Modern Love Stories: An Exclusive Interview with Beach House
Music — 25.02.22
Beach House has returned with their 8th studio album, Once Twice Melody: a sprawling 18-track apotheosis released in four chapters. Sculptors of an ever-expanding cinematic universe, duo Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally completely self-produced the project, a first for the band.
As Legrand explains, “this didn’t feel like the time period to be closing doors or to be minimalizing things. It felt like the time to continue, to go further and wider, to be open and more extravagant and more lush; more rooms, more hallways, more baroque hallways.”
Doors open doors and Once Twice Melody is an intricate maze, carefully constructed to guide listeners to different dimensions, awakening subconscious dreams, and memories that may lie dormant. Each song is accompanied by a lyric animation video, emphasizing the band’s inherent ability to stir visually poetic atmospheres within those who listen. A winding tale of timeless stories, Legrand and Scally have crafted a body of songs that although vary throughout, are unified through the tension and harmony of love, longing, and acceptance of the inevitable. This record builds upon and enriches their prior work, attempting to make infinity tangible through sound and poetic reasoning; painting it all beautifully like shadows on the wall.
Silken Weinberg: Before beginning, I first have to admit that I had a bit of a difficult time coming up with questions for you two. The music you’ve made over the years, and especially now with this record, is so special to so many people. It touches on the ineffable that is clear to the heart, but nearly impossible to articulate in words.
Let’s start with the chapters of Once Twice Melody: how were these shaped and formed? They feel like mini-movies, cinematic worlds…
Victoria Legrand: Well, the idea of chapters was something that emerged. If you think about the beginning of making this record to now, it’s been three years and two of those years were writing and writing and writing, then recording and processing, doing all of this building; all of the architecture and the blood and muscle tissue, the bones. When we were mostly finished with all of that, we had written so many things and it was very apparent that the scope of what we had created was much larger than what we’ve done before; that it couldn’t be something traditional. We tried to edit down to half of what we had created and it just didn’t feel good, it felt dead, it didn’t feel inspiring, it didn’t resonate.
And the chapters, just the idea of these like you said, mini-movies or sections, or volumes, was a way to keep everything alive and to keep everything inspired; also to keep the range of the record vibrant, and to not cut off its limbs. Everything about this record has been instructing us to not limit, to remain open. So the chapters really are a way of keeping this record wide open and allowing the viewer, the listener, to enter at their will wherever they want to be…
Alex Scally: Different locations –
VL: Maybe there’s a forest, or maybe there’s a lake at night, there’s just so many little worlds within each one where you can see it set up from a cinematic perspective. You can also see it as literary, hence the chapters. It didn’t feel like a traditional album, it felt like more.
AS: And we tried to refine and streamline the record, cut it down to the best 11 songs and it didn’t work at all for this body of songs. It felt like huge parts of the story were missing, so it kind of denied that commercializable [sic] perspective where you just put the best, most attention-getting things together and that’s your album.
VL: It wasn’t interested in that.
AS: This group of music just wouldn’t allow that to be done.
SW: The songwriting is, and has always been poetic; expressing a marriage and awareness of a world both internal and external. Are there specific poets, films, or filmmakers that inform the visual world and atmosphere you create, or do you think it comes more from your own experiences and memories over time?
VL: I mean, a little bit of everything we’ve ever been inspired by goes into what we make, and every album we’ve made has been different – there are bits of yourself that are the same, and bits of yourself that are changing and you’re into different things every time. So the records are in some ways the reflections of us as artists, and what we’re chasing at that period of time. For this record, though, I mean, the list of things that have inspired us… Alex could probably name some interesting books that he’s read and we both love film immensely. But if I had to say the range of worlds… it’s anywhere from films from all times…French films from the 60s, Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, you could probably name so many movies that you love, and we’d probably go ‘yes.’ These are all tied in the fabric of our fantasies and especially in terms of romance. Days Of Heaven by Terrence Malick… there’s a real range of worlds like we said earlier, there’s the wide-open field and the young girl in the meadow, to the love affair in the dark streets at night.
AS: Yeah, this question comes up a lot and it’s such an interesting one because I don’t think we, I don’t think anyone, understands how it works. I think it works in a different way for everyone. The week that we came up with “Runaway“, the fifth song on the record, I remember it being the same week I was reading Vagabond by Colette and it kind of seems like the same story now. I don’t feel like I was thinking about that book at all when we were working, but would the song have been exactly the same had that book not been read? I don’t know, maybe? Maybe not. It’s impossible to untangle the web of how things are being processed.
VL: It’s almost undeniable, it’s almost written into it.
AS: It’s just happening in real-time so quickly. Everything’s having an effect, but for us, it’s not explicit. I don’t think we ever work the way where it goes, wait a minute, let’s do that.
VL: I do think though, that there’s a very strong possibility that if I hadn’t seen, let’s just say Days of Heaven, I wouldn’t be the same. You are changed because you now have this visual vocabulary in your mind. You can never unsee it. So, therefore, all of your inspiration is connected to the things that you’ve loved, without a doubt.
SW: Your favorite films kind of become your memories in a way...
VL: And it becomes personal because it’s part of your makeup, it’s part of your fabric, it’s part of the big tangled thing inside of you that pours out of your fingertips and makes a drawing or makes a painting or writes a sentence, or writes a poem. That’s one way I’ve learned how to describe it – it’s as if all of these things come and go through you, and stay inside of you, transform you, and then you make things and they’re all in there.
SW: What is your favorite place in the world? Do you have sacred spaces or ideal environments for creation?
VL: I have places in nature, outside and then there are places inside, homes. Over the last few years, and maybe since I was a child, being outdoors, I think alone, has been a powerful place; an emotional place of whatever you want to say it is… restoring, forgetting, silence. Maybe talking to myself while I walk like a madwoman through a forest. These are very necessary moments, observing the natural world. These are sacred moments in my personal life, I think Alex and I both share that love and adoration of the natural world.
AS: And in general, this hasn’t happened in a long time so it’s hard to think about, but just travel. Travel is such a luxury, we probably shouldn’t travel as humans because it’s ruining the world but seeing new places, it doesn’t have to be across the world.
VL: It could be 30 minutes away.
AS: Yeah, just new landscapes, new faces, new buildings; it does something crazy to the mind and I feel like that connects up to some sort of ancient nomadic need that is probably inside everyone, somewhere.
VL: And I believe that you don’t have to go very far. Even in Baltimore, I could drive 35 minutes away and see a different setting that causes me to give up on whatever I’m harboring because I haven’t seen that before. I don’t think you have to travel all the way to an island to have your imagination triggered.
SW: Well you’re about to be traveling a bit with this upcoming tour… I’m very excited to hear if you guys have any hints as to what we can expect. How have you evolved the live show and how do you feel about touring now?
AS: Well, we’re really excited. It’s been a long time. It’s always been since we formed so many years ago, such a huge part of our life and we really miss it. We’re really excited and we’re actually really prepared, we’ve done more pre-production work with lights and sound than we’ve ever done, by a lot. So we’re really ready and we feel like it’s the best show we’ve ever put on.
VL: Yeah, I don’t know, I feel like a kid going back to school but it’s not school, it’s where all the great, funny, freaky, strange people are that you love and adore. New experiences. You can have new experiences at any age in life, age is ridiculous, it’s just how Aaliyah says, “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number”. I think that the last few years kind of turned us and maybe all of us, into giddy, socially awkward preteens who are excited to go to the dance and like, make out with somebody. You know what I mean? That feeling like there’s firsts again.
SW: And appreciate it like never before, we have this newfound awareness that it can all go away at any moment, change at any second.
VL: It’s made us love things more. Realizing that yes, not just because of the pandemic, but in all of life, we don’t know how long we’re going to have, right? Or how long you’ll have this person, or this situation, or this relationship, or whatever it is that you’re embracing. I think there’s a lot of learning that’s been done and to do, but one thing that’s for sure is that loving, love, is never going to not be the most important thing. Appreciating it while you have it.
SW: Exactly. I mean, love is what makes Beach House so timeless, and I think why the fans you have are so incredibly devoted. Within my own life, and so many people that I know, your music has soundtracked both heartbreak and falling in love. The same records soundtrack opposite experiences. Are they one and the same? Do you feel more informed by love, heartbreak, or the in-between?
VL: I think they’re all intertwined. And I think that it’s just an endless spiral of thorns and roses and blood and warm winds and waters. It’s an endless well of inspiration, it’s all the twists.
SW: Like on Once Twice Melody, we have “Another Go Around”, “Over and Over”, “New Romance”… we’re on an endless cycle, making the same mistakes.
VL: Self-destruction too. There are so many little moments on the record, all of the facets of love and pain: loving one another and understanding one another, but then also running away, running away from your own things, but then running to someone. The damage that we all carry in ourselves, the traumas, and this is of all of the time, not just the last two years. This is bigger, this is of other time periods too. I mean, talk about inspiration. I feel like there are elements for me, within this record, that span anywhere from the late 1800s to the celestial future; a woman in France in the late 1700s running in a cape through the night sky with a candelabra. This desire to lace all of these elements of romance and relatable, individual scenarios. Like you mentioned, “Another Go Around”, where you almost feel as if you’re imagining a scene in a bar, of any time period, and somebody is going through something. The imagery is very literal in some ways, you know, the classic boy in town and the drugs were just right. Is an immediate, relatable kind of human situation, right? But then you’re spinning and where are you spinning to? You’re spinning to another realm, and I feel like our lyric animations were our way of opening even further the potential of each song. These artists who animated and directed these animations really took our music and helped to conjure these other dimensions that I’m alluding to.
AS: I think we wanted to actively convey the seeming endlessness of this record for us, and we thought that was a way to increase the language and also the entry points. Like the roots of a tree and how they just keep opening and opening when you see it below the ground. Letting all the ideas open up as much as possible so that if one would want, they have as much space as possible to get lost, follow tangents, follow micro emotions and thoughts.
VL: Yeah, this didn’t feel like the time period to be closing doors, or to be minimalizing things. It felt like the time to continue, to go further and wider, to be open and more extravagant and more lush. More rooms, more hallways, more baroque hallways, less cold, barren marble. It’s all tied together.
SW: Regarding creativity, make it happen or let it happen? Where do you draw the line?
VL: Right in the middle!
AS: I think it’s both in equal measure. I also think that’s part of Victoria and I’s dynamic, which is this very lucky, perfect dynamic that has just been there from the start. I’m much more…
VL: You’re a make it happen –
AS: I’m more quotidian, I must work every day and 1/50 of what I do will be good. Victoria is much more of divine inspiration.
VL: I need space, time to get away – so I’ll work really intensely but then I’ll store up a lot of little things. It’s not even something I have to do, I just obstinately take the space. I leave the piece of paper and I walk away for an indeterminate amount of time, and then I come back. So it’s our yin-yang, our thing or whatever you call it, right down the middle.
AS: I think we both have each side, but just in very different amounts.
SW: …This beautiful duality of form and content. The magic of Beach House is felt in this innate sense of intimacy; to have two minds that are able to create on this sort of level.
VL: I mean, it does create tension, and anybody reading this should know that fairytales are not really… tension is complex, obviously. For every breakthrough, there are probably a lot of tangles underneath, and tectonic plates rubbing against one another creating friction.
AS: And looking back when we think about past songs we’ve made, usually what seem to be the best ones came about instantly or through an insane process with brutal weeks of agonizing. So it’s funny, it’s the two extremes, and then maybe the most mediocre things are right in between.
SW: Lastly, do you have any words for all the lonely hearts out there?
VL: Oh… don’t be too lonely, just lonely enough. Remember that somebody does love you and it’s impossible that a person could be completely unloved. Look around, in moments of incredible darkness, I believe that there’s a tiny, tiny little bit of light coming through the blinds. It feels like the darkest place, but it’s not actually the darkest.
SW: There’s always light –
VL: I believe that. That love is every day, and perhaps when you stop looking, then you’ll be surprised.