chat room

Beach House’s Alex Scally on Teen Dream

Baltimore duo Beach House have been critical darlings since their 2006 self-titled debut, but they’ve really got the Internet going nuts with their third album, Teen Dream, released last week on Sub Pop. (It scored an 82 on metacritic!) We caught up with guitarist-keyboardist Alex Scally a week before he jets off for a European tour with his band-mate Victoria Legrand and talked about making out, churches, and the made-up genre music writers always use to describe his band, which we’re consciously avoiding using here (for the record, it starts with a “d” and rhymes with “pream-pop”).

Is there a reason you’re not kicking off your tour in the U.S.?
It’s really hard to cross the mountainous, rocky terrain of America in the winter time. It just seems really treacherous to tour really far up north this time of year, but come around March people are much more ready to be alive. Whereas in Europe, they’re so beaten down after millennia of oppression, they’ll come out whenever.

Now that you’re constantly touring, what’s your relationship like with your hometown of Baltimore?
Well, we have a practice space in Baltimore that’s our place of solace, our hub. It’s so hard to find a space like that. It’s like a really cool girlfriend. It’s our replacement girlfriend. People making music here, the families of support for musicians, I don’t think there’s anything like it anywhere else in the country. It’s an easy place to live. It’s so cheap. I think that the world of arts and music is just not very competitive, it’s really lively, but not competitive. I feel like in New York there are people with money lurking in the shadows saying, “You’re next!” That’s not happening in Baltimore. It’s like a giant adult playground.

You recorded Teen Dream in a church in upstate New York …
Well, we just mentioned it in our one sheet. … Every time, we make a great mistake [on our press release] that we realize later. It’s a converted church. There’s nothing churchy [about it]. It’s more like a barn, a nice big wooden area. We came to that because it was a really cool studio that used to be way more popular in the era of budgets. It’s full of amazing microphones and mixing boards, and it happened to be open and happened to be within our price range. It’s the first time we got to really record. Every other time it’s been in a basement somewhere, doing it as fast as we could.

What were your past press-release mistakes?
It’s like, we’re so busy doing something, and then someone says, “Okay, you guys need to write a bio today.” And so we sit down and write it. I think on the first one, the way we worded it was so bad. People thought that we were sister and brother at one point, that we were raised together. There were so many retarded question marks that were our fault.

There are certain phrases that are almost always brought up when you’re written about, specifically “dream-pop.” Are you okay with that?
I think before we played hundreds and hundreds of shows we were more uptight. At this point, we’re a really happy to have attention. We’d much rather have people interviewing us and ask the same questions a million times than not care at all. Things like dream-pop … I think it’s awesome when journalists go outside the realm of expected things, but human beings have a need to put things in categories. It’s a natural human instinct for someone turning on the radio. I think “dream” is for the tone of our instruments, and “pop” is because we make pop songs. We love pop songs, songs that have powerful, anthemic quality. We don’t resent it.

The phrase “teen dream” is sort of self-explanatory, but I’m gonna ask you to explain it anyway.
I think it’s about pulling back the veil of that composed, structured feeling we all tend to give ourselves. It’s really not for teens, or about teens. It’s about that feeling that you had and then you lost. You’ll get it back for a day at a time, or for an hour when you’re conversing with some friend. It’s all about that wild sensibility. I think that’s intellectually why we named it that. But how we picked it, like everything with our band, it was just blurted out at one point and it seemed completely appropriate. I think Victoria uttered the words.

I read in an interview you guys said you wanted people to have sex to this album.
[Laughs.] The songs on this album are maybe a departure for us from the things that were meditated on earlier. There’s a lot more, pulsing, alive, passionate, youthful energy throughout the whole album. We associate that with sexuality. One time we were walking through this outdoor festival and these people were blasting it out of a car stereo and making out really hard, and we were both like, “That’s it! That’s what it needs to be.”

You also commissioned artists to make videos for all the songs on the album. How important were videos for you with the music you loved growing up?
I never had MTV, so I didn’t have a lot of exposure to music videos. When we would go to the ocean, I would see MTV, and I never wanted to go outside. I got to see Weezer, “Say It Ain’t So” … I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. Videos weren’t influential.

Do you think a lot about the financial side of being a band in 2010, with the industry in the shape that it is?
We don’t. Since we started in 2006, the only way we’d have enough time to spend on music is to tour constantly. I kind of like it … it’s not like we’re Black Flag or anything, but it’s like a manta for us that the only way to survive is to tour constantly because that’s income and that spreads your name. I’m into what’s happening: There aren’t supermassive bands, the way it was in the sixties when the major labels rolled out twenty things and you chose the four that suited you. People that make music aren’t these weird gods that have a ton of money. I really like that we have all these sites where we can post pictures and have discussions and weird personal connections to all these people. Ultimately, we’re very lucky to have stumbled upon this thing, to get this music out there, to have it to mean something to people. People are always going to find way to support artists so that they’ll live.

Beach House’s Alex Scally on Teen Dream