Beach House on Growing and Staying Grounded with Once Twice Melody

Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally discuss how their core aesthetic remains the same as they expand their sonic boundaries.
In Conversation

Beach House on Growing and Staying Grounded with Once Twice Melody

Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally discuss how their core aesthetic remains the same as they expand their sonic boundaries.

Words: Max Freedman

Photo: David Belisle

February 21, 2022

Over the course of eight albums and over 15 years together, the Baltimore-based dream-pop duo Beach House has come to be associated with certain concepts. Mystery, the curious nature of love and existence, the idea that there’s a bit of life in even the littlest things—that’s the essence of what Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally create together. So when the two repeatedly describe their songs as entities with their own agency and mindsets in our conversation, it totally tracks. “Songs tell you what they want,” Legrand says at one point. “That song refused to be grown,” Scally says later as we’re discussing “Hurts to Love,” a highlight of Beach House’s eighth LP and first double album, Once Twice Melody.

The product of three years’ work, Melody takes Beach House in more new directions than ever before—and that’s a big deal given that, for close to a decade, the duo’s calling card was its consistency. Through the lo-fi crackle of 2008’s Devotion, the blue notes of 2010’s yearning Teen Dream, or the gleaming, sky-reaching sounds of 2012’s Bloom, you just knew you were hearing Beach House. Scally’s triplet guitar arpeggios, Legrand’s husky “oohs” and “aahs,” the steady whirr of bleary synths, lyrics that evoke feelings and, at their most concrete, loosely tell stories—these elements remained the core of Beach House for nearly a decade. 

2018’s 7 shifted things somewhat. It felt more indebted to the roaring side of shoegaze, whereas the duo’s previous music hewed closer to the side of the genre more focused on its transfixing qualities. On Once Twice Melody, the duo continues expanding its boundaries and delivers a towering collection whose diversity is largely the source of its excitement. Where “Hurts to Love” is the first Beach House song that might make you want to dance, “Masquerade” is a moon-streaked burst of arena-ready, industrial-flecked pop, and “Sunset” is a dusky acoustic ballad. The album’s 18 songs are a reminder of something Beach House devotees have always known: Scally and Legrand can conjure magic from melody in virtually any form.

Amid Once Twice Melody’s variations, Beach House remains rich in texture, overflowing with imagistic lyrics open to interpretation, and immersed in wonder and awe. Scally and Legrand speak about the album below.

When 7 came out, you two were pretty excited about it being the first Beach House album where not every song has guitars. That continues on Once Twice Melody, which is also home to your first live strings. Can you talk about the freedom that comes with ditching instruments you've long been associated with and adding new ones into the frame?

Victoria Legrand: Every time we make an album, there are things we don't want to do anymore and things we want to try. We also didn't go, “We don't want to use guitar.” At the end of the day, it really is song by song, and songs tell you what they want. Maybe there’s a part that a guitar could do if you didn't have a wealth of possible sounds. At the end of the day, you're [asking], “What sound is going to make this feeling the biggest possible feeling it can be?” Sometimes it's not a guitar, and sometimes it's not a keyboard, so you really have to play. With the [number] of songs we had [for this record], there was a ton of playing, and by far, this record started with the most ideas of any we've ever made.

“At the end of the day, you’re asking, ‘What sound is going to make this feeling the biggest possible feeling it can be?’ Sometimes it’s not a guitar, and sometimes it’s not a keyboard, so you really have to play.”

— Victoria Legrand

Alex Scally: After working on music for years together, if you've made a certain sound a number of times, you naturally don't go back to it. But the thing is, our aesthetics as humans, the ones built into our genes, haven't changed. So [Beach House is] the continued expression of our creative spirit.

Legrand: We do process things. We say things out loud. We’re conscious of things that we've done and not done in the past and no longer want to do. We're not mutes having a telepathic moment of creation, but we move quickly. We don't like to dawdle in the in-between.

Can you go deeper on how you knew strings would wind up on the album?

Scally: We have keyboards that make string-like sounds. It's a beautiful sound. We've used it on lots of records. As we were starting to flesh out these compositions, we noticed that the parts sounded more like string parts. They weren't just pads. They had little motions and melodies inside of them that felt more like a traditional string arrangement. We were trying to make synths sound more like real strings. So it was like, “Well, maybe we just want real strings.”

Can you talk about the value of staying rooted in your usual instruments and tones as you add more sounds into your palette?

Legrand: Everything you do to a song becomes part of its identity. It's like its character, its everything. There are a lot of abstract ways to talk about music because it's not something where you can just go, “OK, add a little, you know, one plus three is four.” When we write, we're like a good cook who would know the proportions of certain things for that particular meal they like to make.

Scally: The consistency across the albums is a byproduct of our innate aesthetic. When we first started the band, it was because we both liked the couple of instruments we had and the way they sounded together. When three different people turn on an instrument, they're gonna choose three different things as their favorite sounds. A lot of that carryover between the records is the sounds our brains and personalities choose.

Legrand: For me, my own body, my literal face produces a sound that is me [while singing], and I can't change that. I could decide I'm not gonna belt, or I'm gonna do it whispery…I will always just do what I want to do and what I like and what feels beautiful to me. I can’t step outside of my body and look at myself and go, “That's why you're doing that, girl.” It’s a very physical thing.

“If you’ve made a certain sound a number of times, you naturally don’t go back to it. But the thing is, our aesthetics as humans, the ones built into our genes, haven’t changed. So Beach House is the continued expression of our creative spirit.”

— Alex Scally

You've grouped these songs into four parts: stories of metaphysicality, cycles, time, and acceptance. To me, there's some overlap in these groups—can you talk about how you created them and why the structure felt necessary?

Scally: We created those chapters based on the energy of the music, the lyrics, everything together. They felt as if they matched and sat together. We spent so much time trying to sequence the record. There was this giant effort to figure out how to make each chapter its own little musical and art story and [have] the whole [thing] flow. [The four parts are] not the defining statement of this record. The songs are so much bigger.

“Hurts to Love” has what might be the most straightforward, least imagistic Beach House lyric ever: “If it hurts to love / Better do it anyway.” I'm curious how that came about, and also how the song as a whole came about, because it’s the first Beach House song that makes me want to dance.

Legrand: It was this little beauty that came, not terribly quickly, but some songs come in a certain way, and they're all different, but the immediacy of that message felt very refreshing. To really love is something that is quite intense. It felt like a very relatable, universal feeling. 

Scally: Oftentimes, the way we work, there'll be a seed generated and it's sometimes just a chord progression or a drum machine combined with a chord progression. That gives us this feeling, and we start vibing off that feeling and letting it grow. We add layers and the feeling gets deeper. So there's this way that [our] songs grow. And that song refused to be grown. What you're hearing is essentially the first idea. It wouldn't change. We couldn't add much instrumentation because it just wanted to be the simple thing that it was. It's interesting that the lyrics are the same way. They just wanted to be straightforward and simplistic.

Legrand: It has little bursts of energy in it too. It’s like a little banger.

“There will always be challenges, and there’s always gonna be a bump in the road, but you better live anyway. There’s something supportive in that message, too.”

— Alex Scally

I find the sentiment of “it hurts to love” interesting because when I was younger, I was like, “Love hurts because it's hard to find somebody to date,” and now, as a more mature adult, it’s like, “Love hurts, because when you’re having trouble connecting as much as usual with someone you love, that's one of the worst feelings.”

Legrand: And it's also connected to wanting to love—and not just between two people, but on a large scale, we all want to love each other, but it’s so difficult and painful to watch humans be violent towards one another. But it also is just like, we still have to love at the end of the day, because a world without love is not a world that I would like to live in.

Scally: There's a feeling when you're young that there should be this place that’s perfect, that’s outside constant pain and suffering. It's this very naive thing I think a lot of people experience. It's like, “When am I gonna find that place, that person where everything's right, where everything is happening for the right reason?” The brutal acceptance that that will never be found is such a profound feeling. I feel like Victoria was naming that in this song.

Legrand: You'll find it in moments, but there will always be challenges, and there's always gonna be a bump in the road, but you better live anyway. There's something supportive in that message, too. There are a couple of songs on the record that feel a bit like that, like “Many Nights” and “Another Go Around” and “ESP.” They’re kind of like reaching out to others saying: Please don't give up. FL