Beach House and the curse of the big time

Teen Dream took the Baltimore duo to indie stardom but new album Bloom is a dark, intense affair

Victoria Legrand is sitting on a vintage chair in the basement of an east London bric-a-brac shop. A disco ball spins above her head casting tiny lights on tablecloths your nan would dismiss as a being a bit fussy. We're talking about her band, Beach House, and their acclaimed last album, 2010's Teen Dream, when suddenly, in between sips of tea, there's an awkward silence. "I don't know why it was successful," she shrugs. "Maybe you could tell me."

To recap, Beach House formed in 2004 when French-born Victoria, a theatre graduate, vocalist and organist, finished her studies and moved to Baltimore to pursue a music project with an old friend. Instead she met guitarist and keyboard player Alex Scally (if Mattel made bookishly hot band-geek Ken dolls, he could be the inspiration), and after practising in a basement together, they released their debut album Beach House on Carpark records in 2006. Devotion, another noise-saturated album, followed in 2008, and a year later she collaborated with US folk-indie band Grizzly Bear on Slow Life, a track from the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack. That album reached No 1 on the Billboard chart.

Teen Dream, however, eclipsed everything they had done before. But why? Firstly, the songs were just … better. Keen indie fans had been hot on Beach House's output for years, but none of it sounded like it could make people, say, cry. "Man, I bawl like a baby every time I listen to this song," writes one YouTube commenter of the track Walk In The Park. Another describes the album's Norway as "a reason to fall in love with music all over again <3", and the opening Zebra is declared "the most chill song ever". Victoria modestly suggests it may have been because the songs were "verse, chorus, verse, chorus".

And then there was the timing. Just as Britney wouldn't have popped without Justin and Christina, Beach House found themselves among a crop of other US bands – Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes, Beirut – who were also having a good couple of years. Their tour with Grizzly Bear at the end of 2009 put them in front of audiences far larger than they would have managed alone and Beyoncé and Jay-Z turned up at their 2010 Coachella performance (one of that year's "Tupac hologram" moments). When fan/satire site Hipster Runoff started to obsess over their outfits ("Victoria Legrand wears her sexi blazer + grandma shoulder pads on stage [sic]," reads one sample post) it was clear that Beach House had attained a kind of star appeal.

"It just blew up," says Victoria, "especially in Europe. It went from nothing and then it was like …" She waves her hand above her head. "But we're still very much alive! The last album was not some peak for us and there were a lot of things that we let slide." Does she think there are bigger expectations now? "We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. I don't think people think, 'Oh, they're going down!' And if they do, I don't care. Yes, the third album was a success but we've worked so hard on this one."

'We are a loud band. OK, so it's not abrasive, but it's not soft. I don't wear dresses and flowers in my hair and float around!'

Victoria Legrand
Victoria Legrand. Photograph: Tom Oldham/Rex Photograph: Tom Oldham / Rex Features

p>By "this one" she means Bloom. Recorded straight after they finished touring Teen Dream, both Victoria and Alex, who will be joining us shortly, seem determined it won't be overshadowed by what's already happened. "With this album we definitely wanted to create something beautiful," she says. "I said in one interview that the album was about death, but there isn't just one thing, it's many colours, just a little more dark than before." Bloom is mainly about the experience of living, she insists, "and I can't think of a single art form that doesn't touch on love and death. As you get older you realise that nothing lasts forever. It's not depressing, but it does make moments more intense."

That intensity should mark a change in how Beach House are usually portrayed. They've been described as wafty, wavy, floaty, gauzy, wispy, glittering, sparkly, dreamy (and – for the thesaurus buffs – diaphanous, pellucid). Does she worry they're thought of as not being very substantial?

"I think people who use those ideas are lazy," she says. "We are a loud band. OK, so it's not abrasive, but it's definitely all-encompassing and it's not soft. I don't wear dresses and flowers in my hair and float around!"


p>While Bloom isn't for people who hate epic oooohhhs and breathy ahhhs, it oozes menace with lines like Wild's "The past is what will catch you", while New Year's "we keep these promises" echoes all the disappointment of broken resolutions. The Enya-summoning Lazali is one of the brightest songs – but even that has a dark past. "It took the longest," she explains, "and almost killed us several times but finally, we had a breakthrough. The whole feeling of the record came together. It was a great moment."

Unfortunately, that moment of triumph didn't last long. Beach House have loyal fans, but sometimes those fans just can't wait, and in February 2012 – three months before its release – Bloom was leaked on the internet. "Every one of our albums has," Victoria sighs, staring into her cup as if she'd quite like to throw it at the wall. Take music fan forum Kanyetothe, which filled with goggly eyed emoticons the day that Bloom was unofficially and rudely announced. Users with avatars of Victoria's face or names like MasterofNone internet-squealed, "SHIT, I'm already in love with these songs."

'I meet some bands, I won't name names, who last put out a record and toured in 2009. I think: What the hell did you do all year?'

Alex Scally
Alex Scally. Photograph: Tom Oldham/Rex Photograph: Tom Oldham / Rex Features

p>"It's a bit of a rampage," she muses. "There's that mentality of wanting to be first. I hate to use the word greedy, because I don't want to offend anyone, but it's grabby. It's like, 'Gimme all the presents now! I want the presents now, Mommy!' Part of it is a strange form of flattery, but I can't help but feel a little slighted."

The main reason she seems upset is that Beach House really care about their listeners. Victoria is a mega-fan herself and speaks passionately about her love for the Cure, the Cocteau Twins, Gene Clark and the joy of albums that are best heard over and over and over again (coincidentally, this is just the kind of LP that Bloom is). "I want people to get excited – to get the vinyl, to hold it in their hands, read the lyrics," she says. "Those are the things I did when I was 14 that you can't seem to do any more. That's why live shows are so important. You can't leak a show."

Alex comes over to join us. "Is being together almost like being alone now?" he asks Legrand. "It's like we've fused into one person ..."

"No," replies Victoria, curtly.

What they do agree on, though, is where Beach House are going. They love writing and love touring, whether they're stuck in the Nevada desert (Vic's voice had disappeared) or venues without decent loos (Alex confesses to making use of some unsanitary places). "If you don't enjoy it, stop the band," he says. "We just want to do it while we're young. I meet some bands, I won't name names, who last put out a record and toured in 2009. I think, 'What the hell did you do all year?' It's a weird mentality."

As proof of their passion, the band played 180 gigs to support Teen Dream and look likely to do similar with Bloom. How do they keep the party going? "At the end you hate the songs," admits Alex. "Right now we're enchanted with it, but … talk to us after another year. The idea of new things is a big impetus."

"We heard some of the Devotion on a jukebox the other day and didn't even recognise it!" Victoria laughs. "We were in a bar, a little drunk and we had the same thought, 'Oh great, some band is ripping us off'. I actually went, 'What is this thick woman sound?'" This is a band who certainly don't want to dwell on past glories. "You are young, you have energy, you have desire to create," she says. "We don't even have to think about it."


Sian Rowe

The GuardianTramp

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