A few days before embarking on an extensive tour supporting Bloom, the hotly-aniticpated follow-up to 2010's Teen Dream, the members of Beach House sat down for a talk in their Fells Point rehearsal space. Guitarist/keyboardist Alex Scally nibbled on a pretzel stick, and singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand swigged from a gallon jug of water while sitting in a fur-lined alcove they created for a Pitchfork video shoot. They were excited about the new record, which comes out tomorrow via Sub Pop, and spoke about the process of recording it at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas, which is located in the middle of nowhere, about a mile from the Mexican border.
Look for a Beach House story in the June issue of Baltimore.
JL: How did you end up recording in such a remote part of Texas?
Victoria Legrand: We’ve driven through that part of the country many, many times. On tour, we’d just drive by.
Alex Scally: At this point, we’ve done nine or ten full U.S. tours. It’s always a haul to get from Austin to L.A., and, on this one tour, we pulled into El Paso at night and I’d never been there before. We stopped at a Motel 6, and it was a pretty creepy one, but we were sitting in the doorways of our rooms with another band and we were all drinking, and we kept seeing lights in the sky and it seemed so mystical. We were captivated by it, and that's where this studio is located, close to Mexico.
VL: Out there, you really feel like you're on the edge of something.
AS: The whole time we were recording Bloom we could feel that energy. It’s always around, like you’re right on the brink. Everything’s close to death, because there’s no water, brutal sun, and there are things that will kill you everywhere. The first day of recording we had to kill a bunch of black widows that were on this piece of wood we were using to unload our instruments. But I think it’s a beautiful energy, right?
VL: Yeah. It felt small and huge at the same time. There were just four of us (including drummer Daniel Franz and engineer/producer Chris Coady), so we were a small group and didn’t see many people. Everything’s intensified and when you walk home alone at night, it’s just you and the world and the music. It’s a necessary intensity. And there was a huge sky over us. Small and huge is the best way to describe it.
JL: How did that affect the finished recording?
VL: It might have affected the recording process, but, as far as the actual writing, it didn’t. We’ve always written and arranged everything before we go. Everything has been fully demoed before we go into the studio, and we do that here. Basically, we record our albums twice.
JL: What role does Chris Coady play in that process?
VL: Chris Coady is a fellow Baltimorean.
AS: That’s the first thing that drew us to him. A lot of our friends, like the band Celebration, knew him, and he wanted to work with us. We didn’t want a producer, because we write and arrange everything to a T. We don’t want someone who’s going to tell us to change anything. We sent him some demos for Teen Dream and met with him, and he made it clear he wasn’t interested in changing what we were doing. He just wanted to make it better, which he does because he knows how to use studio equipment so well. He has an encyclopedic knowledge and understanding of the recording environment. And we wanted to use a tape machine, but nobody knows how to use them anymore. Chris uses all these old mixing boards, and he’s just fearless. People don’t want to mix on old, shitty boards because there are so many things that could go wrong. Everyone mixes with ProTools because it’s safe. But Chris just does it. He’s fearless.
JL: This record seems to intensely reflect the spark of a live show and the precision of studio recording.
VL: Maybe the juggling between playing live and playing in the studio gives it more intensity. We’re always going from one to the other, so it seeps into that middle ground. It’s not something you think about very much, but the minute you hear it you know what it is, and it’s very precious. A feeling, emotion, or melody has a life form that is big. That’s why we continue making music, because we believe in these seeds of ideas and creating these worlds.
AS: We have everything worked out, but things always happen that we never expect. Like “Irene.”
VL: Your own idea of perfection is based on your willingness to accept flaws in just the right places. There are spontaneous moments in the recording session we could never have predicted that end up being perfect. The end of the song “Irene” was a moment that happened, something that could not have been planned. The song was written and arranged, and we were playing what we knew.
AS: The initial idea was that it would repeat and fade out. That was how the record was going to end. It would repeat endlessly and fade out. But we hadn’t thought much about the arc of the feeling in that song, and the feeling just took hold of us, and we didn’t do a fade out at all. We just kept jamming, and it had this weird feeling to it that we really loved.
VL: But overall, we love all our songs and don’t have any real favorites. There is no song we have more affinity towards, because they’re like family. You need them, and they all have different identities.