The Schnitzel Incident
Leaving behind the comparatively massive, more band-based approach they unleashed on “Bloom” (2012), Baltimore-based duo Beach House are about to return with an album that embraces their more minimalist roots and thus opens up new spaces for other things: on their forthcoming “Depression Cherry,” Victoria Legrand’s incredible voice not only oscillates between melancholy and sweetness, but she also speaks into the mic (for the first time ever?), and generally ventures on into melodic territories she’s never set foot on before. Slowly, steadily, deliberately propelled forward by Alex Scally’s silvery guitars, his trademark vintage keyboard sounds and some wild drum machine scenarios that seem to hit harder with every listen, it’s an album of statements and a statement in itself. Little did we know, it’s a statement made by two Schnitzel eaters – who arrived half an hour late for our conversation because the waiter apparently didn’t expect them to be Schnitzel eaters either…
How was the Schnitzel?
V Excellent. So you’ve heard about The Schnitzel Incident?
Honestly, I didn’t expect you to be Schnitzel eaters…
V I am not a Schnitzel eater.
It doesn’t sound like music made by Schnitzel eaters.
V We’re just human beings eating.
A Yeah, we’re here, and it’s a thing here, so… we never ever have it.
V (Looking at a water bottle) Oh-oh.
V It’s okay, let’s just do it.
A Does “Classic” mean bubbly?
Over here it does, yeah.
V Oh well, it’s good for your digestion.
So, how’s life been since the last time we spoke? Has it been “days of candy” all the way? Or have there been difficult days?
V t’s definitely been days. Many days. Many work-filled days. A lot of labor and love and energy. And now we’re a little bit older.
A And this new feeling that is coming into our life as we’re getting older, which is such a cool feeling, like, everything’s kind of richer and deeper.
That’s good to hear.
A Do you feel that too?
I’m not sure actually.
A You don’t feel things are getting more beautiful and rich in these weird ways?
In some ways, yeah, I guess, but let’s talk about you guys.
V Well, we’ve been doing this, working together now for 10 years, and I think it’s pretty fascinating what we have learned from the things that we’ve done.
What have you learned?
V We’ve learned all different aspects of our career; we’ve learned about the live shows, we’ve learned about how playing live can affect songwriting, and we’ve learned that some things that we just did naturally in the past and that we’ve always done are some of the things that we really do enjoy and that they are very much a part of who we are. And that you can always return to yourself, because you always – kind of have yourself; you’re still there. And it’s been there all along. And granted, every record has changed and evolved in little ways, but because of how natural we are about stuff, I think we’re lucky because we’ve been able to kind of feel changes, but then if we want to go back the other way, we can, because we have some sort of… we have a core.
So if “Teen Dream” was about going back to that teenage energy, is this one about going back to the early-days energy, does it quite consciously tap into that with the drum machine sounds, the instrumentation? I mean there are so many things that are different, but still there’s this whole aesthetic, do you know what I mean?
A For us it feels like there’s no way we could have gotten to these songs…
… at an earlier point.
A Yeah. The themes, the depth of certain musical things, just the energy fields that permeated us as we created these songs would never have existed before this point.
Yeah. That makes sense.
A But yeah, there are some similarities, like, maybe certain instrumentations are reminiscent of the past, certain drum sounds or guitar sounds, but it’s also many new things, new evolutions are happening, new keyboards we found on the road, stuff like that.
V Same instruments, but utilizing, like, more distortion or…
I see what you mean, and it seems to get more intense with every listen. First I thought it’s pretty soft or minimalist or something, but then it isn’t at all in some ways.
V That’s true.
A I like that review.
V That’s the ideal vision of something, it’s soft but it’s also this other thing.
It’s actually quite banging. A song like “10:37”, to me that’s crazily intense although it’s so stripped down.
V We played that song and a couple of others on the Northern Exposure Canada tour that we did last year, so even though we had time off we were still working and trying new things and touring and stuff… just in parts of the world that we didn’t get to on other tours. We played “10:37” and “Sparks” and “PPP” live, and with that song it’s interesting, because playing it live definitely felt very…. it doesn’t feel small. At all.
I’m still not so sure whether it’s an album about A: arriving at a place, or B: leaving something behind, things dissolving or falling apart, or C: about time in general, which sort of incorporates A and B. Which
is it? Or is it all of it?
V Yeah, I think so.
A Well, something I realized in doing these interviews, which have been actually really great because we’re getting to hear how all these intelligent people feel about the record, which is so enjoyable for us, because we worked so hard, and to hear people’s opinions about it is so cool. But for us, talking about this, I think Victoria and I feel really differently about what the songs mean, you know? And we’re creating them together.
Don’t you talk about this kind of stuff while creating them?
A We work in an abstract manner.
V It’s all about a feeling, and the feeling can be emotion or it can not. It’s just a feeling. It’s like when you look at something, the form of it… it’s just a gut (thing).
A I think we have a phobia of trying to place too much on what exactly a theme might be.
I see, and yet there were a few lyrics that sort of jumped at me, that seemed to stand out: “There is no right time”, for example, or “it won’t last forever/but maybe it will”…
V … from “PPP”.
Yeah, do you get a clearer view of what this whole thing means now that it’s finished and done, and you can look back at it?
A Well, I love that line so much that Victoria wrote because you could be talking about something horrible or something great. It could be great or a horrible period you’re going through, and someone’s just saying, “it won’t last forever/”…
V … “but maybe it will”…
A … maybe it fuckin’ will. And this is a perfect example of the abstract universe.
V Some people say, “nothing lasts forever” – but I believe that some things do.
Last time around you said that when an album is done, it’s a period when you don’t have any questions, because the album is an answer in itself. What about this time?
V I’m sure there are still questions, but I think that, particularly with this record because this is what has been our life for the last three years, and more than that, just in terms of the depth of the work, but when you get older you start to really kind of be able to call things what they are and give it a name or something, and it really is just like: they’re statements. They are all statements, statements of feelings, and it’s not that there are so many questions that I need to have answered, it’s just that every time you make an album it’s a “physicalization,” a visualization of that period of our life. And it’s huge. I think it’s always huge in some way. It’s always huge. It’s never just like “49th street bar” – and that’s the title of the song. For us, I think for now and it has been for a long time, that it’s always these big, sort of artistic statements. And that’s why it’s always hard for us to try to pinpoint exactly what each little thing is, because it’s really an amalgamation of philosophy and things we’ve seen and things we’ve been inspired by and past trauma and maybe even future trauma we don’t even know is going to happen.
A Weird moods that are moving through.
V We’re just, like, little antennae or mediums of other people’s pain. I personally feel very sensitive to other people’s pain and things I’ve heard in my life, read about, whether it’s in movies or books; there are things that stay with you for a reason, and when that happens you feel the need to express that somehow.
And yet your life could be so carefree and painless, I guess. Making the music that you love, and obviously not really having to care about standard industry rules…
V I think it is pretty carefree. Are you saying our existence could be carefree – or it is?
Well, it sounded like the way you deal with these things you’ve heard, the pain, like that’s clearly weight on your shoulders, right?
V Maybe, or it’s just that some people feel things really intensely, and some people don’t.
What’s the word? Empathy?
V Yeah, and empathy is not something that all humans have for one another. Some people have it more than others. Maybe that’s linked to being creative.
And is that why you called it “Depression Cherry”? Because the whole spectrum, from the sweetness of the cherry to the darkness of the depression, is there, on this album?
A That sounds like a good way to describe it.
V I couldn’t come up with these beautiful articulate sentences.
A We’ve been realizing this thing, and maybe you can think about this for your writing about trying to understand the title: what else would you call this record?
Phew, yeah, that’s a tough one.
A Yeah, try to find a better name. I don’t think there is one. So “why this title?” Because there is no better title for us.
V The closest one, the other day someone said “Levitation”. But even after a few minutes they realized that it’s not that good. It’s good for a song.
A Yeah, at points we thought that one of the song titles might be the album title. But no, none of them ever surpassed “Depression Cherry”.
V Or “Beyond Love” or something, but it’s too much information. It dictates something; it’s like you already know something about it.
How did you manage to keep it fresh for yourselves? It’s been five albums, after all, and you worked with Chris Coady once again…
A I think that one way we kept it fresh was we realized that bringing a drum kit into our tiny world was stifling creativity. So, “see you later drum kit!” And that really helped to excite our writing this time around; it helped bring subtlety back into focus.
V Putting it back in its place.
A Yeah, putting it back in its place, they’re still drums, but they’re used more as an effect.
V It’s much more like “Devotion” in that sense.
A Or “Teen Dream”. You bring these things in just where they’re needed, and you don’t just have them because somebody’s sitting there. So that was one thing that was exciting.
V Maybe “Bloom” is the closest we’ve come to the traditional rock band type of thing, as a band. We were like, “Okay, what’s the kit going to do? How can the kit help the song arrangement?”
A When we looked back on “Bloom” we realized all these crazy things that we didn’t even know of, because you never know what’s happening when they’re happening. But when we looked back on “Bloom” we realized our favorite song was the one with no drums: “On The Sea”.
That was also my favorite track.
A And we also realized that so many of the guitar parts were so dull because there was so little room when there’s cymbals and all these drums – room just disappears, there’s no room for anything. And then also singing, you have to sing so hard to move past drums, just all these things that drums do to music that we didn’t even know: it was very natural how we got there, and then it was very natural how we left there. If I did a little thing on the guitar, I wanted to be able to hear it, and you can’t hear it if there is a crashing drum sound.
V You know, you try very naturally to not repeat the past.
So was it more a reaction to the record before this one – or to the live thing?
V A bit of both.
A Probably the live thing, because when we made the record it was what we were making but then you play it a 100 times, and you’re like, “I’m sick of this.”
V True, it is more the live thing and not the record because it was while we were playing live that we noticed this.
A We didn’t have any of these feelings after we made the record or while we wrote it; it was just on the road that we realized how…
V … how we kind of missed being two on stage. It was very illuminating – and I don’t think I’ve said that word yet. Illumination is good for the realization, little things make a big difference.
I saw that there’ve been only two images on your Instagram this year… so you’re still not particularly fond of the internet?
V We just use it in moderation, I suppose.
Good for you!
V We’re not starting a fight with the internet.
Last time around you sounded like you pretty much hate everything it stands for. Although there were times when you were more active in that respect.
A Right at the beginning, before we saw what was going on. But we’re going to use it very “informationally”. And we also have actually a few plans to do things related to the web that we can’t share at this point. Some things we thought up that we think are really good uses of the internet.
I mean, the day the Eric Wareheim-directed video dropped, I loved the internet that day. That was so sick in the best of ways.
A Yeah, he’s great.
V But as for the criticism, I think it is important. Maybe that’s the French in me, but I just think that it’s important to be critically-minded. It’s not even being negative, it’s just “what are the good things, and what are the bad things”? And to be educated about it and not just blindly like everything just because that’s what’s happening.
A Yeah, and I think there are great things the internet provides – all the time. Maybe it’s easier to see them now, but also there are so many bad things happening to things on there, so…
I know what you mean, but getting older and saying no to some of those things, some days it can actually make you feel a little old.
V Because you think you’re missing out on something?
No, not missing out, and not now, but maybe in the future if I keep rejecting certain developments and platforms, don’t you think?
V Yeah, and for us it’s the same with streaming: It’s something we don’t want to reject either because there is a lot of young people and that’s how they find out about music. It’s a more complicated time compared to what it was like in the eighties, when people had to embrace VHS. That was the biggest development they had to embrace. “Now we have a VCR,” and everyone’s like, “Wooooo”, and I feel, like, for us, nowadays, we need to embrace something every three months, six months, new technology, new programs. It’s just a lot to process, and I think that’s kind of why there are such vehement reactions to things, especially from certain artists: because it’s just a lot to think about. And as an artist you’re just trying to think about how to, like, take care of what you do and be sensitive about it, and if you’re constantly being honest – it’s pretty constant that you’re asked, “are you okay with this, are you okay with this?”, and it’s coming from all angles – so it’s a lot to process, and I think it’s not just us, it’s new bands that want to get out there. They’re like, “How do I do that?,” and I would just say: “Go on tour!” Because that’s what we did. When we came out, you know, we had a little buzz from websites and stuff like that, but we just wanted to tour. And all the internet stuff has definitely changed since then, but touring is still just as important, so it’s kind of the only thing you have to hold on to. It’s the physical, real side of stuff: the vinyl, CDs, and it’s like cross your fingers that that’s always important to human beings. And that we don’t completely become holograms or whatever. You know what I mean? We’re all struggling with processing all this.
A I would say, to answer your question directly: we are in a much better place for the internet, because we’ve just gotten to that older place where… I think getting older is just so much cooler because every interaction and every reaction is more measured and intelligent. Like, the internet: okay I’m going to take the good things, and I’m going to ignore the bad things. I’m going to preach against the bad things to people who want to talk about it but not to people who don’t; I’m not going to stand on a soapbox here. You know, that whole soapbox thing is such an ignorant part of being young.
V That’s just on Facebook though.
A We want to try and find the best ways to use the internet – and do that only.
Sounds like a plan. Five years ago, you said that you were actually too dirty to play in churches – because you were repeatedly asked to play there – and too clean for… something I can’t remember. What are you too dirty and too clean for now, having arrived at this older place?
V Hmm, it’s more that the pristine thing still feels a little funny because I don’t think I feel comfortable with people feeling trapped or something. You know, where people sit in the theater, and we’ve done those shows – a lot of them have gone great because people start seated, but then we always encourage people to feel free…
A Like Volksbühne.
V Yeah, and Fredericton. I loved that show at Volksbühne, so but it’s a challenge - but there’s always a way I think… and I really enjoy hearing the things that I’ve said: “dirty”?
A I don’t know if we’re too dirty or too clean for anything. Are we?
V I don’t think so.
A Maybe we’re too dirty for mainstream radio, or too clean for…
V Baby boomers.
A No, Super Bowl commercials. We’re just trying to really make sure that commercialization doesn’t become too tied to our entity in any way, because that’s a big trend now. Having every bit of your existence tied to some commercial venture.
Why don’t you play smaller venues then, for example, on your next tour?
A Well, we are mostly.
V Same or smaller.
A We told our booking agents never to take us above a certain point, because at a certain point the fans don’t enjoy themselves. And I don’t think shows are commercial. People have to pay for a show because it actually costs a ton for us to employ seven people for a year and have a bus and fly all of our gear, and we try to keep our ticket prices low compared to what our booking agent and other people tell us we could charge, but I don’t see that as commercial. When I talk about being over-commercialized I mean the branding of everything. You know, we don’t want to be a brand.
Is that even possible in this day and age?
A You just don’t sell your style and your thoughts.
V Weird, I don’t think I even understand what branding is, I just think it’s letting corporations use your entire identity.
A Another thing is we have no choice what ads are played before our
videos play on YouTube. That’s something so horrible. People just want to listen to your music, and they have to sit there and take in advertisements. I don’t think our videos have any ads because you have a choice, because you get paid if you check the box, so our particular page doesn’t have that, but all of our songs are on YouTube for everybody else, and those people have all checked the box, so this just shows how commercialization is invading every crack where it can grow.
Did you meet some people along the way who wanted to give you the kind of advice to go the other way? To do things you actually hate?
A We’ve ignored and repelled a lot of advice from people close to us.
V We do it in a peaceful and our own, like, strong-willed way. You know, our path is our path, and we’re not here to preach, and we’re not examples. Like Fiona Apple said many years ago when she accepted an award: “This is bullshit.”
Words & Interview_Renko Heuer
Beach House / Depression Cherry / album / Bella Union/
PIAS (Europe) * Sub Pop