Beach House's Alex Scally Doesn't Want to Be Like Katy Perry, the Arcade Fire or Whatever the Media Calls Him
While reflecting on the difference between what he thinks his latest album is about and what his audience thinks it's about -- namely, all the surprisingly wrong perceptions -- Alex Scally references the Bible. "It's the tower of Babel and all that," he says. "Humans can't understand each other." But he doesn't have an answer for them, and he's not concerned about finding one. Nor is he interested in public pressure, the kind he and vocalist Victoria Legrand have continued to face from journalists since the release of 2010's ethereal indie epic, Teen Dream. He focuses solely on the music (which he understands), not its implications (which he doesn't): Since 2004, the Baltimore duo has risen gracefully to the upper echelons of indie with a tightly wound brand of eerie, quiet-loud dream-pop lauded by both Pitchfork and Rolling Stone alike.
Before Beach House makes that sound to The Pageant for its largest St. Louis show yet, RFT Music talked to Scally about stepping back, hiding in El Paso to record Bloom and reacting to its early and inopportune leak on the Internet.
Kelsey Whipple: The themes of Bloom, your fourth album, have already been dissected to wildly varying results. To what extent does it matter to you how your fans interpret your songs? Is there a correct read to take on "Lazuli," for example?
Alex Scally: Music is so personal. Everyone reads into it what they will, and we can't stop them -- and wouldn't. We don't like it to be a Katy Perry song where it's like, [shouts in falsetto] "This is a song about a breakup." That's not how we create music, and that's not how we like to listen to music. We don't like things to be that direct, and we want our listeners to have a say in what we do. There's no correct way in anything with music. That's the hardest topic to talk about. I have no idea why people like certain kinds of music or what they get out of it or even what they want out of it. We create albums based on where we are in life, and our listeners react to them based on where they are.
Someone once asked what success was for us, and all it really is is if people feel at all as a result. That's enough. It doesn't matter what kind of a feeling. If they put it on and it gives them a real feeling and it doesn't sound like anything they've heard on the radio before they found this song, that's great. People always tell us what they get out of it, and it's so different. Some people are looking for a good time or a great song to listen to on the way home. Other people are looking for answers. Or they're looking for it all at once, and it changes all the time.
When you listen to music, what are you looking for?
Every day is different for me. Every day's a different thing. Like I said, I think it's one of the hardest things to talk about, and I wish I knew the answers. I look for so many things.
Do you ever find answers in music?
Constantly. I love music and I'm constantly finding music I love. I love Gene Clark, and I found a song I had never heard before called "The French Girl" the other day. It's about this one-night stand he had with this person, basically, and he's talking about himself but also about you as the listener: "You'll never be the same." And it's like, I have no interest in having a one-night stand. I've never had one. But there's this feeling in the song of being so much bigger than its reality that just speaks directly to you. That's amazing. That's constantly happening. Music is not what the direct message is. It's always something different, something more.
Are you ever surprised by what your listeners find inside Beach House's music?
That's a great question. People say all kinds of stuff. We're very flattered and feel very lucky that they care about what we do. It's just so amazing the range of things people feel in the music, and it's different from person to person. Some people say they listen to it when they feel really fucked up and they need to get through something, and it helps them get there. And then some people say they listen to it when they think of the person they love. Sometimes they just put it on when they want to go to the water, and it's like, that's okay, too.