Beach House's Victoria Legrand on new album 7
As Beach House return with their seventh album, one half of the Baltimore duo, Victoria Legrand explains their decision to change up their writing and recording process after 14 years of working together
They say old habits die hard, but for Beach House they seem to die pretty easily. Over the course of six albums, the Baltimore duo – comprising of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally – have cemented themselves as masters of dream pop; their vast, ethereal soundscapes and Legrand’s hazy, haunting vocals taking the genre to the highest of highs and lowest of lows.
Their breakthrough album Teen Dream saw them catapulted from underground blogger favourites to critically-acclaimed indie darlings, but its impact also extended far outwith that realm. Beyoncé and Jay-Z were spotted at the duo's 2010 Coachella set, Portishead selected them to perform at the All Tomorrow’s Parties I'll Be Your Mirror festival they curated in July 2011 and Kendrick Lamar even sampled one of the album’s tracks – Silver Soul – on Money Trees taken from his 2012 album good kid, m.A.A.d city.
Then came Bloom, their most fully-formed record to date and one that perfectly encapsulated all the dark and light of the duo’s sound in one grand indie pop package. They followed it up by releasing two albums in one year, Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars, in a feat most bands wouldn’t even dare. When it came to making their seventh album – the aptly-titled 7 – however, they felt it was time for a change.
“Everything we wanted for this record was kind of a reaction to the past, like getting sick of doing things the same old way,” says vocalist and keyboardist Victoria Legrand. “I do feel that the past is great, but it is the past. When it comes to creativity, I personally feel that nostalgia is a bit sickening. It's not really a productive feeling.”
For the first time in their 14 years working together, the duo switched up their writing and recording process. Instead of maintaining a fairly strict structure of writing the entire record and recording it with one set producer, they built a home studio of sorts in Baltimore – “it was just a corner of our practice space,” Legrand quips – and recorded in spurts, either in their home studio or in Carriage House studios in Connecticut. Once they felt a handful of songs were ready, they would record them and move on.
“We didn't want to wait a long time and then just do 14 songs in a studio over three months because that's really draining and has cut down in the past for us on experimenting, which we got to do a lot more of on this record,” says Legrand. “It was very necessary for us to still go away though. Even though we did record stuff in Baltimore, I think it really benefited us as well, going and spending nine or ten days at a professional studio... because they are magical places.”
The making of the album was a pretty close-knit affair too, with the least amount of additional assistance they’ve ever had. Aside from Legrand and Scally, the only other credits on the album are given to James Barone, their live drummer since 2016 who plays drums on the entire record, co-producer Peter Kember, aka Sonic Boom, and Alan Moulder, who mixed it. “I think this record marks the beginning of us having more control,” says Legrand.
“Alex and I are pretty playful people, especially when it comes to music and art, and I think that's why we've been doing it for so long, because we have a very complementary, playful chemistry between us,” she continues. “As we do this more and as we work more, and we make more records and more songs, I think we're discovering new ways to keep things feeling really energetic for us... we're finding newer ways of retaining that playful spirit.”
One of these new methods was allowing themselves fewer restrictions and limitations during the songwriting process. While in the past they would perhaps consider how to translate the song live while they were writing it, this time around they just let their creativity flow. “If we felt it, if we liked it, if we loved it, we kept it; we were absolutely not going to worry about the future. It was really about the moment of the song and the vision of the song, and the imagination and the feelings more than ever,” says Legrand. “I really think that Alex and I have always been good at – we're getting better at it too – knowing when there needs to be a shift. We wouldn't have been able to do all this had we not done all the previous records because it takes a lot of work to find new work, to discover a new path.”
7 is still typically Beach House, but sees them exploring a wider spectrum of sounds and delving deeper into shoegaze territory than previously. Album opener Dark Spring is as shoegaze-y as they come, oozing with reverb and guided by urgent drums, whereas Pay No Mind and Lose Your Smile take a more minimalistic approach. Dive is the duo at their absolute best, beginning with Legrand’s vocals at peak dreaminess, while looping around shimmering synths and glittering guitars, as the track builds to a crescendo. “I feel like a lot of this record for me and Alex, there were a lot of moments of surprises and... once it started happening, it really wanted to be alive and it wanted to go,” says Legrand.
Not ones to rest on their laurels, the pair rarely take long breaks between records, usually only leaving two or three years between releases. This time around, that continued to be the case. Just three months after returning from touring their two 2015 records they were already on to the next, beginning work on their home studio for 7 and even managing to release a B-sides and Rarities compilation in-between. “I think that working and playing and all that is so much a part of living and life. Work is such a great part of life. It's what keeps us engaged with the world and I think without something to make or create I don't know what we'd do,” says Legrand.
“When you're playing with things creatively, there's many sides to everything... and you find all these other dimensions. I think that's the real allure... that all of a sudden you're shown all of these multitudes and that keeps you physically alive because it shows you something perhaps a bit hopeful and full of possibilities.”
Given the nature of their music, Beach House are often associated with a certain mood – that late night listening through headphones in your bedroom kind of mood – but the duo are quick to dispel the myth that they are a bedroom band. “I really feel that mood is very relative… I think what it is is it's really just about energy and that particular moment. Whatever that particular moment is that inspires us working on music, that's going to go into the song,” says Legrand. With 7 perhaps their most diverse-sounding record to date, Beach House have also managed to dispel another myth: that if it ain’t broke, you can still fix it.
7 is released on 11 May via Bella Union