Victoria Legrand of Beach House on the Sacredness of Fireflies and (Much) More

Jake Uitti
Beach House at the Sub Pop 30 Celebration // photo by Eric Tra (view set)

Baltimore, Maryland-based dream pop band, Beach House, will play Seattle’s Moore Theatre on May 8th and 9th. That means for two evenings, the city will be vastly enriched by the group’s fantastical sounds, which are part-Goth waltz and part-glittering sonic castles. Beach House, which formed in 2004, released its latest LP, 7, a year ago. The album features an array of songs that offer the mind a cloud-hammock to lay in and explore existence in a more pleasant state. To preview the upcoming shows, we caught up with Beach House’s front woman, singer and keyboardist, Victoria Legrand, to talk with her about her origins in singing, how Beach House has stayed together now for 15 years, and what she remembers most from conversations with her fans.

KEXP: When did you start singing?

Victoria Legrand: Wow. What kind of singing? I sang when I was a kid for fun. I think I danced and sang and did all those things that most kids do. And then I think my first intentional singing, where you have a lesson or whatever, was probably around 13 or 14, maybe, when I started doing some opera stuff. Then I sang in some various boys’ bands in high school. But I never thought much about it. I just kind of was like, “Okay, I can sing.” And I sang on key. I was in certain choirs and things like that in school. It was weird. It was just something that I did, you know what I mean? It was an activity that was very natural for me but I never thought, “Oh, I’m going to be in a band.” Even when I was in bands, I wasn’t like, “Oh, this is it! This is what I’m going to do in life!” 

What was the most memorable part coming up in the Baltimore music scene?

I think the most memorable, so far, has been the first few years I lived in Baltimore. It was a really vibrant, younger time, you know? The scene always changes. I still believe that Baltimore’s music and creative arts scene is a very vibrant one still, compared to some cities. I think we have a very special place. But my most memorable years are probably between 2004 and 2010 when I first moved to Baltimore. My first few years, I’d go to shows five and six nights a week. We had more venues and we had more DIY spaces — when I say "DIY", I mean more, like, warehouse spaces, not DIY necessarily. DIY is kind of a silly term. But I have very fond memories of that time. And I think that is something that you have to really enjoy in life, those years when everyone is young and searching for things and going out all the time and everyone’s mouths are wide open. No one’s started to shut down yet, which is something that is a reality now that I see in my 30s. I’ve seen it with friends. It’s part of getting older. It’s sad but realistic and an honest moment in life when the doors start to shut and people go out less and it becomes more about other values. But I think that time period was such a wonderful stretch of vitality and creativity and ridiculousness. 

I’m 36 and I understand fully what you mean about these doors closing and people retreating internally and into their homes. 

Yeah, and it depends on where you live, too. If you live in a small town, that’s everything. The world feels very shut then. And sometimes I feel that Baltimore feels like that a little bit compared to, say, a bigger city or more of a metropolis of culture and blah blah blah. But I think that is something everybody faces in their 30s. Certain doors start to shut. You see it in friendships and in all kinds of ways. But I think the task now — and it is a task because it involves a lot of internal work and a lot of spiritual work and just optimism to realize that even though you’re not old. I mean, when a 65-year-old tells you that you’re not old, then you’re not old and you need to listen to them and you have to enjoy it. And there’s still creative stuff to be had, but I find now that I go out less and when I do go out it’s for specific things. I’ll go to shows but it’s nowhere as many as I used to. And I do think that has to do with — for example, when the Ghost Ship fire [in Oakland] happened, that did have a huge ripple effect. There were numerous venues in Baltimore that suffered and disappeared as a result of the aftershock of that. That has had a profound affect on certain underground and subcultures having big spaces where people can go. But there still are little places to go. They’re just not as obvious. 

I think of that idea that we’re the oldest we’ve ever been at all times. When you’re 39, 29 is going to look quite young. And when you’re 49, 39 will look young. 

You just have to enjoy what you have when you have it. That’s literally all you can do. And do your best. Do your best with everything: loving and working and seeing the beauty in the world. Because it still exists no matter how grey things can feel. It’s not the whole truth. 

Do your best with everything: loving and working and seeing the beauty in the world. Because it still exists no matter how grey things can feel. It’s not the whole truth.

What do you feel internally when you step on stage? 

I always feel excited. For me, excitement is also an electric nervousness. It’s, like, a fear but it’s also— you’re excited because you don’t know the end. Every single show is completely different. There’s a totally different interaction with the crowd and with people in the front row. You just see so many different faces. So, I always have a mixed— it’s very alive. It’s very palpably unknown. I’ve never had stage fright. It’s not that. It’s just this electric nervousness. Like if you walked into a party and you didn’t know anybody there except maybe for one or two other people you’re with, which are the two people I’m with on stage, Alex and James. And the rest is fun and I think that’s what has kept us on our toes and also alive, energetically: never assuming that any night is going to be like any other. And a gratitude! By the end of every show I always feel an incredible realization that this moment can never be recreated and that it’s amazing that people show up and buy tickets and come and take time out of their lives to interact with you in such a wild way. It’s a room full of people that you may never meet, but they’re together and I think that’s what makes concerts so sacred. It’s such an amazing format and I hope that it never is threatened by technology. I think that people should always go out, physically go out, and see art that they love and not just rely on technology and iPads and personal home systems to recreate something that I think can never be replaced, which is that feeling of being outside and being with people in a public space all sharing something intimate, but publically. 

at Treasure Island Music Festival 2011, San Francisco // photo by Dave Lichterman


Does songwriting provide any particular type of catharsis for you?

Yes, it does. But for me personally, the point of catharsis is not immediate because there are many stages of writing. The way that Beach House works, and it’s different every single time, but I would say currently — well, it’s been like this for years, so what am I talking about? Alex and I write differently and we write in different ways and we work differently and we work in different ways. So, for example, Alex will work a little bit everyday. I will go days sometimes without working and then have some idea for a melody or lyric or a piano part or something. But the way that things are pieced together can take so much time, or if you’re lucky it can take so little time and it just falls into place and that’s when you have a little gem and you feel really lucky. But I think the catharsis is when you let go of it all in the end and then it becomes this other thing that is no longer yours, it’s other people’s and other people are experiencing it and it has all these new wings and I think that is an incredible moment. 

But, rather than catharsis, I would say there are these sparks and endorphins and epiphanies and things that are very life affirming in the creative process where you do come up with something and it changes the whole trajectory of a song and it makes the song come alive. Those moments breathe so much life and then all of a sudden you’re not thinking about even that you’re a human being. You’re just in spirit and it’s like magic. And I think that’s what keeps us working on music because I think that feeling is somehow greater than catharsis. But, I guess, if I look up the definition of catharsis, it would involve going through something and coming out feeling differently than you did before and I guess that is what happens when you create: you’ve worked through something and you’ve come out through to this other clear place. 

How has touring influenced the band’s songwriting? 

I think that touring has heavily influenced us as human beings and, therefore, as artists and that traveling has expanded our minds and taken us out of comfort zones that actually prohibit and inhibit an ability to see the universe for all of its openness and vastness and in that way that absolutely changes everything. It changes the molecular fabric of everything. So, whatever we’re writing or whatever we’re expressing has bits and pieces of everything that we’ve felt and seen. So, if we had lived in Wilmington, Delaware and had never left Wilmington, Delaware and just wrote songs in Wilmington, Delaware, I guarantee you it would sound and feel a certain way. It doesn’t have to do with where you are it has to do with the fact that you haven’t maybe gone anywhere. I do think that movement and travel have very profound effects on the human development and spiritual world. So, I think they definitely have affected us. I think positively, too. Even when you’re exhausted and you’ve had jetlag and your body’s in pain or you’ve been drinking too much — you know, things that just happen when you travel to cope with the actual physical aspects, because it’s not just your sprit you have a physical body that has to do it all — even in those moments sometimes you can see where a jetlag and sleep deprivation can somehow ignite crazy creative flows and thought processes and it happens almost every single time when I have jetlag. It will be four in the morning and I’ll just be thinking about the possibilities of things. There are a lot of gifts that touring has given us. 

at Sasquatch 2011 // photo by James Bailey


What does it take to be in a band for 15 years, successfully? 

Well, the success part, no one can predict that and we have been very lucky to have had the form of success that we’ve had, which, in our opinion, I think has been very natural. We had a little moment probably in 2010 where it felt definitely like a little step up in an energetic way. But I think since then we’ve figured out a way— our integrity and our artistic decisions and all of those things, we’ve figured out little ways to protect and conserve these things that we value and that we’re so grateful for. But in order to be around longer than a few minutes you have to— there’s a certain amount of strength and you need good relationships. And I think that friendship and honesty and intensity and being able to not be afraid to have intensity in your life and with other people and to speak your truth, those are things that if you do them in little ways over time they build up into bigger trees, larger forests. And I believe in that. And I believe that every artist and musician and painter and sculpture, everybody’s going to be different, they’re going to have pasts — and the other thing is never comparing your journey to someone else’s…

That’s so hard!

Yeah, it’s so hard. Especially now with the Internet and social media and Instagram and the pressures and seeing people have success and wondering maybe people trying to do it now are having horrible times and trying to emerge in what feels like an infinite ocean. So, I can’t imagine what it’s like now to try and emerge in an era when it’s not just what you make but who you are and how you talk to your fans and all this stuff. But I think the same values work, though. You’re seeing it even in this new era of personality and social media with artists: the more that people feel like you are you, that you are deeply you and the things that you make are coming from you and that the choices you make are coming from you and your values, I think that those resonances are still in tact and I think that people still respond to that. Even for someone like Rihanna — and I’m just pulling a person from left field here — is someone who is huge and massive but people love her because she’s herself. There’s something that you never really question about her. She’s got such a strong sense of who she is and her love and all those things. That’s a good example of where I think, at least in the pop world and the mainstream world, an artist can have massive success off of their personality and people love them not just for their music but for who they are. 

That’s a success story. But in our realm of music and who we are, I think we were lucky because we emerged in a very innocent, very pre-social media time and we were able to do it the old way, which I think now makes us feel like old people because we do feel less in touch with what maybe a millennial or a teenager experiences now. But we’re doing the best we can. And we’re using our social media the way we feel comfortable. I’ve gone off subject maybe a bit here, but I do think it’s about knowing yourself and knowing your boundaries and not being afraid to do things your way, no matter how long that might take or how much resistance you might get from people. Why do you not take pictures? Why do you guys not take photos? Why do you guys only do so many interviews? These are the questions we’ve gotten and I always say it’s not because we don’t appreciate the opportunities, but it’s because we want a certain amount of quality over quantity and that’s just something we learned in 2010 when we started feeling over-inundated with pictures happening all the time and never feeling like they were very good. Anyway — man, I can talk!

It’s very impressive! Okay. What have you learned musically as a duo that you maybe wouldn’t have if you were a four- or five-piece band?

Maybe we wouldn’t be a band still. We probably would have broken up. I think we’re lucky actually. I would say Alex and I are really a duo when it comes to the writing but I have to say that as a band live, our drummer James, who has been with us now for a few years and has been part of 7, the latest record, and he’s been with us for the recording and he’s an excellent drummer and he’s so creative and wonderful to be around, I always think of us, as a band, that we’re three. That’s the soul of the band you’re going to see at the concert. It’s the three of us making this energy every night. 

But I think that no matter what — live, in the studio, in our practice space in Baltimore, working and writing when James is not around, for example — sometimes it is better not having too many cooks in the kitchen, you know? Because if the bass player gets married and his wife doesn’t want him to go on tour, then that’s going to cause problems. There’s more opinions, more people, more things to deal with and that might prove to be a huge challenge. And I’ve seen it be a huge challenge in bands that are made up of four people. There are fights and there are alliances and there’s drama. Like, the singer and the bass player will be friends but the drummer and keyboard guy hate the lead singer. All kinds of stuff like that. Passive-aggressivity, all that kind of crap that can happen. 

Drama is life. Life is full of conflict and conflict breeds things. Something always comes out of conflict.

We’re very lucky that we haven’t had that. Because we’ve been face-to-face and you can call yourself and each other out on stuff much more directly. So, I think we’ve been — it’s more challenging, because sometimes, yeah, it would be nice to have maybe another person around for, like, an opinion but James has provided that over the last few years. And we’ve found other ways to pull people in when we need and would love to have someone else around that will breathe new life into something because things can get fatiguing when it’s just the two of you. But I think that in the long run, we’ve been blessed to just not have it be a regular rock ‘n’ roll four-piece drama kit. But trust me, there’s always drama in some ways. Drama is life. Life is full of conflict and conflict breeds things. Something always comes out of conflict. 

Do you have a particular intention when you go into a song say, like “Zebra,” which is one of my favorites or does the meaning form while in process?

Meanings form in process. Someone can have intention writing a part of a song but the spirit, the story, the identity, the mouth, the face, the colors, the characters, all of that comes with process. And I believe heavily in collaboration. Great things come from collaboration. Alex and I have had a very incredible collaborative career so far in how we work together. “Zebra,” since it’s one of your favorites, I can tell you for that song Alex had written most of the musical arrangement and when I heard it, this was another brain looking in on what somebody else had created, and I immediately thought, I had written some things but the zebra imagery kept coming to my brain. It was what I was seeing, the patterns crossing. That comes from comes from the music and how the music ignited something in my mind and my visual imagination. So, I definitely think that process is where you really see things come to life. 

If you could listen to one song right before you died, what would you pick?

Oh god! Well, if it was, like, today, if I was going to die today, I’d probably pick “Brass Buttons” by Gram Parsons or “A Song For You” by Gram Parsons. But if I was going to die tomorrow, I’d probably pick “I Found A Reason” by the Velvet Underground. 

Do you have a favorite thing a fan has ever said to you?

I don’t have a favorite because the things that have been said to me are very cherished and generally have an amazing amount of light that comes with them, like fireflies. So, it’s very hard to pick a favorite firefly. They’re all very sweet and benevolent and lovely and cherished. So, I’ve had, I wouldn’t say crazy, but I’ve definitely had experiences or conversations and I’m always humbled by what I’m being told. Sometimes it’s very personal. People will share developments in their lives or, sadly, losses. I’ve had people write us about personal friends committing suicide and things like that, which is really intense to find out. The range is vast. 

It’s one of those things where nothing is sticking out in my mind but I think the reason is why is because I think when fans say things — and especially if I have a conversation directly — I used to do this more often, I do this less now, but I used to go out after shows when shows were a little bit smaller and I would go out and talk to people, you know, by the bus and things like that. It always just felt like we were people at a bar just talking and people would leave little notes and cards. I’ve saved quite a bit of these little messages and I think those are the things I keep, the little letters. They’re very touching because they’re about something that we’ve made that has meant a lot to people. I think that’s very sacred. 

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