“Our goal is to never do anything consciously,” says Alex Scally, sound-sculptor behind Beach House’s expansive, critically adored dream-pop. “That’s something people have asked us: ‘Are you guys ever going to change the way you sound?’ And for us, the answer keeps being, ‘We have no idea. Maybe.’ We never sat down and said, ‘Let’s just keep on doing what we’ve been doing.’ That’s just what we do. And who knows what it is?”
Scally might not recognize his band’s trademark sound as a “formula”—after all, that word implies an almost mathematical sense of construction. But even if Scally doesn’t understand why his band sounds the way they do, there is a formula, and that formula works brilliantly. Bloom, the band’s fourth full-length, is their most elegant and subtly eclectic, but all of the Baltimore duo’s essential ingredients are firmly intact: Scally’s sky-wide layers of rippling, arpeggiated guitar reverb, oceanic mists of organ, the pitter-patter of bone-dry drum machines, and the bewitching, ethereal voice of Scally’s longtime bandmate/creative partner, Victoria Legrand.
“Maybe we’ll discover some sound we love some time in the next year, and the next record will have that all over it,” Scally shrugs. “Maybe people will say, ‘They’ve finally changed.’ But we basically never try to think about it because I think one of the enemies of art is self-awareness—for the way we make it. For us, we have to be completely innocent, away from criticism and thought, and not think about what we’re doing at all.”
For Scally and Legrand, Beach House isn’t a switch they turn on and off. It’s literally been their entire way of life since the duo originally met in Baltimore back in 2004: Scally, a local musician paying the bills with carpentry, instantly felt a creative connection with Legrand, a Philly native who’d drifted to Baltimore after studying theater in Paris. They shared a fondness for four-tracks and David Lynch and vintage organs, and before long, they’d recorded their lo-fi self-titled debut in 2006. Like clockwork, they delivered another album every two years, each time harnessing a slightly more refined approach, from 2008’s Devotion to their critical and commercial break-out, 2010’s hugely hyped (and unanimously beautiful) Teen Dream.
Suddenly, what began as a simple four-track recording project had blossomed into a figurehead for blog-approved, hipster indie-pop. Since bands don’t make a living from selling albums in the 21st century, Beach House did what every other band did in 2010: They toured the hell out of their new album—over 200 shows behind Teen Dream, all told, many of which played at amphitheaters and otherwise massive venues. Adjusting to that level of fame and success has been strange, though Scally is always conscious that, all things considered, he’s in a very enviable position.
“First of all, we feel very lucky. We know a lot of bands and are friends with a lot of bands who make amazing music and aren’t seeing the same crowds we’re seeing. And this record has reached as many people as the last one or more. And we’re getting to play shows where we get to do a lot of production, and it feels like we’re creating something really special every night.
“But I feel if we got much bigger,” Scally continues, “where we had to bring in more people to make decisions and we were disconnected from our merchandise and our live show, all the things that go on, I think it would go down in quality and wouldn’t feel as important to us. It’s at this point where we’re all working at a high level, and it’s really exhausting, but we’re really proud of what we’re doing—from the album art to the live show to the live sound. And if I feel like if it got any bigger, we’d lose that. We don’t ever see ourselves playing to giant, ginormous crowds, and having a huge brand associated with us. It doesn’t feel like us. Even sometimes now at some of these bigger venues, it doesn’t really feel like us, and we’re trying to make it us. We’re very, very lucky at the success we’ve had, and the success in terms of the best parameters—how many people you can play to or how many albums you’ve sold. That’s not really how success should be talked about. Success should be about if people really liked your record or not, or if you really conveyed something or made something people connect to.”
Based on Bloom’s commercial and critical success, that sense of connection has never been stronger. And that’s also the case for the duo themselves. For Scally, ending this fruitful collaboration would be like chopping off a limb. Beach House is Scally’s identity.
“I can’t imagine music life outside of Beach House,” he reflects. “At this point, with the aesthetics the two of us use when we work together, I honestly can’t even tell where hers starts and mine ends—that’s how intertwined it’s become. It’s very strange and intense, and I always imagine any song (I write) having her voice on it. I don’t even know if I’d make music if/when this band ended.”