While reflecting on the difference between what he thinks his latest album is about and what his audience thinks it's about -- namely, all the surprisingly wrong perceptions -- Alex Scally references the Bible. "It's the tower of Babel and all that," he says. "Humans can't understand each other." But he doesn't have an answer for them, and he's not concerned about finding one. Nor is he interested in public pressure, the kind he and vocalist Victoria Legrand have continued to face from journalists since the release of 2010's ethereal indie epic, Teen Dream. He focuses solely on the music (which he understands), not its implications (which he doesn't): Since 2004, the Baltimore duo has risen gracefully to the upper echelons of indie with a tightly wound brand of eerie, quiet-loud dream-pop lauded by both Pitchfork and Rolling Stone alike.
Before Beach House makes that sound to The Pageant for its largest St. Louis show yet, RFT Music talked to Scally about stepping back, hiding in El Paso to record Bloom and reacting to its early and inopportune leak on the Internet.
Kelsey Whipple: The themes of Bloom, your fourth album, have already been dissected to wildly varying results. To what extent does it matter to you how your fans interpret your songs? Is there a correct read to take on "Lazuli," for example?
Alex Scally: Music is so personal. Everyone reads into it what they will, and we can't stop them -- and wouldn't. We don't like it to be a Katy Perry song where it's like, [shouts in falsetto] "This is a song about a breakup." That's not how we create music, and that's not how we like to listen to music. We don't like things to be that direct, and we want our listeners to have a say in what we do. There's no correct way in anything with music. That's the hardest topic to talk about. I have no idea why people like certain kinds of music or what they get out of it or even what they want out of it. We create albums based on where we are in life, and our listeners react to them based on where they are.
Someone once asked what success was for us, and all it really is is if people feel at all as a result. That's enough. It doesn't matter what kind of a feeling. If they put it on and it gives them a real feeling and it doesn't sound like anything they've heard on the radio before they found this song, that's great. People always tell us what they get out of it, and it's so different. Some people are looking for a good time or a great song to listen to on the way home. Other people are looking for answers. Or they're looking for it all at once, and it changes all the time.
When you listen to music, what are you looking for?
Every day is different for me. Every day's a different thing. Like I said, I think it's one of the hardest things to talk about, and I wish I knew the answers. I look for so many things.
Do you ever find answers in music?
Constantly. I love music and I'm constantly finding music I love. I love Gene Clark, and I found a song I had never heard before called "The French Girl" the other day. It's about this one-night stand he had with this person, basically, and he's talking about himself but also about you as the listener: "You'll never be the same." And it's like, I have no interest in having a one-night stand. I've never had one. But there's this feeling in the song of being so much bigger than its reality that just speaks directly to you. That's amazing. That's constantly happening. Music is not what the direct message is. It's always something different, something more. Are you ever surprised by what your listeners find inside Beach House's music?
That's a great question. People say all kinds of stuff. We're very flattered and feel very lucky that they care about what we do. It's just so amazing the range of things people feel in the music, and it's different from person to person. Some people say they listen to it when they feel really fucked up and they need to get through something, and it helps them get there. And then some people say they listen to it when they think of the person they love. Sometimes they just put it on when they want to go to the water, and it's like, that's okay, too. Let's shift from reactions to expectations. Teen Dream was a huge success for you guys: Was there pressure to top it going into Bloom?
When we made the album, we didn't put any pressure on ourselves. We didn't start to feel pressure until people started talking about the record and keep bringing up Teen Dream.
So I'm pressuring you right now?
(Laughs.) Yeah. I just think that's how people are: If they like something, they don't let it go. And it's so strange because we didn't really think about it. They don't sound anything alike. They're two vastly different albums, so why should we feel pressure? Each one could not have come without the one before it. For us, they're chapters or something and we don't think too much about it, but with each one we can think about the moments that come to it. We really feel like the first led to the second, the second led to the third, the third led to this one and so on. We could not have this album if we didn't have that first one.
Tell me about the recording process: Why choose El Paso as the hub for Bloom?
Like the last time we recorded, where we go is largely based on the fact that we like to be isolated. We like to be alone out there with nothing but our music. It was also based on having really good equipment. It's an amazing, gorgeous studio with really wonderful Texas presence. It's almost Mexico, which I really love. You go anywhere there and everyone speaks Spanish. It's a very welcoming city, and the people are wonderful. It's right across from Juárez, and it just has a certain feeling to it that is really peculiar. We loved staying there.
Bloom feels like this decidedly cohesive project that was very carefully crafted - and I know you guys left a lot of material on the cutting room floor in Texas. What happens to those songs? Sometimes, they just disappear forever because they no longer make sense to us, and sometimes they appear years later. "Norway" was a reject from our first album. We're really into always trying to just listen to the music. If the song wants to exist and make it as a song, it will stay persistent, and it will convince us to keep it. It will just stay with us until it's out there in the real world. If it's not supposed to go on this album, we'll know, and we'll leave it behind. There were pretty of things that I loved and that we loved that didn't make it to the album, but they don't belong on it.
Bloom, like your other albums, leaked onto the Internet pretty far in advance of its release date. In your opinion, did that affect its success?
Every one of our albums has leaked onto the Internet a great time in advance. It keeps happening. To be honest, it may have been affected because we really wanted to present the album in a certain way, with the artwork as a single piece. We wanted to have people read the lyrics at the same time as they listen to the songs. We were very intentional with making it this one total project. If everyone listened to an album the way the artist wanted to, everyone would be starting off on the same foot.
I don't think people put enough respect into how much effort the artist puts into making the listening an experience. It's not just the sound. It's not skipping to the song order you want to hear on your iPod. There's a lot of respect lacking for the artist's intentions in creating a way for the album to become more than just that sound, and we lose that when things leak out against our control.
Why does that keep happening to you guys?
It happens to every single band every album now. I heard that Arcade Fire stopped it by just never making copies for albums for journalists. They had hard copies that they would bring over while someone listened to it and then take it afterward, which is so crazy. We would just never do that because we want people to sit with it and soak it in. We're just not that vigilant, or maybe just don't care enough. With Arcade Fire and like, Kanye West, people are going to care enough regardless. We would love it if people didn't do that [leak the album], but not because we want to scrounge every cent up, just because we want the listening experience to be important.
One thing you can control is the way your music is used on screen. To what projects do you say no, and is there an ideal pairing you have your sights on?
I think it's always on a case-by-case basis. We're not morally against using music in movies or commercials. I think it can be really great or really interesting -- or just non-offensive. Most of the time we say no, we just think that the ad is offensive. Like the VW commercial, they were asking us to let our song "Take Care" be applied to this really cheesy plotline about a dad taking care of his daughter. We just don't want something to take our music and dumb it down or associate it with this weird image. And there are so many [filmmakers] that we admire, that we would say yes to immediately if they asked us to work on them. There are too many to name, but they're out there.
Beach House will play the Pageant on Wednesday at 8 p.m.
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