TAS In Session: School of Seven Bells
Major changes for Brooklyn band School of Seven Bells last week as the trio became a duo after singer and keyboardist Claudia Deheza quit the band for "personal reasons." The move leaves her twin sister, vocalist and guitarist Alejandra Deheza, and guitarist Benjamin Curtis to continue on their own touring, including tonight's gig, October 18, in Atlanta and at this week's CMJ Music Marathon, playing Santos Party House on October 23
The decision was announced on October 12 on the group's Facebook page in a brief status update: "We just wanted to let you all know that Claudia has left the band for personal reasons. In the meantime, we are excited to continue to write and tour as usual, and we're very much looking forward to seeing you all at our upcoming shows."
At the time that School of Seven Bells visited The Alternate Side over the summer, Curtis and the Deheza sisters told Alisa Ali that Disconnect From Desire, their sophomore album, was an enormous leap for the band, signaling not only creative changes, but positive personal ones as well. Check out one of their last performances as a trio - with those gorgeous sisterly harmonies - tackling three of their tracks from the new album: "Bye Bye Bye," "I L U." and "Dust Devils."
Alisa Ali: The new record is called Disconnect From Desire. What is the symbol on front of the album?
Benjamin Curtis: It’s made from the words Disconnect From Desire. When we get together with Brian Collins who does our art, it’s usually a crazy session. We go deep and we got on this subject of iconography and the way that bypasses language and we hit on this idea of creating an icon out of these words. The meaning and the symbol go beyond the words and the album. That’s sort of the short version. I could go on for hours.
Alisa: Do you guys have a tattoo of this on you?
Alejandra "Alley" Deheza: We all do.
Alisa: That’s really cool! And everyone got the same one? The same tattoo parlor?
Benjamin: We went to different people at different times.
Alley: All in a row. First he went, then I went, then [Claudia] went. Three consecutive days.
Benjamin: We just make sure we don’t go to the same bar ever. Then we’re cool (all laugh). Not to get too far into it, but it was a radical change starting this band and then the kind of year leading up to making the record, the music on the record. Let’s just say that it’s important enough to all of us to celebrate it with some permanence.
Claudia Deheza: And scarring.
Alisa: With blood involved.
Benjamin: There was a little blood involved.
Alisa: A lot of bands say that they’re really proud of their new album but I really buy that from you guys since you’ve tattooed the icon onto your bodies. The album is fantastic and I’ve been listening to it non-stop. You all used to be in different bands and met on tour with Interpol?
Benjamin: I was with Secret Machines and they were with On! Air! Library!. Living in the same city, I don’t think we’d ever met, but we met in L.A. when the tour started.
Alisa: What’s the difference between being in those projects and this one? Can you can express yourselves better with this band than in other bands?
Benjamin: We’re probably more proud of it. We’ve all been in other bands and you had that moment where you make something and it’s really cool, but in the collaboration, as much as you’ve given, you’ve compromised other parts, you can stand behind part of it. I think we can all stand behind every second of this music which is really important because we like it.
Alisa: And you guys are serious road warriors. You’ve been touring non-stop.
Benjamin: I don’t know how that happens. I keep telling myself that we’re not going to do that and then we book a tour and it looks like fun. Europe, Australia, and we’re like, “Yeah, we’ll do all that.” And then you look at the tour schedule and you’re playing 50 dates in 60 days.
Alley: Our record was 71 shows in four months. I think last year? The year before.
Claudia: In a row.
Benjamin: We’re doing 48 shows this fall.
Alisa: That’s pretty intense. Do you feel like a fool for paying rent on your apartments?
Alley: I do, definitely.
Benjamin: But you know what? I feel like a fool paying rent but I’m so happy that I can pay my rent on my apartment doing this. That’s the craziest victory in my life.
Alisa: You’ve toured with Interpol, Blonde Redhead, Killing Joke, Bat for Lashes ....
Benjamin: M83, White Lies in Europe, Phantogram.
Alisa: Phantogram! I love those guys!
Benjamin: We took them on tour about six months before their record came out. They’re cute. They toured in a Prius (laughs).
Alisa: I imagine all of this touring has helped you grow as musicians. How has it helped?
Alley: I think it does just because it’s a muscle, so if you keep using it, your creativity keeps up, your ear keeps up and it makes everything better. It also helps you figure out what you don’t like about what you’re doing or what you’re good at.
Benjamin: And playing every night, the situation is always so different. You have to fight to get it to a place where it represents you, but it also have to be open to different things.
Alley: “Dust Devil” is a spooky banishing (laughs).
Benjamin: A banishing of what?
Ally: Bad things. Bad energies.
Alisa: I’m impressed with the vocals that you guys put together. Both [Ally and Claudia] singing but it sounds like one voice. You’re identical twin sisters; you’ve probably singing together since you were zygotes, in the womb.
Alley: We’ve been singing together since we were kids.
Benjamin: And that’s going to be your next band. The Singing Zygotes.
Alisa: So it’s not something you have to work really hard on. It comes naturally.
Claudia: Yeah, I think our voices just blend well together.
Alisa: And Ben, I noticed a lot of multi-tasking going on. You’ve got an extreme setup.
Benjamin: This is the simplified setup too. I’m trying to boil it down to just “tasking.” I don’t think about it because it’s just something that I do. I don’t analyze it too much. It works. If I really thought about it, I’d mess up.
Alisa: How many sounds were you in charge of on that song?
Benjamin: It’s a lot of sounds, but it varies at different times. But I make a lot of noise. Making a record is different than playing in a club in so many ways because the end result is so different. When you listen to a record you could be washing dishes or on the subway or in your car. All different environments, so you make something that can be good anywhere. But a live show happens only once and you can’t replay it. There’s an excitement level and volume that you’re never going to get at home so you have to approach it differently. I get really bored when I go and see the band and it’s the record. Just louder. I might be incapable of [playing a song] the same way every time. If you’re going to play a billion shows, you approach it with a sense that anything can happen because that’s music, creating music.
Alley: “I L U.” is probably one of my favorites on the record. It’s a really personal, goodbye letter to somebody.
Alisa: Is there a disconnect from desire? I feel that there’s a correlation between that song and the album title.
Ally: Yeah, I would definitely say there is. When you separate yourself from a situation you can see it clearly; it’s pretty obvious. Sometimes you’re in a situation for reasons of comfort. Maybe you fell asleep in it and you don’t realize that it’s not where you should be.
Alisa: Ally, I’ve heard that you’re a lucid dreamer?
Alisa: I feel that the whole concept of dreams is in the forefront of people’s minds these days. Maybe it’s because of the Christopher Nolan movie “Inception” or maybe it started with [Richard Linklater's] “Waking Life” or the Michel Gondry movie ["The Science of Dreams"], but I do feel that there’s a lot of inspiration that comes from dreams. How does the fact of being a lucid dreamer help you as a songwriter?
Alley: It’s really cool because when you’re in it, basically you know that everyone around you in the dream is a projection of you. You can have actual conversations with yourself but different ideas of who you think you are. That always helps with writing. You can see it better, you can see it clearly. There’s not too much investment in one particular point of view.
Alisa: A lot of people have noted that you might have been influenced by the whole shoegaze movement of the 80s and 90s like My Bloody Valentine. What other bands do you enjoy that people might not have expected?
Alley: We like a lot of hip hop. Most people don’t know that. I like really bad Top 40 R&B (laughs). But then there’s obvious ones like Echo and the Bunnymen and Robert Wyatt. Lots of great stuff.
Benjamin: I understand the comparison but I don’t think we sit down and try to make a particular kind of music. We like melodies and we like texture and rhythm. We like the immersive feeling in music and I think you put that together and you get what you get. I think we’re just as influenced by all of the Manchester bands as well, more than anything in the shoegaze [scene]. I don’t think any of us actually own a Cocteau Twins album but we get compared to them all of the time. Why would they say “twins” for this band? Why?
Alisa: It makes no sense! I don’t see the connection. In my mind, there’s a really crisp feeling to Disconnect From Desire. What does it sound like in your mind, when compared to Alpinisms?
Benjamin: I feel that there’s a lot of great music being made these days and it’s easy to hide your ideas behind the put-on of sounding bad or lo-fi. It’s something to hide behind. I just wanted everything to be really clear. Every idea out there, naked and just beautiful. No shame in it. Some people react to it in a strange way, saying “this is mainstream,” or “this is pop.” Whatever. It’s the same music we make, but it’s all out on the table. We made it sound as best as it could. That was our intention.
Alisa: What about Alpinisms?
Benjamin: I love it. That was our first little attempt. I feel like we were trying to make a robot. It doesn’t really work; it just walks in circles and says a few things. And [Disconnect From Desire] is cognitive, thinking. It’s a miracle.
School of Seven Bells Fall Tour:
Oct 18 The Earl Atlanta, GA
Oct 19 Local 506 Chapel Hill, NC
Oct 20 Ottobar Baltimore, MD
Oct 21 Rock and Roll Hotel Washington, DC
Oct 22 Johnny Brendas Philadelphia, PA
Oct 23 Santo’s Party House New York City
Oct 30 Moog Fest 2010 Asheville, NC
Nov 3 La Boule Noire / Inrockuptibles Festival Paris, France
Nov 4 Werkstatt Koln, Germany
Nov 5 Vooruit Gent, Belgium
Nov 6 De Nachten Antwerp, Belgiu
Nov 8 Heaven London, UK
Nov 10 El Sol Madrid, Spain
Dec 7 Tokyo, Japan