Wed 20 Aug 2008
Your Little Universe
The grandiose and escapist sound of Beach House has been winning fans worldwide, and now New Zealand is lucky enough to catch their mesmerizing music live. I called guitarist Alex Scally to have a chat while he was getting ready for a show later that day. In apparently typical BH fashion, I was told I may have to put up with some strange sounds as they would be travelling around a bit. In fact, could I please call back in ten minutes?
When I got back on the line to Alex, he said he was ordering Chinese food for himself and Victoria Legrand, singer and organ player, and would I like to talk to her? Sure! Excited about talking to the slightly more outlandish and quizzical of the duo, the phone was passed on to the lovely and adorable singer.
Born in France, Victoria moved to Baltimore, Maryland to play music with a friend from college. She’d been in bands before, famously covering Led Zeppelin in high school with a band there. But she now makes gloriously exotic, world/dream pop/gospel choral music for a largely indie audience, and is doing very well out of it, but even so, she keeps her day job on hold.
“We still have our day jobs, they’re just a little more sporadic now because of our nomadic lifestyle,” she says. “But Alex does carpentry and I am in the service industry, very part time now!”
I ask if this ever conflicts with the band. “Actually, the day job situation doesn’t conflict with the band situation at all because the band is completely devouring my ability of ever working! In terms of leaving and coming and going, I can’t really be considered a dependable employee, but I think working is extremely important just to keep yourself balanced. And that’s not just about money, I think that’s about energy levels. Being on tour, your energy goes all over the place, you really are crazy, more or less! But then it can make you even more – the rhythms are more crazy. So I think having a job and knowing that you have to make that deal a couple of times a week keeps you grounded, so you’re not, you know, flying into the astro plane.”
Well known for her terrifically quirky personality and eccentric explanations, Victoria is an absolute delight to talk to, and the vivid imagination she explores in Beach House’s music is definitely not restricted to just the music. She bestows the sort of childlike wonderment and fantastically derranged immaturity that just screams creativity and beauty, something I’ve seen described as “July-esque”, after the befuddlingly awesome artist of similar quality, the multi-medium maker, Miranda July.
“I’ve always talked to myself, I’m always inventing scenarios, pretty much constantly fantasising about things and I love objects. But I like creating little worlds for things, and the things make me think of other things. I spend a lot of time by myself, being by myself, playing by myself, and I feel like that’s still very much there for me. I really like disappearing for a little while and being in my own world, but I also like being around people, so when you combine the two it can be a lot of fun!”
On the band’s second album, Devotion, that’s won them so many accolades, Victoria talks as if reciting free-flowing lyrics. The theme was important, she says, just as it was with their first, self-titled album.
“Devotion is like a long moment… it’s really intense. It was an intense process, it was an intense year, and there were good things and we’re now just realising that we changed in that time, but it took a while to begin. I think that there’s a lot of memory, and intensity… but it’s like a euphoric intensity. It comes out; it doesn’t stay inside. It comes out more; it’s more present. It’s not running away from you, it’s there, it’s very thick. You can feel it, I think.”
“I think whatever we envision in our minds inspires us. Things affect us, and things happen to us. It’s a combination of just life experiences and also art, thoughts, art vs thoughts, or things that we get hooked on, things like that. So it’s a combination, it’s very random, you can never really tell where it is, specifically, but I know that we both get inspired by hearing things, seeing things, but it’s never just one – like one record would never be inspired by just one thing, but we do get into obsessive things, like the traffic we came into recently,” she laughs.
The classically trained singer thinks her singing lessons have definitely helped her, but it doesn’t mean she lives like a typical opera singer. “I know how to do things with my voice,” she says, but “I’m kind of a pirate; I’m not the most healthy. When I’m on tour I drink a lot and I’m not really protective of my vocal chords as some people would be, but I think that’s kind of boring. I think the training I had in my life probably strengthened my vocal chords and showed me how to breathe and use muscles, like my diaphragm and things like that. I have a lot of control, so I try to use that to my benefit.”
She also dabbles in other arts. “I devil, haha, I dabble,” she corrects herself, “in erotic ceramic. I do really like visual arts stuff and I’m really into film but I don’t have any concrete talents in that sense. I have started growing to realise that when I write lyrics and stuff there usually tends to be little drawings and things incorporated into that, because I see things that I wanna incorporate, you know? Like I made a little book for our last tour, but that’s about as much dabbling I’ve done, just tiny little drawings. I think drawing and appreciating the soul-making universe is as far as I go into the other arts.”
As any true artist, when she’s not lugging “living room organs, basement organs and prom organs” around the world, she still thinks about her art. “I think time off from the band now is basically thinking about stuff I could be doing for the band… not in bad ways, but in good ways. Thinking about ideas, having little dreams and stuff, is pretty much the idea. Or swimming! Shopping, buying things… trinkets, stuff that makes your little universe. Basically trying to keep inspired is another duty to oneself. I think that’s important.”
And as for other influences?
The idea that the human consciousness is a strange, moving adhesive that grows through life by picking up pieces of influence to make up its larger form, steadily growing stronger with every new encounter until it eventually constitutes enough elements to become a star, is an idea that intrigues Victoria greatly. The idea is of course, the gist of a Playstation game called Katamari Damacy, in which the universe is basically destroyed – accidentally, of course – by The King Of All Cosmos. The Katamari must complete the quest of rolling around, picking up shit until it’s big enough to be called or become a “star”. This strange world seems relevant to Victoria’s vast imagination, and parallels Beach House’s music rather beautifully.
“I’ve only played it once, I don’t have the stuff it takes to play it, but I really want to!” she says enthusiastically. “I played it once and it’s really intense cos the music’s like techno and it was super loud, but I think that that’s really the only way you should play it; basically like you’re in a concert!” her laughter is infectious. “If you have that, if we ever meet, we should play it!” she says.
When I tell her about all the real life Katamari that people make and showcase on youtube (even an advertisement used the idea!), she’s even more enthralled. “That’s totally awesome! Maybe the reason I like it is because I like lots of little things, and I like combining lots of little things, and that’s a lot of my creative process; combining a lot of memories. You know, it’s not just a little abstract, it’s not just one little thing; it might be, but it might also be a collection of things. When I think about songs, they’re little collections, and I think that’s probably why that game attracted me; because it’s just a giant ball of chaos, but it makes sense! Sure, why not have a boat, bubble gum, scissors, pirate, building, cat, all in one thing, you know? It’s really awesome.”
Kind of beautiful and also kind of self-destructive, it’s like a perfect song, in a way. “Yeah!” Victoria exlaims, “Or an awesome person. A person that’s catapulting through life, and it doesn’t make any sense but it’s completely hilarious. A force of nature, basically.” Not unlike the band’s beautiful, cathartic music. They’re looking forward to coming to New Zealand, Victoria says. “Not really knowing anything about it, and having great first experiences, having no idea what we’re getting into and probably being blown away.” Ditto!
See Beach House live!
Friday, 29 August at Bar Bodega, Wellington, with Bachelorette & Nikky Brinkman
Saturday, 30 August at The Kings Arms, Auckland, with Noriko & Bachelorette