School Of Seven Bells


In the autumn of 2012, midway through writing their fourth album, School Of Seven Bells’ Benjamin Curtis was diagnosed with a rare form of T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma that would ultimately prove terminal. Here, his bandmate Alejandra Deheza explains how she found the courage to complete SVIIB after Curtis’ untimely passing.

The bulk of SVIIB was written in the summer of 2012, not long after you’d released Ghostory, right?

Yeah. We were just basically on this super-inspired roll. We couldn’t stop. We were having so much fun just writing music. The Put Your Sad Down EP was pretty much just a spur of the moment decision. We finished that really fast so we were just like, “Why don’t we just keep going with this? Because we’re obviously feeling the fire right now.” So we decided that it was time to start the new record.

Did you know where you wanted to take your sound from the offset?

The only thing that we knew was that we wanted to make honestly the best record that we could possibly make. We were just ready to make the School of Seven Bells record, and that was our only goal at that moment.

Was there anything about the creative process that you approached differently this time round?

Definitely. I know, production-wise Benjamin was, and I was definitely going into new territory lyrically, where I was just trying to write everything as clearly as possible. I would come in with some lyrics and I’d present them and we’d sing them to the music and then Benjamin would be like, “Yeah, but could you say this a little clearer,” and I’d be like, “ARGH!” you know? It was difficult to make it super-direct but to still make it musical at the same time, and still make it very much a School of Seven Bells vibe. But yeah, definitely the approach that we took that was different was just to make things as direct and as clear and straightforward as possible. Because that’s something that we hadn’t done before.

What was the first song that you wrote for the album?

There were a couple. ‘Ablaze’ and ‘Open Your Eyes’ are the first two that I can remember us working on. I feel like both these songs are completely different from each other, so I just think we were just throwing in anything that we hadn’t done before, like, “Let’s try this; let’s try that.” So I think the spirit pretty much set the tone for the rest of the record, like, “Well, alright we successfully did this, so why don’t we just keep following this impulse to do something different?”

Did you have a release date in mind for SVIIB, at that time?

Yeah. I mean, we were set to work with Justin [Meldal-Johnsen, producer] at the beginning of the following year, 2013, so I think I always wanted a fall release date or something like that.

Following Benjamin’s diagnosis did you continue to work on the album together?

You know, it was one of those things... I’m sure everyone has had experience with this sort of a thing – a sick friend or relative... It definitely takes over for a while. There were moments where we would work on music in the hospital but it was too hard to keep anything going for a long time.

It must have been extremely difficult to function under those circumstances. Did you always intend to finish this album?

Yeah. There was never a moment when it wasn’t going to be finished. I knew it was going to be finished, even up until the point where we didn’t really know the way things were going to end up. Even at that point, I knew that it was going to be done. There was no way that I was going to let this go away.

It must have taken a huge amount of courage to pick up the project up again, though?

Oh, it was really... I mean, obviously, yeah, I waited. I couldn’t listen to it at all. I couldn’t even think about School Of Seven Bells for a long time, so it did take a little bit for me to actually be able to get back into it again. But yeah, it’s hard you know. Mixed feelings.

What eventually gave you the impetus to resume work on SVIIB?

I guess, having spent a year in New York and realising it wasn’t getting any easier there, I realised I just needed to completely uproot from that place and leave and come to LA. As much as I love New York – and it will always be my home – I knew that I needed to leave in order to be able to listen to this record and music, instead of just having this overwhelming wave of memories.

You mentioned that, lyrically, you wanted to write as clearly as possible. When do the bulk of these lyrics date back from?

Most of them were written in the first session. The only lyrics that were written after Benjamin died were the verses for ‘Music Takes Me’. And ‘Confusion’ was written when he was sick, when he was in treatment.

The whole album feels like a celebration of yours and Benjamin’s relationship.

Yeah. This record is basically our whole story, from the day that we met, until the end.

Was that always the intention, before you knew Benjamin was ill?

Never. I’ve never been the kind of songwriter who can decide what I’m gonna write about; it’s always been just whatever comes out. I honestly don’t have a choice when I start writing lyrics; it’s either what’s in my head, or nothing at all. And for some reason this was all that I could write about at this time, and I didn’t understand why when I was writing it. Now I understand, but then it was just this need to get all of this story out.

To us, SVIIB feels like a celebration of life.

Yeah, it is. It is. Because that’s where we were at when we wrote it. We were just at this peak creatively, and just really feeling the life that we had built together. It was this moment of us celebrating it. So it is; it’s a happy record.

It ends on a beautiful, defiant note with ‘This Is Our Time’. Could you tell us a bit more about that song, please?

Oh wow, yeah. That was kind of spur of the moment, because we had taken a break from writing. This was written, I think, in the fall and we had so many tour dates so we barely had any time to get stuck in to the studio part, but we did this one day and we wrote that song in a day. (Laughs) Because our idea of fun was always working on music anyway so we were like, “Yeah, we have 10 hours between this show and the next one – let’s just write this.”

We wanted to capture that sense of invincibility you feel when you first meet somebody, or from when we both moved to New York. We felt this incredible feeling, like nothing bad can happen; you feel like you’re the strongest person in the world, and you can take anything. And we wanted to put that into a song, because that’s how we were feeling at that moment, you know? We just felt like, “Yes, we’re working on our third release this year; we’re on a roll – we’re just gonna keep going, forever.” And that’s what that song was.

Completing the album must have been an extremely emotional experience, like closing a chapter.

It’s a rollercoaster. Sometimes it’s too intense to feel everything fully. I remember finishing in the studio and feeling completely this feeling of just, “Oh my god, I don’t even know what to do with this right now. I have to put it away for a second because I don’t even know how to process this.” And I feel like it’s been actually approaching the release date where I’ve felt like finally it’s all coming to me now. I feel it really strongly, like: this is it, this is the last School Of Seven Bells record. And it’s a little overwhelming. It feels crazy – I feel like my heart’s going to explode, you know?

What are your plans post-School Of Seven Bells?

School Of Seven Bells, it was that moment that Benjamin and I were writing together, and that’s done, but I’m still doing music. I was a musician before and I’m still a musician now. We both met in separate bands, so I’m just going to continue my journey as a musician.

March 2016