natural life, and Legrand and Scally were more energized about the new livelier material they were writing, much of which has found its way onto the new album.
"I believe [Devotion] is multicolored," Scally says. "It's not so flat and droning. So I think that's just the price we had to pay. For a more complex thing, we had to have a more intense, complex endeavor."
"For a better thing you have to work harder," Legrand adds, laughing.
Infusing their sound with more life didn't entail radical changes in instrumentation, style, or band responsibilities. Rather, Beach House has opted to play more sophisticated music, reflective of their virtuosity as performers. "It's more complicated material," Legrand says. "I think the songs have a lot more substance. You want to hear [Devotion] with lots of sound and lights."
"The touring for it will feel a lot more natural," Scally adds. "And it's going to feel a lot better to be onstage performing every night."
Devotion's songs are worlds away from the business-as-usual placidity of many indie-rock albums being produced today. On "Gila" Scally's bluesy guitar hums the bass notes under the slick '60s organ sustained by Legrand in a mood that calls to mind the Mamas and the Papas' "No Salt on Her Tail" but with more sassy resilience. "You Came to Me," for which filmmaker Skizz Cyzyk created a funny, tinsel-luminous video with crutches and a fishbowl, melds melodic Daydream Nation guitar with whimsical keys, haunting lyrics, and Karen Carpenter-carved vocal hooks. At the end it becomes nearly danceable.
"The recording process [for Devotion] was three times what the first record's recording process was, if that tells you anything about how much the music has evolved," Legrand says. She's right--the songs' subtle textures could have you finding stuff for days.
Completed last August, Devotion's recording wasn't only a time of experimentation and new directions but was full of momentum, intensity, and even some confusion. "There was one day when we had finished recording and we'd done a preliminary mix," Scally remembers. "I was listening to it in a car--I had to drive somewhere for 12 hours. And I called Victoria on the way back in a panic, saying, `Everything's wrong.'"
"Then we got in a massive fight," Legrand interjects.
"But it was actually just an experience I'd never had before of completely losing perspective, completely not being able to hear what was there," Scally says. "Basically, it's like losing touch with reality because you're so close to the music."
Many times over they learned that two people can hear a piece of music in completely different ways, and getting someone to change perspectives can be as difficult as "talking somebody down from a ledge," Legrand says. "We had to leave and come back constantly because our ears got really confused at times."
Legrand and Scally ultimately share all Beach House responsibilities--from composing the music, recording, producing, and mixing it (with Rob Girardi at Lord Baltimore Recording), to making decisions about artwork and the visual component of performances. Both are deeply dedicated to growing their musical versatility and packing as much life as possible into their creative output.
"Basically, it's nonstop work," Legrand says. "But while on tour, [we'll] be able to see the opposite end of all the work."