Daggerhearts – Victoria Legrand, Dirck Ober, Lauren Turek
I’ll begin by giving you the story behind the story. I like to think that fate brings to us the people and the things we are destined to find. I’m crediting fate for allowing me to find my friend Terry one day while surfing Reddit. We began chatting about Beach House rarities, both of us being diehard fans of the band, and he happened to mention that Victoria Legrand was in a band before Beach House…which I already knew, however, I didn’t know the name of the band. Terry did. The band was called Daggerhearts with Victoria Legrand (vocals/keyboard), Dirck Ober (guitar) and Lauren Turek (bass/backing vocals). Terry had discovered the band’s name several months earlier and was in the process of obtaining a long sought after and extremely rare copy of their only pressed vinyl album called Who We Were.
Over the course of many, many emails Terry and I tried to put together the history of Daggerhearts. We discovered tiny bits of things here and there. We learned that Daggerhearts lost Lauren as bassist…but we didn’t know why. We learned that Dirck introduced Victoria to Alex Scally who became the new bassist for the band. We learned that the band eventually became (according to several interviews about Beach House) dysfunctional, and Victoria and Alex split from Daggerhearts to form Beach House. And, through Terry’s vinyl seller named Stefan, who just happened to be a friend of Lauren and her fiance, we were given a brief story of how the album Who We Were came to be. Lauren’s fiance, Jeff Guarnieri, had always known that Lauren was really proud of the recordings, so he had the album pressed for her as a present. But…why did Lauren leave the band? When did the band actually begin? How did it come together? Were there any other Daggerhearts albums out there waiting to be discovered? We were left with more questions than answers.
Before Terry was to receive his vinyl in the mail, I happened upon a website that contained several tracks from Daggerhearts. This would be our very first listen to the music that the band produced. We were ecstatic. Each song was filled with our beloved Victoria’s glorious voice and familiar keyboard presses, gentle, precise harmonies and sometimes edgy, sometimes soft bass rhythms from Lauren, and Dirck’s fast paced drum beats and silky guitar strings. The songs held a raw, untouched story that allowed you to enter the world of the storyteller. While Beach house will always remain my one and only true love, they have taught me to look deeply into the whole of a band…not just the music it produces…and I’m entirely grateful to them for that. I wanted to look deeply into Daggerhearts…but I couldn’t, because there was nowhere left to look. Nothing had ever been written about the band, or if it had been, it’s long since gone from the internet. These songs had a history hidden inside of them, a history aching to be voiced and preserved. I wanted to try and find a way to do that. Daggerhearts, after all, may have played an integral part…a small part perhaps…but integral nonetheless, in the creation of Beach House. Had the band never been formed and had it never split separate ways, Victoria and Dirck may have never sought after a new bassist, thus Victoria may have never met Alex, and Beach House may not have existed today. Beach House and Daggerhearts may be separate bands creatively, but they are forever connected through Victoria. When you listen to the music of Daggerhearts, you hear a band that is uniquely its own…but you also hear a little bit of Beach House hidden inside of it in the sense that musicians bare their souls in the songs they write, and the parts of Victoria that she shared through the songs of Daggerhearts become unavoidably recognizable in the songs of Beach House. Beach House has always been inside of Victoria. So, I made a decision. I was going to find a member of Daggerhearts and contact them. I reached out to Lauren Turek and asked if she would be willing to answer a few questions about the band. She heartily replied, “I’d be more than happy to talk with you….”, and I have to tell you…I did not see that coming.
And so it began. Daggerhearts could finally have a chance to rise from the forgotten and become whole again. It could be given the recognition it deserved. I want to thank Lauren for allowing me to delve into her world of memories. She is a remarkable human being, full of compassion, love, dedication, warmth, generosity and acceptance. She does not falter in holding a protection to the people in the circle of her life. There is a deep, deep respect and gratitude in her words when she speaks about her former band mates, Victoria and Dirck.
The following is a series of questions I presented to Lauren. Her responses eloquently tell the story of Daggerhearts through her recollections from her days as bassist for the band:
JK: How did you, Dirck and Victoria come together to form the band?
Lauren: During my freshman year at Vassar, I would routinely drive back to Connecticut (where I grew up) to have band practice with [one of my other bands]. One day when I was getting back to Vassar, Victoria saw me walking up the stairs of our dorm lugging my bass case. She got excited, asked what I played, then invited me up to her room on the fourth floor to jam a little and hear a few songs she’d written. She had been playing with some other folks and had played some parties at Vassar even, but I guess she was looking for some new people to start a band with. She invited Dirck to join and we started practicing in the basement of our dorm.
JK: I’m aware all of you attended Vassar but I’m unsure if all of you graduated at the same time. I believe you graduated in 2005 and Victoria and Dirck in 2003. Are those dates correct?
Lauren: We did all attend at the same time, but Tori and Dirck graduated before me—Tori in 2003, Dirck I think a year later, and then me.
JK: What was each of your majors?
Lauren: I think, but am not positive, that Dirck was a sociology major, and I think Tori might have been a drama major (maybe?? It’s been a long time). I was a history major and a music minor.
JK: As the bassist of Daggerhearts, I’m assuming…if you graduated at a later date than Dirck and Victoria…that this is why they were in search of a new bassist…which ended up being Alex who was introduced to Victoria via Dirck. Is this correct?
Lauren: Yes, after Tori graduated and moved, we talked about keeping the band going. Once Dirck graduated, he moved back to Baltimore and they must have then started looking for a bassist together so they could continue the band. I still had another year of college and then planned to go to graduate school, and couldn’t see myself dropping out of school for a band. I actually didn’t realize they had continued the band with another bassist until a few months into my senior year. We had a bit of a row about it at the time, as my feelings were hurt that they had replaced me without really telling me, but obviously it made total sense for them to find a new bassist and continue on with the band where they lived. I honestly should have known and not been upset by it, as it was the logical thing for them to do. It seemed that Tori really wanted to make a go of it, and I’m glad she did. Being a professional musician was not something I ever wanted to do though.
JK: How many years did you originally play with the band before it moved to Baltimore and what year did Daggerhearts originally form as a band?
Lauren: I played with Daggerhearts from the time Dirck, Tori, and I formed it in 2001 until I guess around 2003-04, after Tori graduated. I feel like we didn’t play much after she left Vassar (though I know we did play in Brooklyn after she’d graduated, so we must have played some shows).
JK: Did Daggerhearts actually practice in Strong House (a dormitory at Vassar)…and if so, is this where the songs were recorded?
Lauren: We just practiced in Strong House. The recordings were done at a studio in Orange, Connecticut by my friend Greg Georgio.
JK: Did Daggerhearts play only local venues in Upstate, New York, or surrounding areas as well?
Lauren: We played in New York and Connecticut, but I don’t think anywhere else.
JK: During your venues, did you play a standard setlist, or did you mix it up for each venue?
Lauren: We wrote a different setlist for every show.
JK: Did you have a particular song that you began and ended each venue with?
Lauren: We often started with Sissy Boy and ended with Lost Radio, but we mixed it up a lot too. We also covered the TLC song “No Scrubs” a few times, which was really fun!
JK: What influenced the music of Daggerhearts?
Lauren: What was so great about Daggerhearts, to my mind anyway, was that Dirck, Victoria, and I had very different and diverse musical tastes from death metal to pop, hardcore, riot grrl, and hip hop…so we brought all of those varied influences into our music writing.
JK: Did the band write the song lyrics as a unit or were they written by a single band member and if so, who wrote them?
Lauren: Tori wrote the lyrics and the three of us wrote the music together. We used to have really long practices where we would just start with a riff and build out parts from there—it was so much fun. Dirck would write these beautiful elaborate guitar lines, I’d write my bass lines, and Tori would write her melodies and keyboard parts. Sometimes I would come with a song written or part of a song written and we’d work on it together each adding our own parts to flesh it out, sometimes Dirck would bring in a song, sometimes Tori would and sometimes we would just make up stuff together right there at practice. It was very organic.
JK: How many songs in total did the band produce?
Lauren: I’m not sure exactly how many songs we wrote—probably only around 20 or so. We didn’t record all of them at the studio, though I may have some demo tapes that we recorded on a boombox somewhere. After a few months of practicing together, I booked us time at the studio that my other band recorded at (a studio a close friend of mine owned), drove us all down there for a long recording session, and then worked with the engineer to master it. That was the demo. I did the art on the cover and had Jeff help with the layout for the insert. We then returned to the studio later to record the 8 songs for the EP’s.
JK: Tell me about how Who We Were became an actual pressed album. Is the story true about it being a present from your fiance Jeff?
Lauren: This is a sweet story! My fiance Jeff did press the album for me as a Christmas present one year when I was in graduate school. I think he knew I always felt a little sad that the two 7”s never came out, so he collected all of the master recordings we had (he sneakily asked me for them telling me he wanted his own copies—I was none the wiser) and had it pressed as a record, intended just for me and whichever close friends I wanted to pass them around to.
JK: Who did the artwork for the album cover?
Lauren: Jeff laid out the covers and did all of the text and had his friend Jason Curran create the original artwork for it. He then had 100 of them hand silk-screened, and numbered each one. The hand numbering is an homage to our love of rare record collecting. Lots of the bands we like have done limited, hand-numbered releases.
JK: Why were only 100 copies made?
Lauren: I think he pressed 100 because that was the minimum the pressing plant would do. The records were never for sale though–I just sent them to friends as well as to Dirck and Tori. I have never been so touched by a gift in my life. It was by far the most thoughtful thing anyone has ever done for me. I definitely cried when he gave it to me!
Side note from Lauren: Jeffrey does the art/layouts with Jason Curran for an edited series that Jason edits called Ox and Pigeon, a collection of Spanish-language fiction (in translation) from Latin American authors. It’s awesome!
JK: According to what I could find on discography pages, there were supposed to be two EP’s produced from the band called Sissy Boy and Ugly Girl, but that never came to fruition. Why were they not produced? Was it lack of funding…or other reasons?
Lauren: That is correct; they were supposed to come out on Recommend if You Like Records (http://www.riylrecords.com/), which a friend of ours from Vassar founded. After we recorded the songs at the studio for those records, I provided the masters to the guy who ran the label and he mocked up the covers. I’m not sure why they never came out—it may well have been a funding issue on the label’s part (I paid for the recordings, so it wasn’t a funding issue on our side at any rate).
JK: Were any other albums or EP’s produced that I’m unaware of?
Lauren: Those were the only two records we produced together. As I said though, Jeff knew I always felt disappointed that I didn’t have those songs on vinyl, which is why he pressed the record for me.
Listen to a few tracks from Daggerhearts Sissy Boy EP:
Listen to a few tracks from Daggerhearts Ugly Girl EP:
JK: Does Victoria sing in French in a portion of the song titled Ugly Girl?
Lauren: Yes, Victoria does sing in French on that song. She is, as far as I can recall, fluent in French.
JK: I have to ask…because it’s my favorite song…okay, I’ll concede, it’s one of my favorites…it’s terribly hard to pick a favorite. Home Again…I was floored to find that song…as a Daggerhearts song…before it was a Beach House song. Now, according to an interview during a KEXP Seattle Session, Victoria stated that Home Again has been the only song they ever produced on an album that they have never played live. Is it because Daggerhearts owns the copyright to it…or do you think possibly that it’s an instrumental or choral issue?
Lauren: I love that song so much too! I am not sure why they don’t play it live—I’ve never actually talked to Tori about it.
Listen to Daggerhearts Home Again:
JK: What was an average day as the band Daggerhearts like?
Lauren: We had lots of fun together! We would meet for practice, first in the basement of our dorm, Strong House, then later in the townhouse dorms that Tori lived in her senior year, and just play for an hour or two at a time, sometimes more. We’d run through songs we’d already written, write new songs, practice our set. I remember being completely absorbed in writing and playing music together—there were a few really long jam sessions. I’d never been in a band that could just riff for such a long time on one idea and really expand it out into a song that way. It was such a wonderful, collaborative experience with each of us writing our own parts and making suggestions to each other.
JK: How did you three manage to write and produce as many songs as you did and still have time to manage your college courses?
Lauren: I think we managed to write and do the band while in school because we were all really energized by working together. Dirck and I played in other bands at the time too—I had three other bands while I was in college (though those bands weren’t at Vassar, they were back in Connecticut).
JK: How did you feel performing on stage in front of an audience? I know, when watching Beach House play, Victoria seems to have two different levels of noticeable comfort…she always appears much more at ease when performing at small venues, so I imagine she was like that while playing with Daggerhearts as well. Did you and Dirck share that same kind of comfort level with smaller venues?
Lauren: I loved performing on stage. By the time I’d met Tori and Dirck, I’d been playing in bands for a few years and was completely comfortable performing for an audience, large or small. Since I was playing in DIY punk, hardcore, and garage bands for the most part, I was used to and enjoyed small venues. I find performing (and, now, public speaking) exhilarating. I can’t speak for Dirck, but he always seemed very comfortable performing as well.
JK: Do you feel that Daggerhearts had a large fan base and if so, was it more inside or outside of Vassar?
Lauren: No, almost no one knew about us. When I was in the band, we played shows around Vassar so Vassar people knew, a few folks from New York, and friends of mine from the CT scene who saw us. We didn’t play that many shows, so we never had a big fan base. We did have a website and everything (Jeff helped me make it, actually) so there was information available, but we just didn’t play out enough when I was in the band to build up much of a following. I don’t know what their experience was after they relocated to Baltimore.
JK: What was the experience of touring like…and did you ever open for other larger bands?
Lauren: Daggerhearts never toured while I was in the band (my other bands toured). We just played house shows and some shows at smaller venues. I’m sure we did open for larger bands, but I don’t remember who.
JK: Do you have a favorite song from Daggerhearts, and if so, what is it…and why is it special to you?
I do! I have always really loved the untitled song. There is something about it that is so haunting. I’ve always found the drum beat that Dirck programmed for it to have been wildly creative, and I still play the bass line I wrote for it when I’m noodling around at home. I remember writing the ending section, writing our parts individually together (if that makes sense) and then just playing it over and over again until we settled on what it should sound like. I remember feeling enveloped in it and in its complexity. It is such a textural piece of music, with everyone playing something wholly different, creating a wall of sound. It’s a song that allowed me to play the full neck of the bass, too—and doing so gave the bass line almost a bell-like quality in that last section. I still absolutely love listening to it. I get chills when it starts up.
“Into the hole where I came from
or the corner where I dance
looking into a place I recollect
but I gave you one more chance”
Listen to Daggerhearts Untitled:
JK: You did backup vocals on a few of the band’s songs…did you have professional voice training and if so, where/when?
Lauren: I did do backup vocals on some of the songs and I sing backup for [one of my other bands] as well. I have no formal voice training and generally try to limit my singing in public since I am really self conscious about my singing voice.
JK: What instruments were used in the creation of Daggerhearts songs (eg. organ, bass, drums, etc.) and were any unusual or rare instruments used?
Lauren: We had the usual guitar, bass, and keyboard. Tori started with a pretty inexpensive keyboard initially and then upgraded to a really nice one. The cheap one had the benefit of having drum beats built in…when she upgraded, Dirck started using his drum machine to do the beats instead since the new keyboard didn’t have that feature. Dirck and I used some effects pedals as well for our instruments, but that was about it.
JK: About the effects pedals that you and Dirck used, were they anything like the one octave keyboard setup that Alex Scally uses for the production of Beach House songs?
Lauren: I don’t remember exactly which pedals Dirck used (he had an array of them if I am recalling correctly). I used a boss mega distortion pedal for some songs and parts of songs–it made the bass sound very warm and fuzzy. You can hear the change in the bass tone that the pedal provided by comparing the bass line in the untitled song (which had no distortion) with the bass sound in the song Go Beyond, which has the distortion from the pedal on it.
Listen to Daggerhearts Go Beyond:
JK: Were the songs recorded using analog tape as your master copy as Beach House continues to do…or were they recorded digitally?
Lauren: We recorded digitally, though I do love analog recordings. It’s much more expensive to record analog, and since I paid for all of the recordings, we had to go with what I could afford—which was my pal’s digital studio J. That said, one of the reasons I like to press music on vinyl is for preservation purposes. Even analog tape will degrade over time, sometimes quite rapidly. Vinyl, while not a perfect storage medium, is pretty hardy.
JK: The image of the demo…I’m assuming by the track list that this was the album that originally was meant to be pressed (or produced digitally) but never was…and eventually made its way to pressing via Jeffrey’s “sneaky but amazing” gift to you…with the addition of the B Side songs…Paris, True Love, Ugly Girl and our mutual favorite, Untitled…along with the alternate versions of Sissy Boy, Walk Away, Horror Flick and Lost Radio?
Lauren: The demo was just a demo CD; it was never intended to be an album. I made a bunch of copies of the demo and handed it out to people at Vassar and around various places in NY/CT. We later re-recorded some of the songs for the two EP’s. That’s why there are multiple versions of the same song on the gift LP that my fiance pressed.
JK: Tell me about your life after Daggerhearts. And I’d like to congratulate you on obtaining your Doctorate!!!
Lauren: Thank you! So after Daggerhearts, I continued playing in my other bands and am still in a band that I started in 2003. After Vassar, I earned a master’s degree from NYU in museum studies and worked for a few years at a private exhibition design firm in NYC that designs exhibits for museums and cultural institutions throughout the world. I missed doing my own research on U.S. foreign policy history though, and decided to go back for a PhD in history. I moved to Virginia to attend the University of Virginia in 2008, so I could work with the best scholar of Cold War foreign policy in the country. I finished the degree this past summer and am now an assistant professor at Trinity University in Texas. I teach U.S. foreign relations, modern American history, and public history and do research on human rights and religion in U.S. foreign relations history.
JK: Where/when did you learn to play bass…and did you receive professional training?
Lauren: I taught myself the bass in high school to play in my high school jazz band and pit band (for plays/musicals). I already knew how to read music and I played the guitar, so it was a pretty easy transition for me.
JK: Do you play any other instruments besides bass? If so, which ones?
Lauren: I started playing the oboe in 4th grade and received professional lessons on that instrument from then through college. I still play, but I don’t perform on that instrument anymore (though I kind of want to start a woodwind quintet…I just have to see if I can find anyone at work or in the area here who is interested in doing that). In 5th grade I started playing the guitar as well. I took lessons on guitar for a while but found them boring, so I taught myself from there on out. In high school, my band director bugged me to play guitar in the jazz band but I didn’t want to…eventually though, the jazz band’s bassist graduated and my band director goaded me into trying that instrument instead. Once I picked it up, I absolutely loved it. I taught myself to read for the bass so I could play in jazz band like I said, but then realized I liked playing bass in rock bands too. I had played guitar in a couple bands in high school, but found the bass to be much more fun and flexible. I’ve played bass in most of the bands I’ve played in since. Since I learned to play for jazz, I play with my fingers rather than with a pick. I feel this allows for a more expressive style, though it is just a personal preference.
I also play the saxophone (which I learned for marching band in high school), the English horn (which is like a bass oboe—I taught myself how to play that in college when I was in the concert band), and drums (which I taught myself). I kind of want to learn the banjo, but it may be a while before I can pick up another instrument–I need to focus on getting my book published so I can earn tenure here.
JK: Have you had the chance to see Victoria and Alex play at any of their venues over the years and if so, do you usually get to meet up with them and talk about old times after the shows?
Lauren: I haven’t, though I have heard their albums (they’re beautifully written) and I did watch one of their performances on Conan (I think) which was up online. It was so cool to see her on national TV!
JK: Do you still keep in contact with Victoria and Dirck, and if so, how often would you say you get to talk with each of them?
Lauren: Dirck and I are still in touch and are friends on facebook. We message each other maybe once a year? I am not in touch with Tori—it’s probably been more than a decade since we last talked.
JK: In your first reply to me, you mentioned that you, Stefan and Jeff used to play in a band together. Tell me a little more about that. I’m assuming you were bassist for the band?
Lauren: I started out playing rhythm guitar then switched to drums actually. Stefan played lead guitar and Jeff played bass, then switched to rhythm guitar when I started playing drums. We started the band in 2006 and played together until I moved to Virginia in 2008. It [was] intentionally noisy/lo-fidelity rock, and it was a fun band. We played out in Connecticut and New York a bit during that time (we were based in Connecticut).
JK: Did you produce any songs via the band?
Lauren: We recorded a couple of 7”s, a few songs for compilation albums, and a very limited tape release. I still play occasionally with [one of my other bands] as well, which has recorded a bunch of records. We tour now and again when we feel like it. We played Puerto Rico a few years ago, as well as New England, and are planning a Mexico tour for the summer. Two of the members are in their 50’s, so it’s just a for fun project.
JK: Can you give me some background on Dirck, Jeff and Stefan, and where/when they learned to play/sing?
Lauren: I actually don’t remember much about Dirck’s musical background…but he is one of the most talented guitarists with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing music. I’m still in awe of his song writing abilities. Jeff and Stefan are both self taught on guitar, bass, and vocals…which will be very obvious when you listen to the songs.
JK: When you look back on your days as part of Daggerhearts, what is the most significant thing that you gained from the experience that you still have with you to this day?
Lauren: This is a somewhat banal answer, but honestly the most significant thing for me is the music–the handful of songs we recorded. I’ve always really enjoyed them and am glad to have them as a snapshot of a past time in my life.
JK: So, I feel this beautiful story needs a proper ending, but endings are always hard for me. Maybe…you can provide the ending….with your perspective on our talks, and how you felt about being approached by me for the story.
Lauren: I don’t really know how I’d end things. I mean, for me it was just fun to reminisce a bit about a band I was in when I was in college. I was always very proud of the music we wrote together. I’ve always enjoyed writing and performing music, but just as a hobby or something to do with friends or my fiance–a deep part of my emotional life very different from the work I do in my professional career. It was a little strange (in the best way) to have someone reach out to ask me questions because, as I said, not that many people knew our band even existed. This past summer I had my ten year college reunion and spent some time walking through some of the campus housing we’d practiced and performed in during parties and I enjoyed thinking back on it. Being in the band was a significant facet of my experience at Vassar, a place I look back on with great fondness.
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