On their fourth album Bloom, Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand present a stronger picture of the overcast dream-pop aesthetic they’ve maintained since their 2006 debut. And, much like an abstract painting, Teen Dream‘s glossier older sibling offers plenty of mystery. It features some of their most obtuse verses (“You build yourself a myth/ And know just what to give”) and some of their darker narratives (In “Wild,” the young narrator recalls living with a drunk father). The musical textures on Bloom are more opaque, too, the whirlwind of cymbals, organs and guitar leaving few silences. But while the Baltimore duo doesn’t give out too much information on the meanings of their songs, they were more than happy to talk about those artists that have inspired them.
eMusic’s Marissa G. Muller spoke with Scally and Legrand, individually, about their visual approach to music, their mutual love of Wong Kar-wai, and the moment Teen Dream ended.
You spent a long time touring behind Teen Dream and then working on Bloom. So I was wondering: What’s the strongest non-music memory you have from the past two years?
Victoria Legrand: That moment for me was the end of touring behind Teen Dream, after our last show in Washington, D.C. It’s a bittersweet feeling — you’re exhausted, you’re grateful, you need a break, but you want to keep being creative. You’re full of love because you had a great show. You just feel lucky, so many intensities happening all at once.
Alex Scally: One that really stands out in my mind was going to Japan to play a show. It’s a really mesmerizing, beautiful, and enchanting place. It wasn’t my first time in Japan; I went when I was much, much younger for school and I felt like I really understood it a lot more this time around. I think you get a lot more out of traveling when you’re older.
We spent a lot of time going to see temples and insane clothing stores. Everything there is informed by an aesthetic that is completely foreign to Western mindset. Even just the interactions between people, the unspoken agreements that exist within the society are all foreign and there’s an ancientness there that’s so beautiful. If you pay attention you can try to feel everything that’s going on. We love travel in general and feel super lucky about how much we travel and try not to take it for granted.
On Sub Pop’s site it says, “Bloom is meant to be experienced as an ALBUM,” whereas, you’ve said that Teen Dream was song-oriented. What prompted this shift?
Scally: I don’t think it was a change, really. We’ve always worked the same way and we’ve always been an album band. It feels sometimes like songs on an album don’t really go with one another but I think they go hand in hand more than ever on [Bloom]. As we wrote, each song affected the next.
What considerations were made when you were sequencing the album?
Scally: We wanted it to feel like a story and to have a certain feeling at the beginning, middle and an end. It’s all based on feeling so maybe it wouldn’t be a good sequence for someone else but for us it’s what felt right.
You mentioned a narrative within the album. Can you expand on that idea a little bit? What’s the general storyline?
Scally: I really think people should find what they want in it. We always try to avoid saying what the narrative is, because what a song means to us is irrelevant. You have a feeling, you have an idea, and it informs the song. But then once the song is created, it’s for everyone to take whatever it means to them. Trying to control people’s reactions is pointless, especially for the kind of band that we are: We work in abstractions so we just let something exist.
Who are some artists that you feel have the same approach to their work?
Scally: Every painter. When you go see a painter you don’t ask him what his painting is about, right? You just experience it. You look at it. Maybe that’s what it is: We think of music in a more visual way. Maybe it’s less of a narrative, like Bob Dylan singing about protests. [Our music] is just not simple like that. It’s more abstract.
Do you follow the visual art world closely?
Scally: Not as much as I’d like to but we both love film. Sometimes you find stuff that’s really exciting and inspiring.
Who are some of the artists and filmmakers that you and Victoria like?
Scally:Wong Kar-wai is someone we both love a lot. Victoria and I have watched In the Mood For Love three times together. That movie never stops being amazing. The narrative is actually not that important for his films, and I’ve heard that he shoots a lot of his films without telling the actors what’s going on in the scene. He just gets them to behave in a certain way and then pieces it together later.
Is there an ideal way to experience Bloom?
Legrand: In a variety of ways: in a group setting, as an individual, on headphones, in a car, on a train. Music has a lot of motion in it and music is also shape-shifting; there’s a myriad of experiences to have with it.
Compared to 10 years ago, things have accelerated so much in the Internet “world” — which is not reality — and so a lot of [music] is really expendable. I think people are missing out on a more physical relationship with music, not just with our record but with music in general. People who love music deserve to take time out for themselves to indulge, the way we used to do it when we were teenagers and would go to the record store, grab a CD and go home and spend hours just reading the lyric book. And don’t forget about your dad’s record collection — that stuff is awesome. I used to always believe that [track] eight on an album was the best song. It isn’t true, but it’s what you do when you’re young and obsessed. Nothing beats finding something special on your own and having that gestation time, like “I really got into this record this week,” and you give it to your friend or you make a mixtape. That stuff doesn’t have to go away. That doesn’t have to be replaced — it’s still there and it’s always going to be the most awesome.
What was the last LP you bought?
Legrand: I got a record at a show the other night: Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. Ed Schrader is from Baltimore and his lyrics are really amazing, I love him a lot, and I just bought his vinyl — a record called Jazz Mind. So I supported a friend. I basically try to buy fellow artists’ vinyl and I try to buy old vinyl. And I also like to give those as gifts if someone has been looking for something forever. The irony is that because of the Internet you can find vinyl that you wouldn’t be able to find in your local record store.