Pitchfork Music Festival takes place July 13-15 in Chicago’s Union Park. Now in its seventh year, the festival has gained notoriety for its heavy emphasis on independent music’s best up-and-coming artists. With well-known groups like Vampire Weekend, Hot Chip, and Feist, this year’s lineup promises to follow suit. NUVO recently caught up Alex Scally, one-half of Baltimore-based Beach House, who opened up about the band’s passion for album structure, a recent feud with Volkswagen, and upcoming shows at Pitchfork and The Vogue.
NUVO: You played Pitchfork in 2010, following the release of Teen Dream. Are you excited to return with your new album, Bloom?
Alex Scally: It’s a cool festival; it’s small and not that expensive. A lot of festivals are an epic, wasted, nonsense thing. People don’t stay the night so it’s really more about the music, and it’s easy to get to every stage. It’s not one of those festivals where you’re walking for 15 minutes to see something.
NUVO: What keeps you motivated on the road when it starts to feel like a grind?
Scally: Honestly, one of the main things is to play in cities we’ve never been. You get to go walk around, check new things out and play in an area where we know no one has ever seen us. With places like Indianapolis, bands might go to Bloomington or skip it all together, so it definitely excites us to go there.
NUVO: What have you heard about us?
Scally: We’re pretty excited about that because we’ve been touring for seven years and been to most places. The only relationship that we really have is that you guys stole the Colts from us! When they moved, I was 2 years old, so I just know it from my parents’ generation and they are all still pretty upset about it. It’s going to be hard not to bring it up at some point during the show.
NUVO: You’ll be at The Vogue Nightclub, a great venue here in town. How do you compare the festival experience to headlining?
Scally: Not to be negative at all about festivals, because they can be really enjoyable, but we always prefer to play in a club. For us, the stage being dark is very important to the music. A lot of times at festivals you don’t really have control over the visual aesthetics of things. We always prefer a club show because you have a captive audience — you can do what you want to them and you don’t have to play the songs that people want to hear. Festivals are still cool though because you get to watch 20 bands.
NUVO: Who are you thinking of seeing at Pitchfork?
Scally: I’m super into the new Lower Dens. That’s definitely a band that people don’t know yet but a lot of people would love if they listened to them. Generally when we’re at festivals we go and see at least a few.
NUVO: I’ve read that much of Bloom’s inspiration came while on tour, yet the finished product clearly required hard work in the studio. Which parts can be attributed to your last tour and what was left to refine later?
Scally: Touring can be very inspirational — you get a lot of ideas, but I think you can hear what part comes in the studio. Refining the sound, the placement of parts in the right place — that is months of studio ... crap!
NUVO: It’s a distinct sound. Beach House passed on a Volkswagen commercial only to have the company turn around and create a song that mirrors “Take Care.” How did you respond to that?
Scally: They approached us for weeks trying to get the song that I believe they eventually imitated. I could sit down and make a “You Can Call Me Al,” Paul Simon rip-off, but I wouldn’t have been able to make that song if it hadn’t existed! We don’t want an aesthetic that we created —there is real feeling to that song — selling something we don’t want it to sell. We want [the commercial] to be taken down. They don’t care and won’t listen.
NUVO: You have spoken of your obsession with song sequence and its heavy role in structuring your albums. How does this impact the set lists of your live shows?
Scally: It’s the same exact thing as working on an album sequence. We just played 24 shows on this last tour and we were figuring out the set list the entire time. We now have one we know is a really good order in combining three albums. There is a “best way” to do a show in terms of sequence — for a festival, for a crowd that knows five songs, for a show that sold out in two days. We’re still finding out ways to present ourselves that is exciting for both the audience and us.