Wednesday 21 February 2018

Beach House: Victoria's secrets

Ed Power

Ed Power

You could call Victoria Legrand a reluctant pop star, only she'd probably roll her eyes at the 'pop star' bit and go off on one. For someone whose fame might generously be described as niche -- would you recognise her in a police line-up of anguished alterna.pop warblers? -- she seems awfully burdened by the demands of her station.

In what is her first Irish interview promoting the new(ish) album by her band Beach House, she makes no effort to disguise how much of a chore the whole thing is. Day & Night is tempted to agree.

Victoria has all the symptoms of the slightly neurotic celebrity, notwithstanding that she's very much in the small 'c' end of the pool.

There's her visceral wariness of the media, the worry that her privacy is withering under the Sauron-like gaze of the internet, a conviction that this thing she does for a living -- sing in an ethereal indie outfit that sounds vaguely like the Cocteau Twins after some Red Bull -- is a rarefied undertaking that needs to be cosseted from the cruelties and vulgarities of the world.

And to think, she used to be a sweetheart.

The first time we crossed paths, shortly after Beach House put out their break-out 2010 album, Teen Dream, Legrand was chatty, grounded, refreshingly normal.

We talked about the record (it still sounds gorgeous and may yet turn out to be a classic). But mostly she was into the small talk: Conan O'Brien was in the midst of getting fired from the Tonight Show, about which she had strong opinions. Later we discussed her relationship with her famous composer uncle Michel Legrand (right) as well as the Baltimore rock scene. An open book.

Rest assured, this is no longer the case. A question about the introspective character of Beach House's new long-player, Bloom, elicits a rant against . . . well, lazy music journalists. Day & Night's criminal blunder was to point out that, compared to the catchier moments of Teen Dream, Bloom isn't nearly so eager to please.

It's a collection you have to consciously lose yourself in. There's less pop, more shoe-gazy wooze. Was that on purpose?

"That's not for me to decide," she says impatiently. "I don't think about that stuff.

"I'm an artist -- not a journalist, not a critic. I'm not a person that studies music. I play music, feel it, sing it, perform it -- it's my life. It's not my job to analyse it.

"As a musician you have a desire, you have inspiration. The rest is you working hard. You don't know what it's going to become in the end. You devote yourself, it's something you are obsessed with. And then the end result . . . it's always going to surprise you."

Does her disdain for journalists explain why Beach House did so little press for Bloom? When the album came out several months ago, she and her musical partner Alex Scally were conspicuously invisible. In this part of the world, there was a solitary media appearance, in a trendy UK paper. Were Beach House in lockdown?

"We told ourselves we weren't going to do anything," says Victoria.

"In the end I fielded a lot of shit. I did a lot of interviews. It's about doing what you are comfortable with. We don't want to be overexposed. People will either like it or they won't.

"We're not going to go out there pandering -- you know, begging everyone to like it. That's why we don't want to push ourselves and do every possible interview in the world."

There was a question I'd considered not asking, but we're getting on so fabulously . . .

Two years ago Beach House played at Marlay Park. At the time the band's best known song was a catchy dirge called Norway. Several hours before the show, the Oslo shootings happened. There was speculation Beach House might drop Norway, the closest thing in their repertoire to a hit. In the end they performed it, dedicating it to victims of the massacre. It was surely a tough call?

"That event and the song are completely separate," says Legrand. "Every time something dramatic like that happens, there is an inclination to shut everything down. The reality is that there is evil in the world, which you have to fight against. You have to not let the evil ruin everything. You have to keep living I think. Not playing Norway because of that event would have been ridiculous."

She and Scally dropped off the face of creation, more or less, during the making of Bloom.

There was no tweeting, no Soundcloud demos . . . certainly no tête-a-têtes with the press. For 18 months they toured Teen Dream. Then, as time arrived to write a follow-up, they went back to the Baltimore artists' collective out of which they'd operated for the previous half decade.

"I don't think it's necessary to be tweeting or Facebooking at a moment you are being creative and are in your own world," Legrand says.

"There was a time before the internet existed and you could just go and do your stuff. For us, it was very natural to stop telling the world what we were at. It is not relevant to our art. The internet is not who we are."

Legrand is aghast that Teen Dream might be perceived as in any way a 'hit'. Yes it sold well. Certainly far better than she or Scally could have expected. But, all the extra touring aside, it didn't change their world or bring any pressure to bear as they sat down to write the follow-up.

"I don't think any of our records are hits. We write songs, we're not a hit band.

"We see Teen Dream as unexpectedly doing better than we thought it would. Our response was 'Oh, well . . .' It's not my favourite album of ours. It was another one we made. We moved on from Teen Dream a long time ago. As we were still touring it in fact. Things happen quickly for us. We don't linger.

"This is our profession, our passion. Teen Dream was never going to be the pinnacle of my career. It's simply another thing."

She may demur but the record brought lots of attention, not all of it welcome. Most infamously, Volkswagen offered the duo a wedge of cash to license one of their songs.

After they turned the offer down, the company hired another band to knock out a ditty which, to Beach House's ears, sounded suspiciously similar to their sound.

Furious, they considered suing. In the US, the story got so big it featured in the Wall Street Journal. In a statement, Volkswagen flatly denied plagiarism; several months down the line, Legrand is clearly still agitated.

"I should not talk about it," she simmers.

Beach House play Opera House, Cork, on Saturday and Vicar Street, Dublin, on Sunday

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