Beach House: The Story Behind 'Bloom' and Indie's Most Reliable Duo
Beach House's Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally relax on a couch in the lounge of the Tribeca Hotel in New York, sipping cocktails and reminiscing about their misadventures as teenage record store geeks. Scally describes how he and his buddies would head to the Sound Garden record store on Thames Street in Baltimore, wasting hours flipping through $1 used CDs. Legrand actually had to commute to her geek shrine, taking a train from just west of Philadelphia to tiny Repo Records in Bryn Mawr, Pa.
"Kids these days," Legrand says with a smile, "they find things on the Internet. They don't get that joy of falling over something by accident . . . something that the too-cool-for-school kid at the record store would be like, 'You gotta check that out!'"
They don't act like it, but Legrand, 30, and Scally, 29, are those cool kids -- eloquent, attractive, impeccably dressed and intensely passionate about their craft. Their dream pop -- which has worked the neat trick of getting more dreamy and more pop the last six years -- has been championed fiercely from the start by in-the-know indie cognoscenti. The pair recorded Beach House's 2006 self-titled debut for barely $1,000, with Legrand on vocals and organ and Scally on guitar and keys, but the blogosphere adopted the effort and helped it move 24,000 copies through tiny Washington, D.C.-based imprint Carpark Records, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The duo's growth has been steady -- 49,000 units of second album "Devotion" (2008), followed by 137,000 of its third (and first for Sub Pop), "Teen Dream" (2010), according to SoundScan. The hushed, reverb-heavy tracks of "Bloom" (out May 15 on Sub Pop) are the group's most polished to date, and 2012 could prove to be its breakout year. "Bloom" will be available at major retailers and heard by live audiences of up to 5,000 when Beach House begins a yearlong stint of on-and-off touring.
But any growth will be organic, and on the duo's own terms. Beach House has dismissed multiple licensing opportunities and spends more time designing glow-in-the-dark vinyl releases than worrying about writing a crossover single. Asked if he wants the band to become the next Arcade Fire or Bon Iver -- indie heroes who've landed on the mainstream radar -- Scally doesn't hesitate to think it over: "Absolutely not."
"What's special is the way that they've operated on never trying to sell themselves out too much," says manager Jason Foster, who's worked with the duo since 2009. "A lot of fans really hold onto that -- like this is their band -- and we're very careful not to ruin that relationship with them."
Beach House had already been writing "Teen Dream" before inking a deal with Sub Pop in September 2009, so the release of its most accessible album wasn't exactly precipitated by the move to a bigger platform, but certainly the music was there to take advantage of it. The album cycle included Beach House's first TV spots on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" and "Conan"; a live session for Daytrotter; and nearly 18 months on the road, with stops at Coachella, Sasquatch! and Austin City Limits, as well as an opening slot on Vampire Weekend's fall 2010 tour. "We saw more facility," Legrand says of the Sub Pop deal. "We don't want anyone telling us what to do, and Sub Pop is totally fine with that."
Legrand and Scally conceptualized "Bloom" on tour before recording with "Teen Dream" producer Chris Coady at Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, Texas, and mixing at New York's Electric Lady Studios. Bursting with dew-dappled guitar patterns and crisp, haunting vocals, Bloom was created in about nine weeks. The process utilized Sub Pop's resources to create Beach House's most expansive-sounding effort yet.
"It's not like they have a million-dollar budget or anything like that -- it's just making the small improvements that make such a world of differences," Sub Pop A&R representative Susan Busch says. "Those first two records were made on such a huge dream that they weren't able to break through onto that next level of recording. It's truly a matter of tens of thousands of dollars, and it makes so much of a difference."
On March 7, Beach House previewed "Bloom" by unveiling its first single, the sprawling "Myth." The song has since sold 5,000 downloads, according to SoundScan. The duo's best-selling track remains the "Teen Dream" standout "10 Mile Stereo," which was featured in a 2010 TV ad for Guinness and has sold 40,000 downloads. The ad, a cinematic clip in which dark, rolling clouds parallel Guinness' dark beer, remains one of Beach House's few synchs, and Legrand says of the commercial, "We were adamant about it staying within a certain artistic territory."
Beach House isn't opposed to licensing, but the duo and its team are more concerned with maintaining the band's brand than finding brand partnerships. Months before "Bloom's" release, for instance, Sub Pop was approached by Starbucks about giving the album in-store counter space, much like recent full-lengths by labelmates Fleet Foxes and the Shins. Fleet Foxes' "Helplessness Blues" (2011) debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 317,000 copies, according to SoundScan, while the Shins' "Wincing the Night Away" (2007) bowed at No. 2 and has sold 627,000.
But Busch says the duo didn't feel fully comfortable with the opportunity, and the early conversations never progressed into an actual offer or deal. As successful as the Guinness ad was, Foster says there are a handful of potential TV synchs that went nowhere.
The marketing effort behind "Bloom" will instead return Beach House to the late-night circuit, with its debut performance on "Late Show With David Letterman" scheduled for May 16, and a concerted effort to make "Myth" stick at triple A and college radio. The band also ramped up its social media presence by refreshing its official Tumblr, increasing its tweeting and sharing new tracks like "Myth" and past live videos with its 233,000 Facebook fans.
Yet the heart of Beach House's record promotion has always been its live show. At the start of the "Teen Dream" trek, the group headlined midsize, 1,000-capacity clubs and supported Vampire Weekend at venues like Hollywood Bowl and New York's Radio City Music Hall. When the duo wrapped its "Teen Dream" tour in early 2011, the band had more than doubled the size of those rooms in major markets like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, selling out shows of 2,000-2,400 capacity. Meanwhile, "Teen Dream" kept selling, adding 32,000 more copies in 2011 to its 101,000 total in 2010, according to SoundScan.
"'Teen Dream' had really long legs, and from everybody's perspective we left a lot on the table," says longtime booking agent Trey Many of Billions Corp. For the "Bloom" tour, which kicks off May 4 in Charlottesville, Va., Many says that Beach House will headline venues with 2,500-4,000 capacities and play festivals like Primavera and Pitchfork. On July 23, the act will perform at New York's Central Park Summerstage, which has a capacity of 5,000 people and will be its biggest headlining show to date.
"Bloom" will be available at big-box stores like Target, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble, but Legrand and Scally are more excited about supplying unique material for the sort of indie record stores they grew up visiting. For Record Store Day (April 21), the duo will issue a limited-edition 7-inch single, "Lazuli," as a blue vinyl, with a B-side, "Equal Mind," that will not appear on "Bloom." Upon its release, the album will be available in two limited vinyl editions -- one white, one glow-in-the-dark. ("Teen Dream" has sold 21,000 vinyl copies, according to SoundScan.) Legrand and Scally design these limited vinyl copies, as well as all of their album artwork, themselves.
And if Beach House doesn't become the next indie crossover sensation despite the rave reviews and growing crowds, Legrand and Scally are fine with letting their craft continue to engulf their lives. When asked about their hobbies outside of the band, Legrand and Scally look at each other and struggle to name a single non-music activity. "It kind of takes over your life 100%," Scally says. "On our first record, I remember having $1,000 in my bank account, and I felt like I was rich. We realized that people liked [our music] and if we took this seriously, this could be our lives."