THE INTERVIEW: School of Seven Bells

Consisting of Benjamin Curtis, Alejandra Deheza and Claudia Deheza, School of Seven Bells is the result of three musicians coming together after opening for Interpol. What’s even cooler is that the trio managed to create a successful, indie/shoe-gaze album, without any regrets of leaving their former bands. Here I speak with Alejandra about SVIIB’s debut album, and how mountain climbing, lucid dreaming and legendary shoplifting rings, all played a part in its creation.

Can you explain how School of Seven Bells was created? (I know all three of you were musicians before coming together…)

Both of our bands opened up for Interpol on a tour in 2004. Benjamin was playing in Secret Machines at the time, and Claudia and I were in On! Air! Library! We just really liked what the other did musically, and kept in touch. He knew I was starting something else and pretty much told me to let him know when I had it together. As you probably know, Benj kept playing with Secret Machines for a couple more years. On! Air! Library! disbanded right after the tour. Claudia went on to record a couple of things here and there. I recorded some, but mainly just focused on writing songs for my next project, which I already had the name for. That was School of Seven Bells.

Awesome! Now is it true you were named after a mythical South American pickpocket training academy? Where did you find out about this, and how did this interest you enough to become the band’s name?

I was watching TV really late one night…PBS actually. I would like to say it was by choice, but that’s actually one of the only channels that came in at the time. This doc. was one about these super organized and successful shoplifting rings that were ransacking the east coast in the 90’s. At one point they mentioned a suspected affiliation with the School of Seven Bells, which had been active in the 80’s in South America somewhere. Seven items, seven pockets, seven bells- whoever successfully lifted each item from each pocket without ringing the bells graduated. Basically, the story is so cool it would’ve been stupid not to use the name for something, and since I don’t make movies or clothes, I formed a band.

I agree, and what’s even cooler is that no one really knows whether it’s real or fictitious. You really do learn something new every day…. So what was the concept behind your debut album, Alpinisms? Can you explain, (if at all), how your spiritual beliefs or lifestyle may tie into the meaning of these songs?

There was actually no concept going into Alpinisms. The name of the record came at the end of mixing. It was just a theme going on in my life at the time… I had finished rereading this book by Rene Daumal called Mount Analogue. I had also just finished the biography of Hermann Buhl. He was an alpine-styleclimbing revolutionary. The idea behind alpine-style climbing is beautiful… The idea of just using your body, no oxygen tanks, making sure to respect the mountain and not deface it as you climb… It’s like poetry to me.

And that definitely shines through on the album. As far as musical style, often songs considered “ethereal” or “dream-pop” leave much to be desired in the sense of words, yet your lyrics seem to be an important component of your music…

Can you explain your song-writing process? (I read that you write the lyrics before adding any accompanying music…) In this sense, would you consider your lyrics more related to poetry or do you strictly view lyrics in relation to music?

A couple of songs were written that way, but not all of them. We don’t have a set process. It’s just simply an ongoing conversation where melodies and beats act as words. We have a lot of respect for each other and each other’s input. The process is just a very natural exchange of ideas.

Do all three of you consider yourselves lucid dreamers?

Claudia and I are, yes. Benj has experienced it at certain points in his life, but Claudia and I have been messing around with that since as far back as I can remember. We had a lot of nightmares as kids, so lucid dreaming manifested, I guess, almost as a defense mechanism. Once we developed that, (and it developed very naturally for both of us at the same time,) we were golden. There wasn’t a bad dream that we couldn’t fix. Also, it’s quite fun when you want to experience things that you normally couldn’t while awake.

Definitely! It’s like an unknown form of therapy… So who has been your favorite band/musician to tour with thus far? What has the touring experience been like? I also heard you guys are scheduled to play at All Tomorrow’s Parties?

Phantogram! Definitely one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a while. Had so much fun with them on tour; such fun people and incredible musicians too. ATP is such a huge honor for me. MBV (My Bloody Valentine) are just…….too much for words.

Agreed! Are there any bands or artists out there that you’d wish to perform or collaborate with in the future?

I feel like I always give the same answer. Robert Wyatt is a huge hero of mine, and Alfreda Benge as well. They collaborate on so many things, and the results are magical.

Does SVIIB intend on making a sophomore album? If so, how would it differ from your debut?

We’re already about nine songs into the next record. It’s definitely a School of Seven Bells record but definitely a progression. Can’t say much more about it right now…You’ll hear it!

Listen to some songs from their recently re-released deluxe edition debut album Alpinisms on the School of Seven Bells Myspace.

Lucy Tonic

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