“There Was A Fatigue”: Beach House On How They Flipped The Songwriting Process On Its Head For Album ‘7’Written by David James Young on June 4, 2018
A lot of bands have come and gone in the 12 years since Baltimore duo Beach House first put out an album. Few, however, have held such longevity the way that the dream-pop outfit has – and not one can mirror their idiosyncratic nature as a band, try as they may. Whether it be their crystallised take on dream-pop or their prolific release schedule, Beach House have always revelled in being a unique entity. This applies to even the minutiae of their creative process – which is where we begin as one half of the band explains how their albums typically come to be.
“We’ve always stored things up – we tend to hold onto songs until the moment’s right,” says Victoria Legrand, the singing and keyboard-playing half of the band. “That’s been the case with pretty much all of our records. The big difference this time around was the level of boredom with the way we’d done things in the past. There was a fatigue there, and a desire to not be repetitive.” This was especially apparent by the duo’s decision to release a collection of B-sides and rarities – titled, imaginatively enough, B-Sides and Rarities – in June of last year. Legrand points to this as the duo taking the chance to completely wipe the slate clean and build up from scratch. “Basically, we wanted to eliminate anything that could be perceived as limiting to our creativity,” she explains.
“It’s amazing how frustrating making music can be at times – often, you find yourself in a position where something is either blocking your path to the music you want to make or coming in-between. That can often come down to the people you’re working with, too – so we started out just by ourselves.” So begins the origins of the band’s seventh studio album – also with quite the imaginative title of 7. Rather than lock themselves away in a writing process and then follow the due process of locking themselves away in the studio, Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally began making the album through demoing in their own home studio set-up.
Well, sort of a home studio: “It’s a bit of a stretch to call it a studio,” Legrand laughs. “We have a desk set-up in the rehearsal space that we’ve had for about the last 10 years or so here in Baltimore, so we were using that. The writing and recording process for this record was kind of running simultaneously – it was this very free, very fluid thing for us. In comparison to the way we’d done things in the past, this felt very liberating and very freeing. Any kind of energies around what we were doing that were old energies or toxic energies, we knew that had to go.”
After their initial sessions etched out the bones of what would become 7, Legrand and Scally completed the bulk of the record at Carriage House: a recording studio based in Stamford, some three-and-a-half hours north-east of Baltimore. The sessions saw the duo working with two people they’d never made an album with before – drummer James Barone, who has been playing live with the band since 2016; and Peter “Sonic Boom” Kember, a producer and musician best known for being a part of Spaceman 3. “He’s had an amazing career,” says Legrand of the latter. “I’m so glad we met him, and that he’s in our lives now. He was crucial to the journey – his attitude as a producer is not intrusive. He’s so encouraging of following your own path and not giving a fuck.”
After the ambitious effort of putting two albums out in a year – predecessors Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars came out within months of one another – Beach House were adamant about a more elaborate, slow-cooked process for making 7. The result is an album that’s multi-dimensional – still identifiably theirs, but with a certain je ne sais quoi that comes across as refreshing and intriguing. “There are a few things going on at the same time on this record,” Legrand testifies.
“You have songs like ‘Black Car,’ ‘Woo’ and ‘Dark Spring’ that have this stylistic energy that I don’t think has really been present on our previous albums. You also have a song like ‘Girl of the Year,’ which is really gushy, glamorous and romantic. That’s something I think we’ve always been capable of, but never quite on this scale. It’s things like that which make this album feel ‘bigger,’ in a sense, than Depression Cherry. Definitely more than Thank Your Lucky Stars. There’s a weight to this album, I feel.”
Legrand is the first to admit that, for all their better efforts to diversify and remain as versatile as ever when it comes to their music, there’s inevitably been factors that have contributed to people defining ‘the Beach House sound.’ Be that Legrand’s vocals, Scally’s guitar tones or even in the production aesthetic, listeners are able to comfortably pick out Beach House from a line. Legrand personally finds this fascinating: “There are definitely things that are very recognisable about Beach House, although I’ve never been quite sure as to why that is exactly,” she says.
“Perhaps it’s in the essence, or in the instrumentation. It could even be finding a certain rhythm. Whatever it may be, it’s important to us that we’re trying something different and using something different on every album that we make. It’s all about keeping the energies fresh to us, and making sure that everything we do is exciting to us.”
As far as Legrand is concerned, this is something Beach House have achieved on 7, which was released last week and has already accumulated high praise from both fans and critics alike. It’s a testament to the staying power of Beach House. For all the greatness of their early work, the nature of the beast means they could have easily gone the way of the dodo as many of their peers did in the second half of the 2000s. And yet, here we are in 2018 – still speaking vitally of this band in the present tense. It seems trite to flat-out ask what their secret is, but surely something has been driving Legrand and Scally for all these years.
“If you want to have a long career, you’ve gotta be pretty intuitive,” Legrand begins. “You have to have a good idea about your own boundaries and be in touch with your own desires. You have to know when you’re onto something. If you’ve somehow lost interest along the way, you have to be brave in trying to figure that out and make things interesting for yourself again. There’s no one answer or fix to that – none of us know what we’re doing; we’re all just putting one foot in front of the other. As you get older, you get a lot more adamant about what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not okay with. You become really practical about making changes.” She lets that marinate for a moment, before concluding: “It’s positive to want to change things.”
Beach House’s latest release 7 is out now.