SUCCESS, according to Victoria Legrand, is a relative term. To those on the outside, her band Beach House are enjoying their most active period since forming in Baltimore eight years ago, providing them with a previously unencountered momentum when it came to releasing Bloom, their fourth record, earlier this year.
Most of that momentum can be attributed to the fact that 2010’s Teen Dream album pushed the duo into the spotlight in a way that their previous records hadn’t. Still, the singer maintains, it doesn’t mean that anything has changed between her and her musical partner, Alex Scally.
“Yes, I know why in some ways people responded to Teen Dream more than the previous two,” she says. “But people do like the first two albums, also, and I know why that is, too. When we were making that record – and afterwards – it didn’t feel like it was the pinnacle of our career, because it absolutely wasn’t. It was just another record for us. But I’m grateful – oh, so very grateful – for what it did, which was to somehow create an opening, and maybe brought some people who weren’t there before into our lives.”
In many ways, the songs on Bloom sound like a sharper, more defined version of Beach House’s trademark sound; woozy, dreamy, shoegaze-pop that is anchored by Legrand’s swarthy, sensuous vocals. But if the pair knew what it was that people responded so positively to on Teen Dream, did that knowledge influence their songwriting style when they returned to Baltimore to write?
“We don’t really think that way when we’re making music. Each record has its course for us as the writers; Teen Dream had it, Devotion had it, the self-titled album had it, but they’re not reactions to each other. The albums are separate universes that we created, and they happened very naturally. The ideas for them happen whenever they want, and we store them up and work on them in Baltimore and flesh them out, and who knows how long they’ll take? But when those new ideas happen, we fully devote ourselves to them, and we don’t live in the past.”
Although Legrand insists the creative process is subconscious, and not open to control, she is also at pains to emphasise that Beach House are an independent band who do have control over some aspects of their career.
“Ugh, a management team? I would be in absolute hell if we had a management team,” she laughs. “To a control freak, a team of people making your decisions is a nightmare. Our first record came out in 2006, and in 2010 we finally, begrudgingly, allowed someone to be our manager – and it was a friend of ours – just because we didn’t want to answer 55 emails a day. That sort of thing becomes very distracting; it becomes a nuisance, to be honest. So you need somebody to help you do that, because it’s so anti-creative.
“When we did our first two tours in 2010 for Teen Dream, they were good tours. Some of the shows were more sold out than others, but it wasn’t something that felt weird; it wasn’t like something that would have happened to Fleet Foxes or something, where you don’t tour that much and all of a sudden you have hundreds and thousands of people who wanna hear you. We were allowed to have years of personal growth: playing in front of no one, playing in front of five people, playing in front of 20 people; the growth was always very steady.”
As independent-minded as they may be, however, the duo have also had to grapple with the realities of becoming a better known band. Earlier this year, there were rumours that Starbucks wanted to strike a deal with them to sell Bloom in their cafes; their music has been licensed to various TV shows and they’ve even had a song (10 Mile Stereo) used on a Guinness TV advert. Do those difficult-to-avoid elements of the industry make it hard to maintain the balance of the DIY ethos she espouses with such ferocity?
“I’m gonna answer your question very honestly: no. We’ve done one commercial, and we’ve allowed our songs to be on TV shows, but you would be surprised at how little money there is in that for us,” she says. “The main way that we survive as artists is by touring. I mean, record sales . . . ? That’s OK, but that’s not how a person can survive unless you’re selling many, many records.
“We make the decisions when they arise, and if we think a [TV] show is stupid, we don’t do it. It’s not that interesting, really, the decision-making; you just have to be careful. And every artist is different.
“The Starbucks thing? Well, that was never officially an offer, but it was also just something that we knew we weren’t ready for, and we didn’t want that type of exposure. And I think that’s really what we had an issue with: if you allow yourself to be in such a huge channel or network, then growth might happen in a way that is deeply unnatural and fast, and something that you can’t handle. Doing a TV show is different: it’s like, a minute. I think it’s just a question of knowing when you make a choice, how that will affect your growth. But I don’t even think commercials are bad – it depends on the product, the idea, the advertising. When we turned down Volkswagen, it was because the commercial was pathetic, and we didn’t think the song and the commercial went well together. On the other hand, the Guinness ad was such a creative ad. It was beautifully shot and there were more reasons to do it than not do it – so that was it.”
Yes, if there’s one thing you learn from a conversation with Victoria Legrand, it’s that success is a relative term.
“We’re not riding around in jet planes, y’know?” she says. “People say that Teen Dream was successful, and yeah, it was a well-received record – but in our eyes, all of our records have been well-received in certain ways. I don’t think we’ve let anything really change us; I think we’ve just become more determined than ever to do things our way, and not make foolish and stupid decisions.
“There have been challenges, but everything is still very much within our means. We still live in Baltimore, still rent an apartment, and I do Beach House all the time. That has not changed for the past six years. If you’re comfortable and feel well represented by what you do, and that you’re in control of your image and yourself, and you feel like your essence is intact . . . to me, that’s what success is. Every once in a while, you have to check yourself: ‘How do I feel? How does this feel?’ And that’s as much as I know.”
* Beach House play Mandela Hall on October 26th, Cork Opera House on October 27th and Vicar Street on October 28th