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Photo: Shawn Brackbill
Photo: Shawn Brackbill

Inside the Ever-Evolving Dream Pop World of Beach House

On the day we’re scheduled to chat, Victoria Legrand of Beach House is called to jury duty. Even masters of their craft with incredible work ethic are not immune to the tedious call of bureaucratic obligation.

When I interview Legrand a week later, the vocalist-keyboardist for the Baltimore-based dream pop duo speaks with enthusiasm and insight into everything we cover in our conversation. It was supposed to be a brief 15-minute call, but when I tell her that Beach House is my favorite band, she’s quick to continue our conversation and tells me to ask her anything I really want to know. For someone at the helm of one of the dreamiest bands in the world, she is refreshingly kind and down to earth.

With bandmate and guitarist Alex Scally at her side, the pair crafts ethereal, enigmatic songs with incredible consistency. Beach House is responsible for a colossal catalog, with seven albums and nearly 80 songs to date. Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars were released a mere two months apart in 2015, and the band’s B-Sides and Rarities compilation was announced barely two years later. Their seventh album, unpretentiously titled 7, arrived this May.

Legrand and Scally embarked on a world tour for 7 in July – with an upcoming stop at The Anthem planned for August 25 – and they’re allowing fans to select the top three songs they want to hear most at the show they’re attending. Much like the rest of the creative endeavors the pair’s pursued over the course of their 14-year career, it’s an ambitious concept. And with 77 songs to their name, the fan requests are no small feat – but it’s something they’ve been waiting to enact for some time.

“Alex came up with that idea three or four years ago – time flies,” Legrand says. “It’s something that he’d been toying with as a way to get to know our audiences more in every city. You’ll see the list of what songs are being requested over others, and it’s very fascinating. It’s a way for fans to interact with us, so it’s not just this one-sided relationship where it’s like, ‘Band plays onstage in front of audience! Take it!’ It was based off some very innocent ideas on how to make things a little bit more fun and interesting.”

The band’s meticulous approach to everything they do as musicians becomes more evident as Legrand and I discuss the imagery surrounding 7. For previous records like 2010’s Teen Dream, the band crafted a music video for each song. But with 7, they drew heavily from the black and white visuals in the style of op art – the use of black and white geometric shapes to create striking optical illusions – and the iconography of Andy Warhol’s Factory. Each song has its own op art video that marries audio to visual.

“The black and white really connected with the music and was an inspiration for the record,” she says. “I think that we wanted the op art to be something that people would identify with for 7, and it seems to be working.”

Musically and aesthetically, it definitely is. Their label, Seattle stalwart Sub Pop Records, released colored vinyl editions of 7 that sold out the same day the record came out. The album itself received rave reviews and has already clocked in high on many early album of the year lists. Legrand breaks down the cover of 7 for me – a dizzying array of op art, black and white clips, holographic elements, and a woman’s obscured face – all of which she provided creative direction for alongside Post Typography, a design house based in Baltimore.

“You have some psychedelia in there – this hallucinogenic aspect,” she says of the album cover. “There’s bits of chaos in there. Those are some of the themes off the record, especially on a song like ‘Dark Spring,’ which is embodying nature, change, chaos [and] darkness. And then you have glamour and destructiveness. There’s a lot of very cinematic themes throughout the record.”

Cinematic is a word that’s often ascribed to Beach House’s music and unsurprisingly, the band is a go-to for soundtracking movies and TV shows. Their work has appeared in movies such as The Future and the documentary Ivory Tower. You can hear their songs on shows like The OA, Skins, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Atlanta and New Girl, to name a few.

“I usually make the decision just purely based on the show – the storywriting and who I think the audience will be,” Legrand tells me. “I tend to love and gravitate toward shows for younger people because I really care about young people emotionally and psychologically. I have a great deal of empathy for people who are just trying to survive in the world. Any shows that are about that, I am always happy to let them use our music.”

Beyond their highly stylized album art and impressive soundtracking credits, Legrand says her band has their sights set on breaking into the world of composing.

“We’re literally just waiting for a person to hire us. I think we just really want someone to just say, ‘Hey Beach House, would you soundtrack my film?’ and we would do it.”

Don’t expect the band’s first foray into composing to be another record though. Legrand views entering that universe as a way to incubate ideas outside of the work she and Scally are used to producing and tap into currently uncharted  territory.

“Scoring and soundtracking use totally different parts of our writing process. There’s stuff we would make that probably wouldn’t sound at all like what any of our previous work sounded like. It would be using totally different aspects of our creative writing, which is something that we’re dying to do because we’d be able to develop more of our other unknown creative sides.”

Brimming with creative energy, I can’t help but wonder if Legrand is ever uninspired by the world around her or feels overwhelmed by the pressure to constantly create.

“I personally do burn out and go through great periods of what I call ‘nothingness’ where I am almost forgetting what I do,” she tells me. “I don’t say, ‘I’m a singer, I’m a musician.’ It’s almost like I don’t even identify as that. It’s more like, ‘I’m Victoria, I’m a human being.’ I do whatever, I’m fascinated by many things. Boredom – or whatever that is, the nothingness – is an extremely important part of the process of then being able to have new things start to creep in.”

It’s clear that Legrand has arrived at a place where she can embrace the nothingness. She tells me about the intense writing and recording and touring for their record Bloom about seven years ago, where she experienced her first bout of burnout brought on by “our own insanity, propelling us forward.” Since then, she’s learned to accept these feelings as part of the ebb and flow of existing in the world as a creative person.

“It’s very normal to feel all of the sudden that you’re not a creative person at all. I might not hear a melody or come up with lyrics or have a story in my mind. But I might be going down a rabbit hole of things that lead me, for example, to develop the ideas for the visual of 7. I was into art and just seeing things. I wasn’t into hearing or listening. I was more into looking. It’s important to accept oneself if you feel like you’re all of the sudden flattened. You’ll come up again – you just have to let that moment be.”

Beach House bring their electrifying new album 7 to The Anthem on Saturday, August 25. Papercuts open. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $38. For more on Beach House, visit www.beachhousebaltimore.com.

The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; 202-888-0200; www.theanthemdc.com

Photo: Courtesy of Knox Hamilton
Photo: Courtesy of Knox Hamilton

Knox Hamilton Breezes Through DC

Knox Hamilton’s vibe isn’t what you’d immediately expect from a band out of Little Rock, Arkansas. But the three bandmates aren’t claiming to play traditional Southern music. Instead, they’re drawing from all of their influences to make something modern and new.

“I think just like any band, our sound comes from combining the taste and styles of all the individual personalities in the band,” said lead singer Boots Copeland. “We grew up on 70s, 80s and 90s pop, and some of our biggest influences are The Killers, The Beatles, Michael Jackson [and] Mew.”

The band’s current tour, which brings them to Gypsy Sally’s on July 19, is called “The Beach Boy Tour.” In their photos, the musicians are decked out in brightly patterned Hawaiian shirts. There’s also a palm tree in their band logo, and their music is often referred to as “breezy.”

Knox Hamilton exploded onto the national scene in 2014 with their single “Work It Out” from their EP How’s Your Mind. The earwormy song climbed the charts, spread all over the radio and has now been streamed on Spotify almost 8 million times. When the tune became a hit, the band members were still working day jobs in Little Rock.

“We’d been writing for fun, just for friends and family to hear, but never tried to release anything like that,” Copeland said. “‘Work It Out’ felt like the one that could get some traction though. It’s still surreal to know that so many people have heard it all over the world. Crazy.”

Part of what makes Knox Hamilton work is the fact that there’s another Copeland in the band: Boots’ brother Cobo on drums. The two share an unspoken connection that helps to guide and shape the band’s unique sound and rhythms. Their dad was a Pentecostal preacher, and the boys played music in his church growing up. Their mom was also a singer, so music came naturally.

“We’ve been making our own music together since we could pick up drumsticks and guitars.”

The band has a new EP coming out this month, full of new songs with the signature Knox Hamilton sound. The first two singles, “Trade My Trips” and “Video Sunshine,” are already making waves. Their songwriting process is a collaborative one, Copeland said, also involving guitarist Drew Buffington.

“Typically, one of us will bring an idea for a song to the table and the band will put our collective Knox Hamilton sheen on it.”

The band’s live show has evolved since the early days, Copeland said, confessing that watching early footage of the band’s live performances is “cringeworthy.”

“We’ve gotten a lot more comfortable onstage.”

For the band members, who are now husbands and fathers, the touring life still takes some getting used to. When asked how they were prepping for the upcoming tour, Copeland joked that they were doing “a lot of push-ups.”

“It definitely takes our old man band about a week to get our sea legs,” he said.

The life of this indie band may not be as “glamorous” as that of other rockers, but their relatability makes them even more likable. And Copeland doesn’t let the band’s humble vibe keep him from joking about the band’s fortunes as Knox Hamilton prepared to venture out once again on the road.

“After this tour, we will probably have made enough money to vacation in Fiji,” he said, “or at least Branson [Missouri] for an extended weekend.”

Catch Knox Hamilton at Gypsy Sally’s on Thursday, July 19. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $13-$15. Learn more about the band at www.knoxhamilton.com.

Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC; 202-333-7700; www.gypsysallys.com