Sophisticated Collaboration

Beach House's spooky, sexy work may just enhance Baltimore's musical reputation

The Baltimore music duo Beach House make music that is both spooky and sexy, floating in the netherworld that bridges low-fi indie rock with the haunting artistry of bands on the 4AD label, with a little Hope Sandoval, Nico, and Siouxsie Sioux thrown in for good measure.

It's a heady combination, and not one that came to be in any preplanned fashion. It just grew organically from the partnership of singer-songwriter and keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist-keyboardist Alex Scally.

"I don't think it was necessarily a decision on our part to make it sound that way," said Legrand, 26, of Beach House's early collaborations upon forming in 2005. "I think it was more coming out after the fact. It became a lot less about presentation and emotion and more about finding the abstract effects and sounds we wanted to create."

Beach House will perform in the middle slot on a bill that also will include Papercuts and headlining act Old Time Relijun on Monday night, March 10, at Solar Culture Gallery.

Beach House and the San Francisco-based Papercuts are touring together; that band's Jason Quever will play percussion with Beach House, Legrand said.

"He's playing to accompany us, but Jason is an amazing songwriter, composer, producer and arranger, among other things, so we are lucky he will be gracing us with his presence during our sets," she said.

Beach House's Scally also has been known to play on Papercuts recordings. Legrand said Beach House and Papercuts met when on tour together with the band Grizzly Bear.

Beach House is touring now to promote its second album, the charming and surreal Devotion, which was released Feb. 26 on the Washington, D.C., indie label Carpark Records.

Although the duo's 2006 debut album, which was recorded in the basement of Scally's house, won lots of critical attention, the new album marks a massive leap in musical sophistication, matched by Beach House's increasing momentum in the national musical scene.

Makes sense, though. The Paris-born Legrand (whose uncle is the composer Michel Legrand) is classically trained, and the 25-year-old Scally, who was born and raised in Baltimore, has been playing music almost since birth.

"I studied opera and theater in school and in college. I've always been performing," Legrand said. "Alex always had musical instruments around him; he comes from a family who loves music, and (he) has been in bands since high school."

As a songwriter and a listener, Legrand feels her tastes have evolved as she has grown. These days, they are pretty diverse.

"When I was young, I was really into classical music and opera and musical theater, then I was big into Fleetwood Mac, of course. Who wasn't? And subsequently, another big one for me was Nirvana, and all the changes in rock that came about because of them.

"I used to say I like everything except country, but the more I listen to country, the more I find things in it that I like and respect. And I love old Motown, and now I'm listening to contemporary soul such as Sharon Jones and things like that."

Legrand and Scally met through mutual friends after she moved to Baltimore a few years ago, she said. "I was introduced to Alex because I was looking for just a bass player. We realized we could collaborate so thoroughly and openly; I realized he was so much more."

The two musicians started a group with other musicians, but ended up a duo. "The other fellows just seemed to fall away. Maybe they weren't as committed, or wanted to go in other directions. That's how we became Beach House."

And Beach House is a true partnership, she said.

"Alex is not my support, or a backing musician. We both need each other, and we both contribute to and represent what the other does."

Such collaboration can be intimate, especially in a duo.

"It's much more emotionally naked than other musical contexts. You know? There's nowhere to hide. If you're irritated or frustrated, the other person can tell. You have to face the music, so to speak. It's a very intense way to work, but I think that intensity brings thoughts into focus. We have developed a way of working together so that we benefit from that artistic intimacy more than it hurts us."

Scally and Legrand didn't expect their music and career to progress as quickly as it has, she said. "It took us a little by surprise, getting signed, going on tour--all that."

The band's city of origin also isn't known as a dynamic breeding ground for hot music acts.

Legrand noted that "Baltimore is just not the most happening place for music. ... A place like New York has a lot more action and resources, and it's a lot faster. But when things are moving really fast, I feel that a lot of good things go unnoticed."

She said Baltimore provides "shelter" for musical artists.

"That is part of what is making it nice for the artists who are working here. It's not so much a hype machine. Nothing is going to get too hot and big in Baltimore very fast. It's a place where you can do what you want artistically, out of the spotlight, and you can live in a pretty affordable way, concentrating on the work."

Legrand admitted that, as fulfilling as Beach House is, she has other ambitions. "I would love to compose for other media, such as film. I am just waiting for that call from David Lynch."