Beach House

WILLFUL WAYSBeach House attempts to ditch digital and creates an intense collaborative stew

If the music thing doesn't pan out, Alex Scally (top) and Victoria Legrand can always go back to their magic act.
Credit: Liz Flyntz

Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand both love vinyl records and vehemently dislike the sound of digitally recorded music. And as much as you can expect to hear ghostly organs and heavily reverbed guitar and vox on their slow-motion indie-pop tunes, you might also find your ears catching an audio glimpse of something as raw as sandpaper.

Legrand met Scally in 2003, when Legrand's band at the time was on the hunt for a bass player. When the state of the band spiraled into dysfunctionality, it didn't take long for Legrand and Scally to pair off on their own. Scally's “dingy” basement was the inauspicious locale for their first album recording, which took two days. Their latest, Devotion (Carpark, 2008), took a little longer (four weeks, including mixing).

“The recording process for the newest record was much more intense than the first,” Legrand explains. “Devotion was recorded at Lord Baltimore Recording in Maryland. It was a very relaxing, homey place to be; a lot of pizza and sushi were consumed there. We filled that space with crazy energy, an average of 12-hour days just listening and listening.”

Recording most of their basic tracks on their own Tascam and Fostex 4-track recorders, they tracked the additional bells and whistles digitally on a Pro Tools|HD system, although neither Legrand nor Scally are big fans of what they call the “sterile” digital sound. They even had Alan Douches (at West West Side in New Windsor, N.Y.) run everything back through tape when he was mastering the new album.

“Tape has age and distance to it that feels very human and flawed,” Legrand says. “The imperfection is truly its most endearing and priceless quality. We got our sound pretty immediately with our old organs, and we were recording onto tape immediately.”

Sticking with that old-school aesthetic, Devotion is set for release on double-vinyl at the same time as the CD release. “Vinyl is very aesthetically pleasing and is nicer to look at,” Legrand says. “It gives the artwork more room to breathe. It's also much stronger in quality than annoying, easily scratched CDs. And our use of tape helps the album itself not sound like a piece of plastic.”

The songs on Devotion, while wistful and brooding, are laced throughout with shifting melodic moods and quixotic moments. The organ is one of the foundations for Beach House, and Legrand and Scally will take more than one, thank you. “We actually have a bunch of organs that we have collected over the last few years [including a Kimball Caravan, Yamaha PS-20 and Korg Polyphonic Ensemble], so we used six different organs on this record, as well as different tones on each organ,” Scally says. But on “Wedding Bells,” they deserted their standard organ sounds briefly for a trek into harpsichord territory, varying levels of time, mix and mode. Other songs were the subjects of experimentation; on the live-sounding “You Came to Me,” they recorded bass and drums onto 4-track, dumped them into Pro Tools and later added a track of room sound along with guitar, organ and vocals.

The guitar tones — a Fender Strat run through a couple of different amps drenched in reverb — skim easily alongside those organs while leaving space for Legrand's voice, with its distinctive, bruised tone. “Victoria's voice has a lot of character, so it's easy to make it sound good,” Scally says, “and we used a ribbon microphone, which helps, as well.”

Despite their strong personalities, Scally and Legrand collaborate well. “We are both song crafters and control freaks,” Legrand says. “We manage to coexist in an intense creative union — the practice space is a bubble, and we're stewing in it. Mostly what happens is that one person has parts to songs, and then we piece them together…together. I don't write Alex's parts for him, and he doesn't write mine.”

Producing on their own, the toughest part for the duo was seeing the forest for the trees. “I'd say listening with open ears was the hardest challenge,” Legrand says. “It gets old after 12 hours. Your ears feel numb after a while, and that's no good.”

Scally couldn't agree more: “It was very hard not to lose perspective listening to ourselves constantly, and we did. Even though it sounds cheesy, the hard thing was not to lose faith.”