Formed in: 2004, Baltimore, Maryland
Key Albums: Beach House (2006), Teen Dream (2010), Bloom (2012)
Beach House are a duo —not a couple, as they often point out— from Baltimore. Built on the vocals and organ of Victoria Legrand and the atmospheric slide-guitar of Alex Scally, they wear frequent comparisons to Nico and Mazzy Star, and are heavily influenced by Neil Young and the films of David Lynch. Their music is slow, droney, dreamlike, and narcotic.
"That's very much what the 'Beach House' feel is: going off to a different world," Scally explained, in 2008. "It's not really a vacation; vacation for me is when you go away, but you’re still thinking about all the things you've left behind."
Much of the response to their music, Legrand believes, comes from the name. "People immediately think: 'lying in the cabana,'" she told The Village Voice. "Smoking opium. Listening to Galaxie 500. Spiritualized. I know that there's drug references and things like that, but when we write we're definitely not succumbing to the influence of drugs or imagining that at all."
Legrand was born into an artistic family, as the daughter of a painter, and the niece of French composer Michel Legrand and singer Christine Legrand. The Beach House vocalist was born in Paris, raised in Philadelphia, and returned to the city of her birth to study acting at the International Theatre School Of Jacques Lecoq in Paris. "I've been performing all my life in theatres, so it’s very natural for me to be in front of people, on stage," Legrand recalled, in a 2008 interview with me, of her theatrical background. "Every time we play, I try and use all those performative things that're ingrained in me. I think the minute you're on stage, you're performing."
On graduation, Legrand moved to Baltimore, in part because of "cheap rent," but also impelled by "a weird gut feeling," she told The Age. Six months after moving there, in 2004, she met Scally, and the two quickly started "hanging out all the time," eventually leading to a musical collaboration.
"Everything about it was easy and was very natural,” Legrand recounted in 2008. "It was just like two friends being around one another and talking about music and loving music and loving organs and loving pianos and loving four-tracks, and this kind of intense baby was born. We were two people who had very similar colors in their minds."
Scally was a Baltimore native who had grown up playing bass guitar, studied Geology at University, and eventually found employment as a carpenter. Before Beach House, Scally was never a guitarist. "It's been great because I was never taught on that instrument," he told Owl and Bear, "so I've been able to play exactly how I want and not have preconceived notions about what the guitar's role is."
Beach House started out life as a recording project. Yet, rather than using multi-tracking to build 'grand' songs, they stuck to the simplicity of their set-up: organ, programmed drums, slide guitar. "It's a way to challenge ourselves: What do you do when it's just the two of you?" Legrand said, to Pitchfork. Offered Scally: "One of the reasons this has been such a fulfilling experience for me is that with two people, it's so much easier to achieve things that feel exciting and new."
After a year as a recording project, Beach House began playing around Baltimore, and recorded their 2006 self-titled debut in the space of two days. Though made without a label, the band were soon signed by Carpark Records. Beach House soon became a 'blog band,' the internet's embrace symbolized by the ever-influential Pitchfork, who awarded the band their 'best new music' tag and scored Beach House an 8.1.
"We know we're an internet band," Scally has offered. "That's how we've always been: real small, but with really devoted fans."
In 2008, Beach House released their second album, Devotion, a more dynamic set whose songs were, Scally claimed, "incredibly high in intensity," born of bottled-up emotions from touring and increased creative tensions between the two. The album found more critical love, and the band's fanbase continued to grow, aided by tours with Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear.
In 2009, Beach House signed to Sub Pop Records, and the first fruits of that union were 2010's impressive Teen Dream. The album's title, Legrand explained, "described the feeling that [they] had [making it]: youthful and obsessed, completely inspired by everything in this overwhelming, irrational, passionate way."
Recorded in a converted church in upstate New York, the album summoned a sense of grandeur beyond the hazy mood music of the band's first two records, and was summarily received with critical rapture; named album of the year by Gorilla vs. Bear and in the Top 10 by Pitchfork, Time, Billboard, Stereogum, and the NME.
In 2012, the duo returned with Bloom, an LP that reaffirmed Beach House's status as a important indie band and critical darlings.