Beach House’s gauzy head-trips are marked by the hypnotic voice of frontlady Victoria Legrand. Within the band’s recorded output — which is now at four increasingly ear-pleasing albums after the release of 2012’s Bloom, its second for SubPop — Legrand comes off as an otherworldly figure, an ethereal being who emits dreamy, mood-altering songs rife with ambiguous lyrics and enough atmosphere to fill a Terrence Malick triple-bill.
A Beach House live show possesses similarly transportive powers. Legrand — her eyes perpetually hidden behind a mess of dark bangs and her body obscured by large suit jackets — interacts minimally with the crowd, which only allows the band’s music to become all the more immersive.
All of which made a recent 30-minute phone interview with the Baltimore-based band’s singer a slightly disconcerting endeavor —at least initially. “Yes, I was expecting your call,” Legrand says when informed that a journalist from Cincinnati is on the other end of the line. She says this with a curious tenor in her voice, one that makes it hard to gauge whether she’s all that enthusiastic to be talking about herself and her band, which she co-founded with guitarist Alex Scally in 2004. Yet it doesn’t take long for her to disarm the situation, speaking openly and at length (if often meanderingly) about a variety of topics — from YouTube’s role as a new kind of “public mixtape” to the perils of modern technology to her family’s love of ZZ Top. Here’s a taste of her more succinct answers.
CB: I don’t think you guys have played Cincinnati before. Given the few stateside stops this time out, why did you make it a point to play here this time?
VL: We make it a point of trying to play as many places as possible in the United States. We really like having new places to play every time we do a tour, so there will probably always be little surprises on our tour outings. We like to change things up every time we tour. It’s not about repeating a pattern. At this point we’ve played almost 600 shows and I feel like we’re starting to say we’ve played in a lot of cities, which is a great feeling. It’s like you’re watching your life go by and you’re traveling and you have all these memories of playing places, and Cincinnati will hopefully be another good one.
CB: Your stage persona is kind of mystical and quite androgynous. When I saw you at the Pitchfork festival last year I kept thinking you were a meld of Laurie Anderson and Stevie Nicks. Can you talk about how you approach presenting yourself in a live setting?
VL: That’s a cool meld.
(Laughs.) I feel like you have to be comfortable in your skin and you have to be comfortable in your clothing — even if it’s sweatpants. I don’t look in the mirror a lot in that sense: analyzing it. I’ve done what I’ve felt like is myself and that I feel comfortable in. Yeah, I think everyone harnesses, both men and women, masculine and feminine aspects. I think it’s different for everyone. I feel comfortable and powerful in clothing that covers most of my body — in pants and jackets.
CB: While your live show has gotten bigger in terms of set design, your interaction with the crowd remains as minimal as the first time I saw you guys five years ago.
VL: I think it’s different every show. Some shows I won’t talk a lot. I think that sometimes as an artist you just want to play the music and you feel very intense. You just got to do what you feel and the audience will respond accordingly. I feel like people are smart. You can detect bullshit pretty quickly.
I’ve toured with bands that literally say
the same banter every night. They have a script. It’s true — people
have scripts and they play the same sets for like 30 shows and they say
the same thing and they just change the name of the city. I find that to
be cheap. I find that to be kind of ducking out. You might play a show
and not talk at all, and people would be upset about that, but you did
what you felt and you gave somebody an honest experience.
The much-buzzed about music video for Beach House's "Wishes":
CB: How has your theater background informed what you do in Beach House (Legrand studied theater in Paris before dropping out and moving to Baltimore)?
VL: I quit because I didn’t feel like it was as valuable or as free or as powerful as music. I didn’t think about it. I just went right into music because it was more liberating and, for me, it felt a lot more creative. But really it’s all just an artistic mentality: thinking about wanting to make a show magical. Touring with Beach House and performing and playing hundreds of shows has been a gigantic education. And I think now, more than ever, this is what informs whatever we do for the rest of our lives musically or artistically because it’s been a gigantic education — more than any theater program or thing that I’ve ever done.
CB: There was a recent post on your Facebook page about the fact that you’re on the same summer festival bill as ZZ Top. If I told you five years ago …
VL: I think I always hoped that would happen. (Laughs.) We’ve played a lot of festivals and you always get a kick out of, like, different sizes of artists. We’ve played with a lot of great artists. One festival in Belgium we played with Limp Bizkit and Prodigy, so there are usually a lot of wild combinations. The soup is always really fascinating because it’s all different kinds of music from all different kinds of people.
ZZ Top is kind of an American classic. My
mom loved ZZ Top; my dad liked it; I liked it. It’s just an American
thing: hot dogs, baseball, limousines, high heels. You know — it’s all
of the emblems of a certain era in pop culture in American history.
BEACH HOUSE performs Wednesday, April 24 at Bogart’s.