BEACH HOUSE The X-Press Interview

Acclaimed American dream pop outfit Beach House are poised to thrill audiences with their majestic, back catalogue straddling live show when they play Chevron Gardens for Perth Festival in February. ZACK YUSOF caught up with softly-spoken founding member Alex Scully via a long distance call from the band’s Baltimore home base to talk about their upcoming show at Elizabeth Quay on Thursday, February 28, their critically acclaimed latest album 7 – touted by fans and critics alike as the band’s masterpiece – and more.

Beach House are returning to Perth next February for the Perth Festival. Have you got fond memories of playing in Perth?

I remember playing a venue called Mojos in Fremantle where we ended up crashing at a guy’s house afterwards. The audience seemed really appreciative, cool and friendly and it was a fun show. We’re definitely looking forward to coming back to Perth.

After all these years on the road, do you still get excited about touring? Is it still a fun thing to do for you guys?

We still do get very excited about touring but for us it’s a different experience now. Before, it would often be about the people that we’d meet at the shows, the places we’d get to and the fun that we’d get up to just as much as the shows themselves. These days, it’s all about the show. Our entire focus is on our performance on stage and that’s what gets us excited.

These days you and Victoria are joined on stage by your touring drummer James Barone who also played on your latest album 7. What has James brought to the Beach House sound?

When we met James for the first time, it felt like he was someone we would have hung out with in school. We discovered that we shared the same musical background and taste even though James is from Denver and we are from Baltimore. James is a kindred spirit, a great drummer and he’s one of us. We are really lucky to have him.

Speaking of 7, the album saw the band exploring a different sound, resulting in your heaviest and richest sounding record since 2010’s breakthrough Teen Dream. Why did you decide to do down that creative route?

Things just happened organically. The only plan that we had for the album was to try and be as creative as possible and to let things happen naturally. We decided early on that we didn’t want to repeat ourselves and that we wanted to keep things fresh. It’s like taking the same route from work everyday and then one day you’re like, “I can’t take that route anymore.” Building a studio in our practice space in Baltimore enabled us to be creative and professionally record at the same time without anyone telling us what to do which really contributed to the process. There was a lot of positive energy happening. Rather than cloud our ability to be creative, changing up the old ways that we did things in the writing and recording process actually freed us to take more risks and be more spontaneous.

What was the starting point for the album and some of its musical influences?

At the end of 2016, we wrote a bunch of songs than we liked – Pay No MindBlack Car, Lemon Glow, Dive and Dark Spring – and began recording them in our new studio. Somewhere along the line, we thought,”oh, I guess we are making a record now then.” Rather than a certain band or album, we were inspired by some of the weird gear that we found. There was this Fuzz King distortion pedal that sounded really great and this really old, broken Barclay organ that never made the same sound twice. When we write, we’re usually writing with instruments that we’re really into so the lyrics are being written with the sound at the same time. Sounds are such a big part of the emotion right off the bat that it ends up feeding into everything else.  

Besides the new sound, you also parted ways with long-time producer Chris Coady for 7 and teamed up with Peter Kember (ex Spaceman 3 founder member otherwise known as Sonic Boom) as c0-producer. What was working with Kember like?

Peter is a very cool, intelligent and intuitive guy who really took the time to get to know us and who contributed a lot on a spiritual level. When we first met, we just sat and listened to a bunch of records together to feel each other out. When it came to recording, he encouraged us to follow our instincts, to go with the flow and to not give a fuck. With a lot of other producers, there’s usually a lot of “you can’t do this or you can’t do that” but with Peter, we never felt like that. He was always encouraging us to experiment, to be constantly open to things and to try different ideas. He really doesn’t give a fuck and I found him a pleasure to work with because I felt that he really understood us.

Were you happy with the way 7 was received when it came out? The fans and critics seemed to really love the new direction. Did it feel like some kind of vindication, the across the board adoration that the album received, after having taking such a creative risk with the making of the album?

We always feel really lucky and grateful that people continue to enjoy our music. We didn’t have any grand designs other than to make the album that we wanted to make on our own terms.

Seven albums into your career do you guys still feel like there’s plenty of gas left in the tank? With the last record having been so well received, has it invigorated you and gotten you all excited for the future?

I don’t know. We haven’t really stopped at any point. I think it’d be good to stop and see what happens. You know, ever since we got the band together, we’d always either be writing. recording or touring. So it has just felt like a straight line, a flat circle. So maybe taking a break for a bit might be exciting actually. Hopefully. (laughs)

And lastly, what kind of show can we expect from you guys at the Perth Festival next February?

We generally play 18 to 20 songs – it’s kind of long – and usually, seven or eight are new album songs and the rest will be made up of songs from the whole catalogue. And we have this thing on our website called a Set List Creator, a little widget that we had made. So any fan at any particular show can click on the set for their show and contribute what they want to hear. We check it every single show and oftentimes, there’s a certain song that is particularly high from Devotion, our second record or Teen Dream so it’d be like, “oh, there happens to be like, 40 people who want to hear that song tonight. Let’s play it.” So any given tour, even though we only play 18 songs a night, any given tour, you know, we’ll sometimes play up to 35 or 40 different songs throughout the course of the tour. Which really helps to keeps things interesting.