Hard to say whether or not Beach House‘s Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally are what’s commonly called “a couple.” In fact, after meeting the two last week at The Fillmore Miami Beach, I doubt seriously they could be commonly called anything. Same goes for School of Seven Bells‘ Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis, who I met at Grand Central on Saturday night. They, too, could be “an item.” But frankly, I don’t much care. To me it’s enough to know that both pairs have some kinda special bond between them, and that together they make some of the most compellingly beautiful music on the planet. Would any of it be possible without that girl/guy give and take? Unlikely. But that doesn’t mean I’ve gotta peak into their respective bedrooms to find out what really goes on.
That said, the big idea behind this column is getting close to folks who are either blowing through or living in Miami, and trying to learn a bit about what makes them tick. You don’t do that without a little prying, or by sticking solely to the facts according to some press release. I mean, even the most perfunctory interview can turn intimate, especially if it’s face-to-face. That’s one of the reasons I insist on in-person interviews in the first place.
Besides, who else would ask Beach House which director and artist they could see themselves soundtracking? For the former, Scally thinks “Antonioni and Kusterica, the guy who did Black Cat White Cat; Antonioni [because] there are a lot of slow parts, and there’s a lot of great intensity, and there’s a lot of great beauty.” Legrand says “any director who uses space really.” And when I press for a Frenchie, she’d choose, “Godard, obviously, the way he’d freeze a still so it’s almost like a photograph and then dissolve into a sequence of three.” But really, “anyone who cleverly uses visual.”
Citing numerous reviews and interviews in which the subject of abstraction comes up, Legrand wants to ensure that I don’t think of Beach House as a bunch of eggheads. “Abstract is important to us in an almost non-intellectual way,” she tells me, “because it’s not super on-purpose abstract; it’s in the most playful way.”
“I feel like people talk about writing music in a way that we can’t relate to,” explains Scally. “‘I had some really intense stuff happening in my life so I sat down on the guitar and hashed it out. That’s not how musical inspiration comes to me, and I don’t think that’s how it comes to Victoria.”
“If it does, it’s residual,” she concurs, “long after the fact.”
“Artist-wise though I could say anyone really” Legrand continues. “I could say Bill Viola and I could say Basquait. That doesn’t necessarily mean how I think it connects to us. But it terms of boldness of color, freedom of shape, of form, of explosiveness, of very little, it could be very minimalistic. Anyone in that vein really. It’s hard to say one in particular.”
“Miro,” says Scally. “Really bold and really simple.” And “Rothko,” adds Legrand. “Depending on where you’re looking from.”
The Baltimore-based duo (who record as a threesome and tours as a quartet) tend to finish each other’s sentences, and it’s a bet that in studio or in the writing room, they finish each other’s thoughts as well. Though their most recent album, Teen Dream, and the rest of their highly-regarded recordings are the primary reason for their increasing success, Beach House seems to be most at home in the back of a van or a bus.
“We’ve basically been on the road for four years straight,” says Scally. “Our growth has been from touring constantly. We haven’t had a week home the entire year.”
“We’re a touring band,” Legrand insists. “We’re not like little fairies that need to be protected. We have to tour all the time.” That’s why after Beach House wraps a tour supporting Vampire Weekend, they’ll be back to bunking across the pond. “This will be our fifth time in Europe,” says Scally, “this year.”
School of Seven Bells are equally road-worthy, which is a large part of the reason why twin sister Claudia recently bowed out of the current tour.
“We make a record and we go on tour,” says Curtis. “We make a record while we’re on tour, then we keep touring. We eat, sleep, and breathe School of Seven Bells, and I can understand if that’s not for some people.”
Alejandra (aka Ally) wasn’t at all surprised by her sister’s decision.
“Yeah, we sensed it coming,” she tells me. “I think Claudia just lost interest in being in a band. The bottom line is touring just isn’t for some people. If you don’t love it, you can’t do it.”
Like Beach House, SVIIB is back and forth across the pond as much as possible, and in a week or so they’ll be “in Europe for the second time since [their LP Disconnect from Desire] came out on July 15.” And while Claudia’s departure did leave a gap, “Her spirit is still with us,” says Curtis.
To my eyes it appears that perhaps the bond between Ally and Benjamin might’ve left Claudia feeling rather like a third wheel. After all, it is Alejandra and Benjamin who write all the music (though “that was [Claudia’s] choice” they say), and it is they who, like Legrand and Scally, complete each other’s sentences and thoughts. Add the gruel of the road and it’d be enough to send anyone packing.
But the School kids didn’t seem to be fretting so there’s no reason I should either. I ask them whether or not they’ve seen the 1973 James Coburn flick Harry in Your Pocket, which is where I first heard of the mythical pickpocketing academy known as the School of the Seven Bells. Oddly, I’m “the first person ever to even mention it.” I ask Ally if anyone’s ever said she sometimes sounds like Karen Carpenter, especially in tracks like “Dial” and “ILU.” And she says, no, but she’s more than a little flattered by the comparison. That leads to a run about Olivia Newtown John (Karen’s best friend), lucid dreaming (frequently mentioned by the band) and bibliomancy (which Ally saw practiced first-hand in the “fanatic, evangelical Christian church” of her youth).
But when I ask for a “fanboy shot” to prove I was actually present at the creation of this conversation, and the two in turn responded by asking me to recommend a good nearby restaurant, I couldn’t help flashing back to Wednesday when Victoria and Alex simultaneously asked the exact same thing. Yeah, I know, everybody gets hungry. But not everybody does so at the same time alongside a partner with whom they are taking on the whole wild world.
Are the duos in fact couples? I don’t know. But since both pairs slipped me their coordinates and asked that I keep in touch, one day I may. Till then I get to revel in the notion that I now know two of the most charming twosomes in pop.