Victoria Legrand of Beach House on how perfection is made up of many mistakes
Beach House became a bit of an underground sensation with the release of its self-titled, debut album in 2006, followed by 2008's warmly enchanting Devotion. Lead singer Victoria Legrand's rich, deep, yet feminine voice and Alex Scally's delicate melodic sense on guitar creates a disarming sense of intimacy that soothes on an almost subconscious level. On its 2010 Sub Pop debut, Teen Dream, Beach House reached much wider audiences, but the band's vision was clearly uncompromising and that album was accompanied by videos made for each song. The band's latest album, Bloom, explores vistas of sound and songwriting that its work on all three of its previous albums made possible. We recently spoke with Legrand about Daniel Johnston, the true nature of perfection and the importance of the underground in an active creative life.
Westword: On Devotion you covered Daniel Johnston's "Some Things Last a Long Time." How did you learn about him and his music?
Victoria Legrand: Just being a music fan or nerd or whatever. I think probably, subconsciously, it was probably through Nirvana or something like that. But really it was word of mouth. I think Alex knew about him before I did in his life. You just like people and that song is just something we wanted to cover. We haven't done a cover song in a long time and I think it's because it has to be [special]. You can't do too many of them.
What was it about his music that resonates with you?
At the time, I think it was the melody and the words. It's so simple, but then it also has such vast potential. I think that was the crux of why we felt like we wanted to cover it because we thought we could rearrange it slightly and make it something different. I think that's all you really think when you love a song.
Last year Portishead picked you to play All Tomorrow's Parties with them. Did they ever tell you why they picked you?
No. I never got a chance to meet any of them or talk to them at all. I never knew why we were asked either, which would have been kind of interesting to know. But I did watch them, and they were great live. It was really perfect. It was literally like listening to the CD like when I was fourteen years old. I was kind of amazed at how perfect [Beth Gibbons'] vocals were considering all the turmoil they've had within the band or whatever.
I don't have any private details. But I was shocked to know that her voice...it was immaculate. Like no time had passed. She lives in another town than the [rest of the band]. I think she has a completely separate life. But when she was performing with them it sounded like they had practiced every single day for fifteen years.
Maybe this is the projection of imagination, but the liner notes for Bloom look like typewritten pages found in an abandoned building or something.
They were my typewritten pages. My typewritin'.
Obviously that look was your idea because you typed it. What about that particular look appealed to you in using it for the liner notes?
I'd been doing that in the writing process. I had re-acquired a typewriter and had one a long time, and I wanted it in my life. I thought of that instead of typing on a computer, which I haven't really done except for typing on a phone, I guess, because I don't sit in front of a typewriter ever in my life. I have journals and notebooks all over the place. I have too many, probably, of each one of them. It's very important for me to see the process and the words as I'm working and stuff.
I realized that I do believe in the power of the word. The word as an object, the word has a weight that it can have. It just makes sense to have these physical things. I would make multiple versions of each page and it just started being apparent that the pages, in their errors and in their imperfections and the fact that you can't have a perfect line on an old typewriter and all of that, are honest and exactly the way it happened. I would take certain ones to show the progression of ideas and that's what's in the art. It's very basic.
I think that perfection is made up of many mistakes. Like a perfect love. What is that? It could be the most turbulent love of your life that has caused you to be drunk every night, but in some way, it was a perfect love. That's sort of what I see when I look at a page, and it has all those kinds of things all over it. I see truth. Someone might say, "I see that you're obscuring the lyrics." I would say, "Well, that's what actually happened." The missing letter, that is truth and not me trying to prevent you from seeing what I did. It's just the truth.
In that way you're getting the whole picture and not just a polished, edited expression.
Yeah, you're getting the whole picture and not smoke and mirrors.
Do you feel that there was and is an underground music scene that you connected to and still do in Baltimore?
I think in my life as a human, when I was young and loving music, all kinds of music: punk, ska, mainstream music, old music, Beatles, blah blah blah, Nirvana, Hole. All that. Growing up in the '90s and the late '80s, I think that the idea of an underground anything, you grow up accepting that the underground is the thing. It is normal. It is the way that artists exists. There's scenes, there's cities, and there are places where young people are and they think that's normal. That's the way that I grew up.
If you want to be in a band, you go to a garage, you go to a basement. You literally start of your life creatively in music in an underground. I think they exist all over the world, big and small. While I travel and tour all the time all year round and I do play shows for a thousand people or four hundred people or twenty-three hundred people, we're very aware of the kind of success that we are comfortable with and the kind we don't want. I think the kind of success that we want, I think we already have. Which is in many ways a very natural evolution. We didn't make a record and then blow up and unable to make more records. We've made four. We control many aspects of our career.
I think we're one of the more successful groups to come out of Baltimore in the last eight years. Dan Deacon is another one. Obviously people like Dan Higgs and Zomes -- these are like legends of Baltimore music history. It takes kind of everybody to make the awesome thing that has been Baltimore. Instead of it changing every five seconds like in a major metropolis, it changes very gradually over the years.
So yes, I feel very much that Beach House has always come from an under place, but I think that the music we make has sort of spoken to people somehow, and that it was going to be inevitable that it would spread word-of-mouth and that it's continuing to do that. But I don't see us playing and wanting to play for giant, 10,000, 17,000 seat venues. Maybe it'll happen in twenty years if people care about it still and there's some crazy, old person reunion tour. But I feel that I'm still connected to Baltimore and to Dan Deacon and the people that I feel like I kind of grew up with in the last eight years.
Obviously things are happening in Baltimore that I'm out of touch with. Like young people that are making crazy shit that I like, thinking, "Really?" I'm out of touch in that sense. I'm not home so I'm not actively part of whatever's going on. But when I am there I feel like I'm at home. I don't feel like an alien, is what I'm saying. Because what we are now, we're still being honest to ourselves. We haven't committed any crimes.
It's what makes you. If you turn your back on it, it's a mistake. It doesn't feel natural. It also keeps you youthful. You could be fifty and still feel like you're twenty years old. Not physically, obviously, but in your heart, in your tastes, in your style. It's crucial.
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