Across scripture and cosmology alike, the number seven symbolizes virtue and divine perfection. When Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally were considering titles for their seventh record as Beach House, the numeral called out to them. “It has this singularity, it’s standing alone in space the way a ‘1’ does,” Legrand tells me on a recent evening in New York. “It’s sort of pointing in a direction, but you don’t know where. ‘7’ contains everything that words could not for this album.”
The record is one of rebirth, and easily the Baltimore duo’s most apparent sonic departure since 2012’s Bloom. “We felt an excitement working on it that felt much more intense and visceral than it had in a bunch of years,” Scally says. For the first time since their 2010 breakout Teen Dream, Legrand and Scally chose not to work with their longtime co-producer Chris Coady. Instead they teamed up with Spacemen 3’s Peter Kember, aka Sonic Boom, who encouraged them to follow their whims to see where they could lead. “We were letting creativity have full rein, with no anxiety of, ‘Will this be able to be reproduced live in concert?,’” Legrand adds.
Such practicalities are not necessarily Beach House’s strong suit. Their magic as a band has always centered around Legrand and Scally’s ongoing exchange of inspirations and ideas. Perhaps why they’ve worked so well, for so long, is because they are in some ways spiritual foils; you can see this on a small scale as we sip drinks at a Manhattan hotel bar, Scally cocooned in a black hoodie while Legrand emphatically pierces the air with her bejeweled hands. “It’s just this conversation that’s always happening, even in times of nothingness,” Legrand says of their process. “We’ve been very lucky that the muse hasn’t gone away.” On 7, the muse appears in dying stars, decaying beauty, and elusive dreams. It is a striking reminder that within beauty, there is almost always an element of terror.
Pitchfork: You transformed your Baltimore practice space into a home studio to make this album. Were there any special objects that you had around while recording, like talismans?
Victoria Legrand: Oh, yeah, we’re surrounded by them. The space is full of endless junk from tour. It’s organized, but it’s definitely like a museum, a hall of life. When we were in Louisiana for the last two records [recording at the Studio in the Country], we had this incredible ring of all of our organs and keyboards, so they create an energy field on their own.
Alex Scally: I think the individual sounds become talismans in their own right because so much of our music is based around the inspiration and obsession that comes with the sounds themselves. Before tour, we record all the sounds into our weird supercomputer organ, and they’re all there with us there every night.
You mentioned earlier that your co-producer Sonic Boom helped you break through certain patterns in your songwriting. Bringing a new person into such a defined set of sounds, what does that add?
AS: Breaking the kind of chord progressions or melodies that happen to come out of us when we write together would have to be a very intentional thing, whereas our M.O. has always been to have everything be as natural as possible. We really like messiness in music. I remember past moments in the studio where something would be really messy and off kilter, and I think we’re used to having someone around to be like, “You can’t do that, no one can hear anything going on in the music.” But there’s a certain kind of creative energy that happens when there’s not a negative mood in the studio, you know?
VL: Yeah, it’s like you’re all high and no one’s bringing it down.
AS: I think that freeness can be bad for people who aren’t good at setting parameters, but the way we make music already has limitations because it’s just the two of us, so it’s actually really good to have this no-parameter kind of mentality.
VL: When you think of like a movie about the music industry, there’s always that controlling producer guy. We’ve never been a band that’s wanted to work with that kind of producer. That’s going to be toxic, and games are going to get played, and egos are going to get thrown around. With Peter, we never felt like that. There was a silent encouragement to be constantly open to things. It was a spirit of, “Even if it’s foolish, it’s probably a great idea.”
AS: During the sessions, we always reserved the last day at the recording studio to just fuck with stuff. Often it didn’t lead to anything, but a couple of times, it led to incredible tiny things that were wonderful cherries on the top.
Can you give me an example?
AS: A really good one is “Drunk in LA.” There’s this really weird sound going throughout that song that’s kind of hiccuping along. Peter filtered the drum machine through the organ and made that happen. It’s a minor feature in the overall song structure, but it does so much in this one way.
If you were making a mood board for 7, what would be on it?
VL: I’d have Warhol’s Factory, Edie Sedgwick, and Nico. I would have pop art in general, which a lot of the album’s artwork references.
AS: The Left Hand of Darkness, the Ursula K. Le Guin book. Rest in peace.
VL: There’s a certain amount that is not sci-fi, per se, but some kind of pre-apocalyptic unrest. Glamour and destruction mixed with youth and nighttime and black cars and The Left Hand of Darkness. If you tie the Warhol Factory to these kind of more abstract and futuristic things, there’s some crazy hybrids that you get.
What fascinates you about the Factory and Nico?
VL: The big thing for me is on an abstract level. It’s the striking qualities, the black and the white. It’s the darkness and the vanishing and the certain sadness to it all.
AS: The beautiful, comet-like burnout.
“Drunk in LA” reminds me of the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” this idea that behind such coveted glamour is often melancholy. Do you find yourself drawn to those sorts of characters?
VL: There’s a lot of imagery throughout the record, like the shooting stars on “Woo,” that could be related to that kind of thing. Like an old starlet sitting in a bar in the dark by herself, someone who maybe had an insane life that no one will know about because there’s no one to talk to but themselves now. I think the song’s title symbolizes the darkness of L.A., but it’s more of a poetic acknowledgement of the L.A. of the mind. The actual place too, but we’re aware of the glamour from an outside perspective.
AS: It’s a dark, empty pursuit to search to be loved by everyone. It makes me feel a bit weird saying this, but I’m the first person to hear the lyrics Victoria writes, and those [“Drunk in LA”] are my favorite. When she unveiled those lyrics, it was just like, “holy crap.” It’s just like each one is whip lashing you around all these abstract sensory places.
There are several reasons that the album is called 7, some very literal, like that it’s your seventh record and you’ve released 77 songs. But your fans have a lot of theories about Beach House numerology. They have noticed patterns in your releases, like that the Sup Pop listing for this record is SP1240, which adds up to 7.
VL: There’s randomness and then there’s coincidence. The two are constantly nipping at each other’s heels.
AS: We spend a lot of time creatively making mountains out of nothingness. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing that.
VL: Things keep blaring out at you and I think being able to listen to those signs is a fundamental part of the creative process. I feel like there’s a reason why this record happened. We’re about to find out when we go on tour what it means to people, if it means anything at all. I think there’s a whole lot of electricity to keep unlocking.
The beat on “Lemon Glow” feels totally new for Beach House—it’s clubby, even slightly reminiscent of trap music. Can you tell me the story behind it?
AS: It’s a shitty ’90s drum machine that we found in L.A. in like 2012. [Scally finds the beat on his phone, labeled “dyslexia” and plays the demo.] We were messing around one time and Victoria made this beat. When we go to find a beat to go along with something, you just have all these toys you’ve been collecting for a million years, but that beat just made us feel real excited. Then the whole song was getting really confusing and filled up with high sounds, so we felt like we needed to anchor it, and we ended up putting like an 808 in there, which is just really deep, so that’s how the beat developed. The beat does this thing where it’s like do do do do do do do do, and that was a Sonic Boom addition.
VL: Talking about music frequently ends up in onomatopoeia.
With so much of this record circling around the idea that there’s beauty in terror, light somewhere in the darkness, have you two been living in that viewpoint yourselves?
VL: I think being creative and falling in love with things and feeling alive are so important, now more than ever. You don’t get to control how much darkness or light exists in the universe, they’re inherently part of the fabric of everything. But we all need art and dancing and joy. 2017 was a very strange year, but I will always think of it as one of my favorites. We were just working and having fun and experimenting. I see no better way to be spending life on the planet than to be playing with things in your life. You have to do something, and our doing is making music. We’re not politicians, we’re not orators. I don’t think we’re lunatics necessarily—
AS: We’re not far.
VL: I mean, we’re all controlled by the moon.