With a band like Baltimore’s dream-pop duo Beach House, the search for exact clarity in their meaning is like collecting sand with a strainer.
I’m with Beach House’s Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally in a decrepit basement (i.e. the green room) before their sold-out set at Toronto’s Opera House; we’re trying to get to the same place but have different routes. I’ve prepared direct, literal questions that they answer with great articulation, care, and abstraction. This isn’t deliberate – Legrand and Scally are as honest as can be without trudging into autobiography. I fish for their personal narrative inside songs like “Walk in the Park”, “Used to Be”, and “Take Care”. Legrand summarizes the album’s very being: “Teen Dream is not necessarily a literal ode to our teenage past; it’s an invitation – an exclamation – of the forces and energies that consumed us as people. We’re twenty-eight, we’re not teenagers anymore … [but] there’s going to always be some force inside us that compels us to be irrational and I think that’s what keeps people creative.”
Halfway through our talk, Scally mentions how he hopes that the term “sexual” supplants “hazy” and “languid” as principle descriptors of their sound, though Legrand prefers “dark passion.” “That’s something we’ve been saying… trying to get that word [sex] out there.” When I ask if any of the songs literally reference sex, Legrand suggests “Silver Soul”: “[it is] a song of dark forces and habitual patterns, and in that sense, it touches on the limits of something that can be sexual and something that is brooding.” Revisiting “Silver Soul” after the interview, there’s new meaning in her words, “We feel it move through our skin / it’s a sickness / a manic weakness / it’s happening again.” I ask about other sexual undertones on Teen Dream, and they insist it’s everywhere: though not explicit, sex is thematically ubiquitous on Teen Dream.
Legrand’s creative process is deliberately intangible: rather than ascribe meaning while writing, Legrand finds that time reveals more about her songs than initial intentions ever could. “A feeling causes a word. A sound inspires a feeling, which inspires a word, perhaps. The word inspires a vision. The vision can be seen from many, many sides. Then it’s more interesting. There are things to talk about in different ways. And it keeps certain things open for different people.” For Beach House, vision quite literally means a visual. Teen Dream is accompanied by a DVD of music videos. “With my lyrics, there are always visions but I don’t literally have a scene in mind. Words I pick and words I fall in love with have an intense vision with them. ‘Silver Soul‘ is an example of that; I had a clear, intense vision for that song and couldn’t let go of it or let someone else deal with it.”
“Music is crazy [in] the way it works.” Scally is describing his visceral reaction to Thin Lizzy’s “Running Back”. “It’s different every time. Sometimes it’s unexpected. You can get yourself worked up for it… a song can really reveal itself to you, but it won’t happen for so long. Then all of a sudden, a door will open up and it will come pouring in.” He’s describing Phil Lynott’s voice and songs, but he might as well be describing the impact of Teen Dream. Though their self-titled debut and Devotion were critically successful and boasted complex pop songs, Teen Dream
comfortably retains the musical intricacies of its predecessors but
amplifies its pop appeal. It’s hardly
surprising that it has catapulted Beach House into the mainstream
consciousness and a worldwide headlining tour. Its immediate accessibility paves the way for retroactive consideration of their earlier work for those who too quickly clumped it into a pile of nondescript dream-pop.
It took tears and toil to get to this point, and even with an almost-entirely sold-out North American tour, Scally and Legrand are working around the clock: drive, soundcheck, interview, show. “It’s not that bad,” Scally makes sure to qualify, “we have a cushiony van and someone else is driving it. We’re not Black Flag.” Still, I’m struck by the brief exchange we have after the interview technically ends, after 45-minutes that swallowed up their dinnertime.
“What’s a good place to eat around here?” asks Scally.
“Try ‘The Real Jerk’ down the road.”
“Cool. You coming Vic?”
“No, it’s too close to showtime.”
I end by asking who they are taking care of – referring, quite literally, to the last lyric of Teen Dream’s final song: “I’ll take care of you / take care of you, that’s true.” Instead of referencing an ex, they answer existentially. Simultaneously, Alex and Victoria begin naming off all the people and things they’re taking care of: “Everyone on the tour, trying to take care of ourselves, our friends, our family, our instruments, our shoes, the people around us. Oh, and you.”