Beach House‘s Victoria Legrand is a woman of many trades. She is a wordsmith inspired by the imaginary “shape” of an individual lyric, a keyboardist who crafts woozily whimsical flutters of notes, and — as we most recently discovered — a fur tree maker. In the wake of her band’s acclaimed third release, Teen Dream , we had the pleasure of chatting with Legrand about these aforementioned skills and more, finally confirming the meaning behind the single, “Norway,” and introducing us to five great bands from her Baltimore home that we may not have heard of. Oh, and Selleck Waterfall Sandwich also made its way into the mix.
Where did you get those incredible fur trees for your live sets?
We made them. We had those on Jimmy Fallon as well. We bring all the fur with us — fake fur obviously — then we just build the light stand, it’s all homemade. The light stand is made out of a mic stand, that’s what happens when you spend lots of time in your practice space. You want to make something kind of magical, but you don’t have a lot of money… we took that fur from a white room that we built in our practice space that’s made of white fur. We were just using what we had around us… people don’t usually have excess amounts of white, Mongolian curly hair fur around them, but, we did.
Whenever I listen to “Norway,” I always love how it sounds, but I’m never sure why you’re singing about Norway. Why Norway?
Well, it’s not specifically about Norway, it’s what happens when your imagination is triggered by something that is very powerful visually. And I understand what you mean, but at the same time, I hate when things are too literal, too direct, but I always just felt like singing that; I’m very intrigued by words and how words change shape. So for me, when I sing that, I’m not thinking that I’m necessarily directing it towards Norway; I’m having a feeling and it’s being stretched out and it’s swirling and it’s moving around, very much like the song is. There’s something very metaphysical about that song, it’s like not real and it’s blowing around… and singing the word Norway is not even real, it’s a made up thing. It’s taking something real and then making it make-believe.
Beach House, performing “Norway” with the white Mongolian fur room in action.
In talking about how the words change shape, “Norway” sometimes sounds like you’re saying “Your way.” I’m sure that says something about us, the way we hear a certain lyric.
Even when I see people have written some of my lyrics and they’re wrong, I’m never angry. I always just think, “Well, that’s what they wanted to hear I bet.” Because I think we hear what we want to hear. It’s like when someone says something and someone says “What?” And it’s like they pretend they didn’t hear it but they totally heard what the other person said. They just didn’t want to hear it at that time. Do you know what I’m talking about?
I know exactly what you’re talking about! I do that all the time, but about really little things.
You just didn’t want to hear it — you weren’t ready to hear it, but you heard it. That’s proof that people hear what they want to hear or if they don’t want to hear it right now, they still heard it. So saying “What?” is just a form of procrastinating in having to deal with what someone else said.
I wonder if there’s a name for that.
It’s the “What Problem.”
When you’re performing live, it’s interesting how you’re cracking jokes between these really intense, melancholy songs. Why do you think there’s that split between the comical stage banter and the serious songs?
Alex, Franz and I, we’re humorous people. We love to laugh. And when you make music that can be classified as moody or melancholic or sleepy, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person that’s making it is a very serious, very unhappy person, I don’t think that you need to be unhappy to make music that has a darkness to it… I just hope it doesn’t make someone sad that I can’t be like Nico, just no expression. But fortunately, I’m never going to be like that.
Have any of your songs been about specific people and you were worried that they might hear the song and recognize themselves?
When I’m writing, I have never — and I’m being honest with you — I have never been writing and imagining directing to a certain person. That has very much to do with this thing I believe in. I’m always trying to make it go further away, make it bigger, so that in the end, the result will be that someone else can be a part of it. Sometimes when something is too direct or literal, maybe someone might not be able to fit themselves into it.
So does that mean, when you write your lyrics, you think about the audience?
No, but I think about the power of the word, the edges of the word, the way that word exists on its own. It’s usually just a feeling… writing lyrics for me is sculptural in a way because I can see the words and when there’s to much frill or when it’s not solid enough. Words together take a shape and I can tell when something is not fitting. That’s very much how I approach it –they all come from intense feelings or, like I said, a romance of words. I hear something and I know it fits melodically. It’s kind of an alien process, it’s hard to explain.
I think you’ve explained it to me. Some of your word choice for song titles, like “Gila” for example, I’ve never heard before.
People have said that they think my lyrics are free-association, and if that means stream of consciousness, I don’t agree with that. I don’t just throw things around. I do keep things that are spontaneous and just seem to fit right away, but like I said, I do take great care with my lyrics.
Below, Legrand treats us to her favorite bands from Beach House’s headquarters in Baltimore. And as a bonus, she shares her current favorite internet meme.