When Beach House, the Baltimore dream-pop duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, released 2010's "Teen Dream," the band was immediately thrust into the forefront of the indie-music world.
Pitchfork named it the fifth best album of the year; Rolling Stone placed it at No. 17. Indie-rock chart-toppers Vampire Weekend invited the band on an impressive North American tour that included stops at New York City's Radio City Music Hall and Merriweather Post Pavilion. Following the steps of Animal Collective, the duo seemed positioned to become the new "it" band in taste-making circles.
That is, until Scally and Legrand realized they had no interest in becoming the next big thing.
"We felt too popular," Scally said. "We liked ['Teen Dream'] and it was a good album, and we worked really hard on it, but we didn't want it to be what we were known for. If anything, we wanted to slow it all down."
So Legrand, 30, and Scally, 29, deliberately scaled back, turning down an entire U.S. tour in venues much larger than they were accustomed to.
After a 9:30 Club show last February, Beach House disappeared from touring, the Internet and public consciousness all together. They retreated to where they always go, a modest Harbor East practice space that's lined with their recording equipment, a furry white wall, massive keyboards and other knick-knacks.
"This is where we always want to get back to after a long cycle of touring," Legrand said from a broken-in couch in the back of the space.
When they returned to Baltimore, Beach House fleshed out the stray riffs and ideas they had toyed with at soundchecks while touring. These pieces became "Bloom," the group's 10-track album due May 15 on Sub Pop.
As they did on "Teen Dream," Legrand and Scally recorded "Bloom" twice, first as demos at their practice space and then with co-producer Chris Coady. To record, the trio traveled to Sonic Ranch Studios in small-town Tornillo, Texas, two miles away from the Mexican border. Over the course of seven weeks, "Bloom" was completed.
The results are, at times, breathtaking — such as the surprisingly uplifting opener "Myth" (streaming below), the droning, gorgeous "New Year" and "The Hours," which plays like an irresistible collaboration between the Strokes and Mazzy Star. It's the type of effort — concise, sophisticated, surprising — that's made Beach House the biggest band in Baltimore, an enviable title to some, but not one Legrand or Scally welcomes.
"We just want people to hear the music and try to not have there be hype," Scally said. "We don't want to over-gimmick anything."
It's tempting to shrug off Beach House's “we don't want to be popular” attitude as a pose, but they remain adamant on making “Bloom” only “about the music,” a phrase that transformed into a rallying call over our hour-long talk. They turned down multiple publications for interviews and photo shoots. When Sub Pop brought up the possibility of “Bloom” being sold in Starbucks, the band refused. It's all a concerted effort to avoid cashing-in on quick fame.
"I'll be grateful for any type of longevity," Legrand said. "That's the ultimate goal."
Legrand and Scally stress that their enigmatic reputation isn't a calculated attempt to build mystery, but an effective way of separating the music from the frivolous.
Right before "Teen Dream," Legrand and Scally sat in a meeting with Sub Pop, hearing about the growing need to build relationships with fans via Twitter and Facebook. The immediacy of interacting with fans intrigued the duo, Scally said — until it didn't.
"In the beginning we'd say, 'Whoa, this is a stupid [TV] show,'" Scally said of the say-whatever-you're-thinking environment of Twitter. "Then we quickly realized this doesn't matter. It has nothing to do with our music."
Instead, the duo uses their Twitter account to spontaneously offer free spots on their guest lists while on tour. It's a function of social media they're comfortable with because it puts the attention on the live show, an extension of the music.
"We feel it's doing a disservice to present anything that's not artistically relevant or meaningful," Legrand said.
For Legrand and Scally, artistic relevancy includes spending their final free days before tour building wooden sets from scratch ("There are 'Blade Runner' vibes," Scally said of the wooden sets. "There's a real control and subtlety to it").
They look comfortable but Legrand and Scally say they're anxious to tour. There are already "70 or 80" shows booked, Scally said. It's the cycle of a working band — release an album, tour, repeat — that gives Beach House life, even if it's a familiar routine by now.
Sub Pop would not confirm or deny if “Bloom” fulfills Beach House's current contract, but the label's general manager, Chris Jacobs, was adamant about Sub Pop's “long-term interest” in the group.
“We would like to keep working with Beach House for as long as humanly possible,” Jacobs said.
On the verge of a major tour and armed with an excellent new album, Beach House finds itself in a familiar position: A band on the doorstep of indie-fame. As the lines of indie and major blur more each day, that's a tempting spot for any band hoping to make a living off its art. Beach House is no different, except its members want the music — not the hype — to lead them to longevity.
"Being the best or the biggest is a dangerous place to be," Legrand said. "It can really stifle people's future."