School of Seven Bells: In the Studio
Alejandra Deheza of SVIIB Discusses Band's Sophomore Album Disconnect From Desire
Mar 30, 2010
The Most Anticipated Albums of 2010 section in Under the Radar's Winter 2010 Issue includes a short article on School of Seven Bells' new album. Below is the full Q&A of that interview with Alejandra Deheza.
In preparing the follow-up to its 2008 full-length debut Alpinisms, a vibrant collection of dreampop harmonies, shoegaze guitars and synthetic tribal beats, Brooklyn trio School of Seven Bells didn't plan to change its recording process all that much. As they did with the songs on Alpinisms, the three musicians—twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza and Benjamin Curtis—would produce the tracks themselves while recording at both their rehearsal space and the house they share. While speaking with Under the Radar in early January, Alejandra said that Curtis was doing most of the producing and described him as an effects junkie who is always finding new things. And though she has discovered some "really fun" guitar pedals between albums, Alejandra says the sophomore album Disconnect From Desire won't feature any new instruments or reflect any recently discovered musical influences. Yet, she contends that the album, to be released on Vagrant Records, is a departure from its predecessor, simply because the music and lyrics come from a different time and place. "I love Alpinisms, but I definitely think this is a way better record," she says.
What is the status of your album right now? How far along are you?
Alejandra Deheza: We're almost finished. Right now we're finishing up all the tracking, and then we're already talking to different mixers and things like that. We have a few in mind, some which you'd probably recognize, but we're not going to say anything just yet until it's confirmed.
How many tracks have you recorded?
So far, I'd say about 10 at this point, fully. I'd like to end up with at least 12 or something like that, to have a couple to play with, but I'm really into the idea of a shorter record. I like records that are really clear, concise statements. I'm really into 10-song records.
Where are you recording?
At home. We do some of the recording here and some of it in our rehearsal space that we also have. Yeah, we have all the equipment here, so we're just doing it at our pace.
And that's how you recorded the last album?
Yeah, mmm hmm.
When did writing for the album begin?
We're always writing. It probably started, I would say, throughout the touring that we did with Alpinisms, just starting from the beginning, I think. Just little songs here and there have been coming around, or little ideas. It's always been an ongoing process with us. It'll start oftentimes really small. It'll just be a snippet of something that I'll get, and then it evolves into a verse. Then maybe we'll take that and it'll inspire another melody, which eventually becomes the song. So it's just an ongoing thing.
Will there be any holdovers from the last album, or did everything start fresh after Alpinisms was finished?
I think there were a couple of ideas that didn't make it into the record, but they weren't fully formed yet. So, I would have to say—lyrics, too—there were some, but they just weren't ready or they weren't right for the record we were making, at that time. So yeah, I think there might have been some things there that are gonna make it onto this record. But it would be like a crumb of what it is now.
Alpinisms had a lengthy production process and there were some revisions. Do you feel that things are moving along faster this time?
Last time, it was weird. We had a version of the record already set, and then we scrapped it at the last minute and just redid everything. I think it's different with this record, this time around, because we've been touring so much, so we've been able to actually hear what the songs sound like live, and that's really helped a lot in forming a sound. Whereas before, we had written a lot of it and recorded it without touring it. And then, when we started touring, we were like, "These songs are sounding different now that we can hear them, and we're seeing people's reactions and we're seeing what they respond to." I feel like, this time around, it's been a little more defined—what we want—just because a lot of these are just coming out live.
So it was playing the songs live that caused you to scrap the first recordings of Alpinisms?
Yeah. It's funny, it sounds so different when you play them live. It's never exactly as it is on the record, so all these ideas start coming out that you wouldn't have had normally. So yeah, I feel like that had a huge hand in it, definitely, just hearing them differently after a year of touring them and then realizing, "Oh, this is what the song sounds like. That's not what it sounds like."
Do you all still live together?
Will you have any other musicians play on this record?
No, it's just us. [Laughs]
I read that the songs on the last album typically began as just vocals. Did you start with lyrics or vocal melodies?
A little bit of both, I guess. That's how a lot of them started out, but not all of them.
Is that the case with the songs on this album?
I think with this one it's been a really good mix, because when you're on tour—and a lot of it was written on tour—the times that you don't have to be interacting or being around each other are really important as well. I think a lot of these songs were started by us in our alone time, so we started little ideas here and there and then brought them together. I feel like it's been a huge mix of how these have turned out, and I think it shows.
When you say alone time, do you mean alone time individually?
Yeah, you know, you're never alone, because you're always in a van or something. [Laughs] But I'm talking about more in your head. You know, you kind of put on your headphones, put in some music in your computer or whatever you're working on, or lyrics, and kind of work independently and start ideas.
If you're on tour and working independently, when do you bring your ideas to the other members?
I would say whenever you feel like it's ready. For me, it was always having any kind of melody, whether I had an idea for a bass part or a vocal part. I always work with another part with vocals—at least now, and just like with lyrics—to get a rhythm of how things are gonna go. And I would get both of those together and then give them to whoever I wanted to add to it.
So if you come up with an idea you like while on tour, how do you keep it? You said you have a computer with you?
Oh yeah, we all have computers. I'll even record something into my phone. I'll just sing the parts. Like okay, this is the bass: la la la la la. And then this is the vocal melody or these are the words. And, you know, I'll put it down later.
Are you and your sister singing all the songs together?
Yeah, because it sounds good. [Laughs] It's really weird because we have very different voices, and I like how it sounds. I like how group vocals sound a lot. And Benjamin's on some of these, too.
You said you've played a lot of the songs on tour. Do those songs have titles that you can share?
On tour, we did "Windstorm," "Bye Bye Bye"...
[Laughs] Yes! Wow, I never even thought of that. All of a sudden, we're gonna Google it, and there's gonna be like a million trillion hits on the song. It's so funny, I never even thought of it. But I wonder if we're gonna spell it like that. I'm not sure, exactly. I've just been putting BBB, but I don't know. Anyway, what were the other ones that we did? Oh, "Camarilla." "Heart Is Strange." [Shouts to sister] Hey Claude! What were the five songs we did on tour? [Waits for response] Oh, and "ILU."
Would you characterize any of the songs on the new album as departures?
Yeah, I think all of them are.
In what regard?
I love Alpinisms, but I definitely think this is a way better record. I mean, I hope. It's just a different time and the lyrics come from a different place, and so do the songs, just like the music. It seems very different to me. The one thing that is in common with the other record is it's all very sing-able. It's not a noise record or anything.
Do you feel the tone of the album is different?
Yes. I don't want to generalize it too much. It comes from a darker place, but darker doesn't have to be negative. It comes from a different place of writing than the first record. The album title is Disconnect From Desire.
Were there significant events in your lives that inspired these darker songs?
It's weird, because a lot of them do come from personal experiences, but they're not so literal. These experiences, a lot of these take the shape of characters that I've kind of made up. It's not that the situations in the song are necessarily what happened to me or to Claude, but they're stories that I feel have that [have that] kind of feeling, have that kind of darkness, that kind of thing that was happening emotionally at that time.
When do you expect to have the album out?
I would say spring. Definitely spring.