In “an attempt to elicit this pure, embryonic state of mind for ourselves and our audience,” this spring, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally of Beach House held fourteen small “installation” shows interspersed throughout their North American tours. Held in art galleries, community centers, and other unique creative spaces, the experimental performances were conceived as a way, while on tour, to deepen and maintain the spirit of creativity that inspired the music.
All Photography by Shawn Brackbill at Icebox Project Space, Crane Arts Philadelphia, 2016
The day after returning home from their tour in support of two 2015 releases, Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars, and after a large cup of coffee, Alex Scally explains how the idea originated, and reflects on the different ways in which both the band and the audience experienced more than music.
This is an excerpt from the July, 2016 issue of Juxtapoz. Subscribe and save 60%!
Alex Nicholson: The show we saw in San Francisco was an intimate, church-like experience, especially with those glowing lights. How did the shows evolve and differ from space to space?
Alex Scally: A big part of the show was adapting it to the space every day and trying to figure out how to use the space. That was kind of a strange space because all of the energy was pointing forward. We just gave in to that, that it felt like a stage, but it was probably the most physically comfortable place we played. It was carpeted, and there was a lounge-y aspect to it.
How long did you have in each space to figure out how it was going to work?
Just the regular daily allowance, 10 or 11 in the morning until the show begins. It was a little insane.
This must have been something you guys wanted to do for a while. How did the concept develop?
Years ago, we had been collecting those lights, which were made in Taiwan in the ’80s. They're these trinket lights, like something that would be in your grandma's house or at a shop in Chinatown. We'd always find them at thrift stores, flea markets, and had maybe six of them. We had them all set up in the dark at one point, and it just felt so good. It was probably two or three years ago when we decided to collect as many as we could and set them all up. We actually wanted to have many, many more, but that was as much as we could get in the two-year span that we were planning it, buying every single one that we could find on the internet.
I'm actually pretty excited about the way it's all turned out! The whole concept that started evolving was to put out two records and have two shows, and keep introducing songs as we tour. That way touring wouldn’t feel like a job, it wouldn’t feel like we're just doing it, not really into it. Since the albums came out last August, we’ve played just over 100 shows. We're touring just as much as we have in the past, but it really doesn't feel like we've had the malaise that we normally get. And even when we play the same songs as a bigger show, the whole nature of the songs changes a ton when we sit down and play in a small space. I think we always knew we wanted to do more shows as just the two of us.
Facing inevitable changes in the music industry, there has been a lot of experimentation in how albums are released and music is promoted. Is that reflected in the concept for these shows?
It's more like we're setting it up so that certain things stay in the forefront, not like the commercial push that is involved in music. I feel like we've kept that at bay, and kept it away from us. We've separated the two worlds, the creative and commercial, which is what we’ve always wanted to do.
Do you feel like you have to find a middle ground between those two worlds?
I don't know if it's that black and white. You're creative, and that's a beautiful feeling, but you have to make your talents and your creativity available to businesses. That can work out in a really harmonious way, but it can also turn bad for some people in certain ways. We’ve felt that in the past, and it makes you not want to create. Just learning, getting more mature, getting older—it's learning ways to keep any of those energy fields at a distance or away from us.
And this project is a way to keep the creative spirit alive while you're on tour.
Yeah, for sure. It was definitely a lot of fun to design and install. It was a lot of work and it was really, really exhausting, but definitely kept it from feeling like work.
Did you work with any other artists on the performances, or was it mainly just the two of you?
Well, we have our crew. It was definitely us directing all the artistic decisions, but we have our lighting designer who sits and helps us program and runs the show, as well as our production manager. Everybody on the team helped and played a role, and is involved in our show. You always want to have a collaborative group effort.
What are your inspirations when deciding what to do for album art or music videos and the artists you choose to work with?
We actually haven't done a music video on either of these records, and part of that is because we've had such weird luck in the past, and have such specific vibes for each. But all that stuff generally just comes out of our minds. We get ideas for things and just try to go for them, and do what feels natural. We’re pretty self-driven. It always comes from us.
It felt like a much more personal experience with the music than what is usually encountered at a concert. You two projected enough presence to make it feel live, but subtly encouraged the audience to focus on the installation and music. Was that the intention?
We're trying to feel like we're alone, and not in front of an audience, because we want to get that feeling of not just performing but of going into a creative, spiritual place. More than anything, we're just hoping that the people forget where they are, and we forget where they are, and everybody just looks at images and feels sound, and maybe feels the intensity of the space and the air. We're trying to not have it be a show, hoping that it's almost as if we're in there and we are lit to some degree; we're trying to get people to look at the screen before they look at us.
Much like listening to an album alone, where your emotions find their own meaning in the lyrics and sounds, the performance left you engrossed in the visuals and music, even in the presence of other people. There were no distractions.
I think it worked to differing degrees. We played fourteen of those shows, and each one was really, really different. I think a lot of it had to do with the angles, the feeling of the space, the size, the dimensions. They all had different aspects to them that worked. For example, in Portland, it was really, really tight and it got really, really hot. A few people that I talked to told me there was almost a meditative, Buddhist aspect to the show. You wanted to move, wanted to get up; all these things, but felt like you couldn't. When they got past that, it was a wonderful feeling.
Pushing through the pain to the other side.
Yeah, and just by pushing through, it got to some other crazy place. I’m not saying I want somebody to pay to come suffer, that's not what we want out of a show. But there is an aspect to making work that is like that. I think a lot of people know that feeling of being exhausted but then you push through and it ends up being extremely exhilarating. Concentration also feels like that. You always hit a wall at first, and you have to go through it. Not unlike our attention spans these days. You just have to stay where you are and see where it gets you.
There's a lot of different ways that the show could have gone, and we've designed it that way, and we definitely aren't amazing concept artists or anything. We’ve had a lot of ideas we’ve tried to implement, and they worked to differing degrees in different places. We got better, we learned how to design spaces better every single night, and run the show better, and play it better, but by no means was it perfect. It developed, and we were learning constantly. I hope the audiences enjoyed it, but it definitely was an evolving concept.
Which is what you were looking for in not having it feel like a tour.
Yeah, totally. It worked, and you know, it was interesting.
Originally published in the July, 2016 issue of Juxtapoz Magazine, on newsstands worldwide and in our webstore.