Baltimore, visuals, and covering Daniel Johnston are on the agenda as Beach House’s Alex Scally chats to BRANNAVAN GNANALINGHAM ahead of two shows in New Zealand.

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BEACH HOUSE create the kind of indie pop that makes you swoon. Beautiful, dreamy, languid, their music just screams a particular coterie of adjectives. Their 2008 album Devotion (following on from their 2006 self-titled debut) has helped contribute to a healthy internet buzz following the band, and the duo composed of vocalist/organist Victoria Legrand and keyboards/guitarist Alex Scally are heading down to New Zealand for a couple of shows.

Beach House was formed when Legrand and Scally decided to create a band together in 2005. Scally, like Legrand, has a long musical background, however, he doesn’t really think his previous work was really up to very much. “Actually I think of Beach House as the first band I’ve really done. Victoria and I met in a band. We didn’t really do anything. It wasn’t productive, people didn’t put a lot of effort in.” Scally admits to playing “with tonnes of people” but would only record for himself. “I settled with Vic because we had really complementary strengths. She was such an amazing melody creator. It was the first thing I have ever done musically that felt 100% right in every way.” While Legrand’s melody skills were emphasised in the interview, Scally admits that textures and instrumentation were his fortes. The two however don’t split themselves up according to these roles. “We sort of go back and forth, nothing’s really set. Really, it’s like we just start with a song, a chord or a melody and we grow it together and we hang it out and it takes on these new forms. Something will happen and we usually agree.” His postscript to this was a simple “it’s a kinda group thing.”

There has been considerable murmurings from Baltimore in the last few years, with figures such as Animal Collective and Dan Deacon coming to represent all that is good out of the city. “Baltimore has been provincial for a really long time. It’s not a major cultural centre of America. It’s getting a lot of press lately, but it’s always been a place where people can make art and music and not pay a lot of rent. It’s been that way for ten or fifteen years. It seems like there’s some kind of culmination, it seems people are really excited.” The support that a scene like this engenders has assisted Beach House. “People are coming through, and have brought people together. We’ve always had so much support. It makes us want to go out and go to other people’s shows. It’s sort of a mutual excitement that everyone shares around here.” Of course, the celebration of the music is quite different to the portrayal of the city that’s present in Baltimore’s “biggest export to the world”, The Wire, which Scally admits that “it’s actually something that really happens.”

The band found itself getting a sudden internet buzz with their 2006 debut, and in particular, the single ‘Apple Orchard’. “It was pretty surprising. The label who put us out was really tiny and didn’t have any bands who had a national profile. It was just something we recorded on a whim, two people in Baltimore passed it to the guy who put it out. It was something which felt really natural.” Scally admits that the timing was pretty lucky. “It was right around the time that people were saying you can use the internet for everything.” And unlike other “internet” popularised bands, Scally’s not afraid to acknowledge that they are an “internet band”. “We’re an internet band, we’re not on radio or TV, we’re only on the internet. It’s really cool.”

Devotion, the band’s follow-up to the debut, feels denser, more resonant. The band benefited from more time in the studio. “We just had a lot more time. The first album was recorded on a whim, unbalanced and lo-fi. It was pretty much the same process but longer.” While Scally confesses that in the two albums, “there were a lot of errors”, the song-writing in Devotion does feel like that clichéd term, more assured. Their music feels very visually oriented, and there’s a cinematic quality to the music (I’d like to ascribe this to Legrand’s uncle being the great French composer Michel Legrand, who scored some of my favourite musicals/films of all-time, but Victoria Legrand has strongly refuted this in previous interviews – her father was an artist though too). The band describe themselves on their MySpace page as “visual, visual, visual”. Scally says “Yeah I think that happens through Victoria more than me. I think all music is visual. For me it’s more mathematically visual, I see spaces, and arrangements, and levels. For me, it’s more emotional but Victoria’s very very visually linked.”

The band downplay rhythm as a result, the drum-beats are buried low in the mix. Their use of rhythm is more of an atmospheric thing, a mood-setting device, rather a chest-thumping beat. “Yeah I’d say that, but it is there. There’s something that drums do to songs that we can never have in our songs. They would kill our songs. It is intentional.” Another forte of the band is the lyrics, the wistful tone of the music perfectly complemented by Legrand’s nostalgic and introspective lyrical sense. “They’re written as we write, they come out and she forms them. She lets them take shape, and they come to her all of a sudden. She has the melodies. Being around her doing that has helped me understand lyrics. I think that’s a really amazing method. I really love the lyrics.” Legrand’s expressive nature live has also rubbed off on Scally. “Victoria’s a really expressive singer, that’s really helped me get into the headspace

The band find the same adjectives get trotted out when they are described in the press – moody, ethereal, atmospheric. Etcetera. I ask if this annoys Scally, especially when the band also gets compared to bands such as Mazzy Star and Galaxie 500 a lot. “I don’t really care though, people can say what they want. I like that people talk about it. I’m all right with it. When we first started with it, when people first started reviewing it, I remember getting upset about the genre people were imposing on it. You can fight against it but people need the boxes. I like these bands, but I don’t think we sound like either one of them.”

The band apply their distinctive style to lo-fi hero Daniel Johnston’s song ‘Some Things Last (A Long Time)’. “We were listening to a lot of Daniel Johnston on one tour, and I think it was Victoria who said we should try and cover it. I think it was the same impulse as a seeing a kid playing with a toy and thinking ‘I want that’. It never really worked, but finally in the studio we re-did a few things, and thought ‘this feels like something we’ve done’.”

Despite the band’s sudden success, Scally hasn’t quit his day-job as a carpenter yet. “Beach House is increasingly taking more and more of my time, but I still do it when I have free time to pay bills. Often because I just enjoy it very much. I really like engineering, I think it’s a wonderful thing, creating a plan and following it and making something beautiful. It’s just a wonderful thing no matter what form you do it. I think carpentry is really creative. Very much like music.” But given the increasing and justified hype around this lovely band, perhaps Scally might find less and less time to spend on the carpentry, and more time conjuring up the same hazy adjectives with the music.