To listen to Beach House is to allow yourself to melt into a languid fantasy. Since the duo’s self-titled 2006 debut, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally’s sound has treaded a gentle balance between intense joy and rose-colored melancholy; you could always count on them for pensive slow jams to soundtrack long nights alone or with a lover. So it comes as a surprise when “Dark Spring,” the first track on forthcoming effort 7 (out May 11), starts with a forceful, energetic drum solo that gushes forth into a textured mass of guitar and buzzing synthesizer.
Although the song is well within their dreamy soundscape, it vibrates with a much livelier energy. Throughout the album, even tracks enveloped in Beach House’s signature pink haze are injected with a palpable jolt. This is uncharted territory, from the trap-like chain that rattles through lead single “Lemon Glow” or the grandiose swagger of acid rock anthem “Drunk In L.A,” a chugging beast of a track Legrand compares to “[throwing] Édith Piaf into the future and [giving] her a lot of psychedelics.” Throughout a one-hour interview over drinks at East Village bar Donnybrook, it becomes abundantly clear that 7 is as hard to pin down as the rest of their discography.
Despite the consistency of the particular emotions they deliver, Legrand and Scally opt to view each record as simultaneously ephemeral and hyper-rooted in their present as creatives, unconcerned with conforming to whatever they might be known for. “It just sounds like what it is,” Legrand muses. “I think we're always evolving. Not to be spacey, but we're evolving right now. We finished the record in December, and people won't be listening to it until May, so it'll be new for everybody else, but maybe we'll be on a new plane by then, that's just the way that it is.” Scally chimes in: “There's a lot of loose energy on the record; we would try something and end up keeping it. It feels really alive for us. It became less canned.”
In person as much as in the studio, Scally and Legrand are present. Ping-ponging off each other with the familiarity of two people who have spent endless hours together, they notice absolutely everything surrounding them and take joy in pointing it out: a drink about to fall off the table, the epic laugh of a woman at the bar. That natural openness, restless curiosity and a desire to stray from rules led them to bring on Spaceman 3’s Peter Kember, a.k.a. Sonic Boom, as a co-producer.
After four records with Chris Coady, Kember’s attitude toward creating fed directly into what Legrand and Scally were slowly unfurling with 7. “He's a really open person,” says Scally. “I don't think he has a lot of rules, and that definitely helped imbue some of that 'I don't give a fuck' energy onto us. It encouraged us to be badder than we already are on a lot of things; like we want to use this broken machine and make sounds with it, and a lot of people would say 'you can't do that' but he just goes 'do that.'"
The freedom and flexibility of the creative process, whether it’s bringing in new blood or allowing themselves the freedom to experiment, has allowed Legrand and Scally’s collaboration to continue blooming after more than a decade of working together. Legrand calls it “a never-ending conversation,” but continues to be realistic. “Maybe it'll end one day, but we'll know when that creative conversation is done. We’re not making these records because we feel like we have to. We're making records because songs keep coming out that exist. No one's saying 'you have to make a record.'" Scally chuckles. “If anything Sub Pop’s probably thinking ‘you guys are making another record? Jesus Christ!'” When asked about the creative well ever drying up, Legrand fires back: “certainly didn't feel dry to me making it. I was shocked... like, surely by now!”
And it’s been a long creative conversation, starting when two Baltimore indie scene mainstays met and started making music for creation’s sake. Watching them laugh and joke about the end, with both of them well-aware of the fact that the creativity continues to flow, is hardly an unmerited levity. They’re connected, as they were in the beginning, by a deep chemistry and artistic admiration for one another, something both humbly attribute to time.
“We have more tricks up our sleeves,” says Scally, graciously, of getting older. “We can avoid problems much better, steer clear of bullshit much easier. We've had so much bullshit in various stages, between us, with the people we've worked with.” Legrand compares the experience of recording to another activity that’s just as arduous. “We were like rock climbers, saying ‘yup, not going up that path, get that rock out of the fucking way, we are not going through that again.’ That’s the nice part about getting older.”
And then, once more, the question of love. Any die-hard fan -- or even a casual follower of indie music -- has probably had a Beach House record soundtrack an elated or a broken heart. 7, as much an ode to destruction and glamour, holds some of the duo’s sharpest observations on longing: in sprawling album closer “Last Ride,” Legrand bemoans a lover who’s grown distant: “When you’re loving most at night/ And I love you back/ When the sun rises/ Who will call you back?” In the sonic worlds they’ve crafted over the years, Beach House continues to be inspired by one of the most important things humans still can’t quite get a grasp on.
Scally calls love “one of the great gyres of reality, the attractive force at the center of everyone's existence, and a subject that is endlessly fascinating and can never be written about enough. It's weird, that inside the mind of humans, there's so much that needs to be understood.” Legrand adds without skipping a beat that “it can be endlessly abstracted, but still be palpable. It can still be felt.”
“I do think lack of love is the source of many of our problems,” says Legrand. “Everything you see is a bigger symptom of a much more systemic human problem. We don't really deal much in the literal politics of things. This record is not about that; it's more human than that.” Scally interjects: “I honestly think love, empathy, our ability to empathize with other people is a powerful tool in the opposite direction. It's cheesy, but it's profound to feel love for someone that has very different viewpoints than you. To make a connection is a huge, profound thing.”
Near the end of our hour together, the conversation veers into ruminations on Jorge Luis Borges’ Labyrinths, Pablo Neruda’s love poems, and collaborations that have stood the test of time. “Elton [John] wouldn’t have been anything without Bernie [Taupin],” Legrand says, and then looks at Scally. “There’s always another person there.”