Beach House double the melody: “I think that making music has always been the medicine”
Victoria Legrand gives us the lowdown on grandiose new double album, Once Twice Melody, not being boring, “self-producing” records, yin yang's and paradoxes and oh so much more
When a band is nearly two decades and eight studio albums in, they’d be forgiven for resting on their laurels just a tad - not being lazy, but stick to a tried and true formula, nothing wrong with that… but not Victoria Legrand and Alex Scully, together known as Beach House.
It’s been an amazing few months for Beach House fans both new and old alike, as instead of sticking to the classic “3 singles and a record” release strategy, the band did things a little different for the release of their incredible, epic new double album, Once Twice Melody.
With the double album broken up into four chapters, beginning last November the duo started releasing one chapter per month culminating in Chapter IV and the full album being released on Friday, February 18.
The incredibly engaging, humourous, philosophical and whimsical Victoria Legrand took some time out to jump on zoom and tell us all about the new record - we kicked off with me asking how does it feel to finally be releasing this epic undertaking.
"I can't believe that it's coming to a head. I can't believe it's February already and that years of our lives have created this record. It was a huge undertaking and I just can't believe it's already February of 2022. I think a lot of people relate to this feeling that some kind of time warp occurred, it feels crazy."
Is it almost a relief to get it out there at this stage?
"Yes. A release is a wonderful thing, it is healthy, it is a beautiful thing to share with others and we're very much looking forward to playing shows again and, you know, being musicians. There's so many phases of making a record but playing live is a whole other part of our identity and performing and singing live and playing guitar and exploding and stuff, it's all gotta happen."
Having witnessed Beach House live (at least?) three times, I can more than attest to the exploding nature of their live shows, the importance of them to Beach House’s artistic identity, so given the last few years, I wondered if they’d had a chance to test any of the new material live?
"That's a good question. I don't think any of the songs, even from the very beginning like in 2018 when we were starting to write for this record, which precedes the pandemic. Yeah, I don't think any of the songs were ever performed, no bits and pieces were ever performed live ahead of time.
We were very intent on not having there be a period of stagnant, boring, traditional nothingness
When we started writing we had a giant list of all of these ideas, much more than we've ever had, so I think when we started making this record, we were already at the base of a mountain. We just did one song after another and three years later... We had more than 18 songs, many more than 18 songs. It was edited carefully and intensely thought out. The chapter idea was something that happened towards the end, we'd written everything and were well into mixing and all of that.
We were very intent on not having there be a period of stagnant, boring, traditional nothingness, because of the amount of work that had happened, and also the vitality and intensity of the album, so the chapter idea was a result of that. It was taking advantage of streaming, taking advantage of that liberty that instead of doing singles, we could do chapters, and just having it be more a creative, playful, engaging period of time, letting people gently come into the record."
Based on my own experience as well as a myriad of youtube comments (cos they really count, right?!), I think they definitely nailed that - giving each chapter a month for people to soak up and build a relationship with before introducing the next. But to think there were many more than 18 songs - woah, how does the culling process work?
"Working for years on many, many songs and treating each one carefully, so not disrespecting any of them or holding on to ideas for a very long time, not assuming that something will or not be on the end album. Great care went into thinking, you know, will Sunset be on there or does The Bells still fit and various things like that. The Bells was one of the first songs we completed for the record, probably the earliest, mid-way through 2018, so it's been years of protecting and embellishing and evolving and allowing endless amounts of time for growth too."
While just an off-the cuff example, hearing that Sunset might not have even made its way onto the record blew my mind, as it kicks off Chapter III and I particularly noticed how well it flows into Only You Know directly after.
"That is all intentional. Each chapter you kind of have a rise and fall, each chapter itself has a beginning song and an end song, so inside of the overarching album, with the album opener Once Twice Melody and then the album closer Modern Love Stories you have the giant sequence, one through eighteen of the album. Then you also have these kinds of mini sequences in between - to simplify it, these chapters are the sides of the LPs, so there's this nice twist on album sides, and maybe someone will prefer side 3. That's always kind of existed with albums, we've loved double albums of other people's and I think each person kinda has a side that they like or a mood that they wanna put on."
When it comes to moods, Beach House are masters of conjuring all manner depending on the record and song, with their compositions and productions ranging from hopeful and magnificent, to the more sombre and reflective. With that in mind, something that caught my eye on the press material was that this was the first Beach House record the pair have “entirely self-produced” and I wasn’t quite sure exactly what that meant in this situation?
"That really means we really just didn't have anybody else in the room. Our relationship with producers has not ever been a super traditional producer-band thing, you know like in the movies the producer makes the band - we've never had that. We've gotten aid and advice and recommendations and knowledge and vibes and great things from the people we have co-produced with, like Sonic Boom, or Chris Coady, but we were always at the helm. For this record, the biggest difference is that not only were we at the helm, but we were going to be the only ones on this ship for years. In late 2020, we finally were able to work with our drummer James Barone, then in 2021, god, in the winter of 2021, we finally then were able to work with another friend of ours, Trevor, who helped us greatly.
Our relationship with producers has not ever been a super traditional producer-band thing, you know like in the movies the producer makes the band - we've never had that
As the years went by, people would come into the picture and help us greatly - Alan Moulder, Caesar Edmunds, Dave Fridmann - Dave Fridmann mixed Finale on Chapter IV. People started to come in and help us, but for a huge part - the writing and recording is a huge part of making a record, it's enormous, just the two of us. I think that with no other person in the room to break-up the fight or say 'hey guys', you know so it was an incredible learning experience, but like I said, we've never had that traditional producer relationship, we've kind of always been at the helm.
It's funny how the way something is worded makes it seem more of a big deal but it's kinda not... *laughs* It's just like a fact but there's no way to say the fact in a way that doesn't sound like a big deal. It's just one of those things, you just say it or you don't and both or whatever.”
Launching from production, something I thought may have been a bit more of a big deal was the fact that for the first time, on their 8th record, Beach House recorded a live string section, and I had no idea what that would have been like.
That was luxurious. Everything happens for a reason, many of the songs on this record already had synth strings and things like that, and just the arrangements and feelings of the songs, the narratives. Something like Once Twice Melody or Pink Funeral, this grandiose feeling already exists in them so we thought "let's add to the strings we already have and make something crazier and more grandiose", so that led us to looking for string arrangers.
The string parts were written by us, but clearly David Campbell is a world renowned conductor, arranger, all of those wonderful things and he arranged all the parts for the actual string players. He's the guy that takes what we've written and decides "ok, we'll have four violas, two cellos and four violins" and all that. It was an amazing day in Los Angeles and we'll probably never forget watching strings be recorded. It's definitely another little dimension that we got to add to what we'd already created."
So, what’s next after a live string section?!
Timpani and... Bulgarian choir - I don't know. Minimalism... no chords... I have no idea. That's the thing - it's fun to play with possibilities. It's kinda funny how we ended up making something so fantastical, but I think we wanted that, even in 2018. I don't think the pandemic really altered the direction of where we were going to go anyway. I think we were already taking cues from things in 7 that were kinda in another little dimension. Parts of Lemon Glow or parts of Drunk in LA or even the force in Dark Spring, the cosmos.
I think all of the little seeds were already there, we weren't gonna go back to a smaller place, I think we were already heading towards something more cosmic, something more romantic, something that just increased some psychedelia and dimensions and things like that. So we were already heading that way, it's just with the restrictions, we became the only ones at the helm" *laughter*
Speaking of cosmic, the lyric animation videos that have been produced to accompany each and every track take the term “lyric animation video” to a whole new level, being pieces of art that tell their own story. So I asked about the idea behind these and if Victoria had a favourite?
It's just another aspect of invigorating this period of the songs coming out in a really wonderous way. It's been a deep pleasure, it's like making the record again, kind of, cos we've discovered these people - we've found them, we've asked them, we've employed them - but they've also been able to pick the songs that they would like to work on so hopefully it was for them a pleasure to do it, you know, not excruciating.
The idea of using the words from the album, the lyrics, was using what we have and not worrying about traditional music videos and just trying to open another door. I keep saying the "dimension" word but it's true, it's kind of about that - opening another dimension, opening another door, opening another entry way to the record, stimulating thought.
I think videos like Masquerade or Once Twice Melody or Superstar, Sunset, Illusion of Forever - so many moments of these lyric animation videos have been incredible, so it's very hard to pick a favourite. It's pretty unbelievable when you think about things in your own mind and then somebody else visualises that thing in your mind that you haven't told them about. It's that proof of interconnectivity that we all share. We may all be different and we may all have our individual things, but I do believe that we do respond to things in similar ways... it's kind of amazing and hilarious.
At this point of our chat, given Victoria’s deep musings, humour and candour, I decided to ask the standard “what’s the meaning of the album title” but thought I’d inject about of my own humour by pointing out that all that springs to mind after hearing the words Once Twice Melody is “once, twice, three times a lady”... surely not a Commodores reference?!
"No but it's a roll off the tongue. It rolled off my tongue and I'm grateful for that because it embodies the playful, imaginative ode that I guess we didn't know we were looking for and then it found us. "Once, Twice, Melody" it rolled off my tongue, and so if there's something musical about it, I am so happy that the word melody is there, so simple, we've been making them for many years, it just felt like very classic to us, grand too. We were very lucky to receive that from the ether."
A perfect response that led me to kind of go deeper and ask about further subtext - when I asked Victoria if we should pursue this avenue her response of “do it, do it, I’ll roll a joint” was all the encouragement I needed, so I asked further - Once Twice Melody - is this a reference to how Beach House refine their melodies? Dealing with listening to melodies more than once? None of that?
"It's funny - it could deal with deceptive simplicity, it can be a reference to the actual feeling of living in imagination or hearing music. There's so many little ways to analyse it, it doesn't feel like it has one way of looking at it and that is usually when I fall in love with something because sometimes words are incredibly great with how just simple they are, they're just straight to the point, and it's very essential like "that's it".
Like in Another Go Round for example, there's something really immediate about the lyrics, the way they feel and that style of lyricism. Then there's Once Twice Melody there's just words, the way they roll around and bounce off visions and things like that. That is also a favourite of mine, when you discover that - that's psychedelic to me.
Then the other is the essential, the things we all relate to. ‘Another boy in town and he's right there beside you’, ‘another go tonight and the drugs were just right’ and this kinda of thing - that's how we all speak. We don't all speak ‘once, twice, melody’, that's something more literary or poetic or abstract, so there's kind of a vacillation between that.
Chatper IV will have its own new world that a lot of people haven't heard yet, there's a whole other emotional world in that so I'm very much excited to see how people react. We don't have any directives, we hope that people get lost inside of it and find their ways and make whatever they want out of it. The chapters were never to stifle people, they were just to gently provide these latticed rows, angel statued gateways for people to come through at their own pace."
Speaking of Chapter IV (which drops tomorrow at the time of publication!), I asked what people could expect. Victoria replied “the grand finale” and I couldn’t help myself but interject with… don’t you mean the Legrand finale?
"Oh that's clever *laughs*
That's fun it makes me wanna pop some champagne and then throw myself into like a Pre-Raphaelite painting, like laid backwards into a body of water and staring at the sky - I think that's kind of the vibe of the fourth chapter - the Pre-Raphaelite, the famous painting - but imagining it in a night sequence perhaps, in the dark, where you're just floating but you're staring at the sky.
There are a lot of illusions in the final one about the cosmos and certain plays on words. The illusion once again of people's pain and suffering, but there is also something undeniably true and some hope. I just think that making music is something that's incredibly life affirming for both Alex and I.
I think regardless of the immediate dark times that we've all experienced, I think that making music has always been the medicine, regardless of pandemic. There will always be crazy times, it's just part of living on earth as a human being, it's terrible but music will always be some kind of medicine, and all different kinds of it. Everybody loves different types of music, it's just a glorious medium, it really is."
I'm looking forward to finding more love, just finding new, old ways to love
Victoria saying making music is life affirming led me on a tangent that, as a fan, there’s something life comforting (for lack of a better) that an artist you’ve been a fan of for 15 years is still making beautiful art and pushing forward.
"It's proof of life - somebody is still creating. Somebody is still working, they haven't frozen, they haven't gone under, they haven't died. The amount of death that everyone experiences in pre-pandemic times, and through the pandemic and the future - just getting older in general, your loved ones and your family. Death is always around and it's part of life and I just think that is a symbol of hope when somebody makes something. It's a sign that there's still life, there is still some kind of light.
For some people there's still a party, and hopefully there will still be parties for us to go to and there'll be places to dance and there'll be places to kiss, places to drink, places to share food *laughs* anyway, point is it is life affirming, it is medicine, it is also a safe place to express violence to - anger, rage, trauma. All of these things, we feel these things too, and if our music seems calm - it doesn't mean that calm people make calm music. It's funny - sometimes people that make the most peaceful music are possibly raging lunatics, it's just yin yangs and paradoxes."
As we draw to the close of our time together, I ask what Victoria is looking forward to for the rest of the year, now the album is out to the world?
"I'm looking forward to touring, I'm looking forward to performing, I'm looking forward to finding more love, just finding new, old ways to love. Just being with people - I'm looking forward to laughter, hopefully this year will be filled with more laughter, I think that would be a good thing *laughs* I think this will be a good year for healing for everybody, so I'm looking forward to that."