Throwback Thursday: School of Seven Bells Interview from 2007 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Throwback Thursday: School of Seven Bells Interview from 2007

Thieves Like Us

Aug 07, 2014 School of Seven Bells Bookmark and Share

For Throwback Thursdays we are posting classic interviews from the Under the Radar print archives to our website. Under the Radar used to keep its print articles exclusive to the print magazine and so there are a lot of older articles that aren’t to be found on our website.

For this Throwback Thursday we revisit our 2007 article on School of Seven Bells, our first interview with the band and what may have been the band’s first ever print magazine interview. At the time the band was still a four-piece and had just released their debut EP. By the time their debut album, Alpinisms (referred to by its working title Wired for Light here), was released the band had pared down to a three-piece, losing early member James Elliott. The three-piece lineup of Benjamin Curtis, Alejandra Deheza, and Claudia Deheza continued through their sophomore album, Disconnect from Desire, after which Claudia left. A year after Benjamin and Alejandra released 2012’s third full-length, Ghostory, it was announced in February 2013 that Benjamin had been diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. Benjamin tragically passed away in December 2013, aged only 35. This past June School of Seven Bells released a cover of Joey Ramone’s “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up),” recorded while Benjamin was in the hospital. And Alejandra has since announced that she is working on a new School of Seven Bells album containing material she recorded with Benjamin before his passing.

Read on as Benjamin discusses the early days of School of Seven Bells: how they formed, where they got their name, their early influences, and how their sound came together.

“The name is taken from a mythical ‘crime college’ that may or may not have existed in Latin America in the ‘80s,” says Benjamin Curtis, revealing where his new project, School of Seven Bells, found its unusual moniker. “Supposedly, students were taught how to steal there. The final exam involved seven bells in seven pockets on the teacher’s jacket, which the students must pickpocket without ringing.”

It was a name that Curtis’ bandmate, Alejandra Deheza, had been thinking about for a while, but without question, the image fits the mood of the music on School of Seven Bells’ three-song debut EP, Face to Face on High Places, and their unfinished Wired for Light full-length. Like the pupils of thievery Curtis describes, the band balances elegant execution with a sense of danger and malice that goes nearly undetected. The entwined voices of Deheza and her twin sister Claudia, both alumni of On!Air!Library!, color these songs with their glasslike clarity and weightless delivery. So hypnotizing are their complex harmonies that it’s possible to miss the squall of electronics that Curtis, who recently left Secret Machines on amicable terms, and James Elliott, who also records as Ateleia, orchestrate like a pair of mad scientists. Although all four members cut their teeth in other bands, School of Seven Bells hardly sounds like the sum total of its players’ previous experience.

“It’s a totally new project with a completely different energy,” Curtis explains. “[James’] approach is super-textural and non-musical in a way, which is perfect for the aesthetic we had in mind and fills out the sound so well. Plus, the way [Alejandra and Claudia] sing together is obviously one of those rare things that come along in music every so often. From my end, I have made an effort to leave behind the traditional rock habits that I have picked up over the years.”

But Curtis, who met the Deheza sisters when their former bands toured with Interpol in 2004, is quick to acknowledge how many influences seep into the band’s music.

“Basically, each aspect of our band, broken down to the smallest degree, whether it be a particular distortion or harmony, has its own influence,” he says. “If we had to mention a couple, maybe we’re trying to find the middle ground between Robert Wyatt and Cutty Ranks.”

The gorgeous new track “Conjurr,” for example, marries echoing guitar reminiscent of The Cure to skipping programmed beats before erupting in waves of fuzzy Kevin Shields-like guitar. The underwater funk of “Iamundernodisguise,” another track from the forthcoming album, pairs ethereal vocals with clattering electronics, similar to Philadelphia’s A Sunny Day in Glasgow.

Where the Face to Face in High Places EP was hurriedly recorded and mixed in just two days, the ornate production and melodic depth of the new material shows the payoff of a much less grueling pace.

“We’re definitely becoming more and more comfortable in our atmosphere,” says Curtis, “so hopefully it will just be a more fully realized vision than what is on the EP.”


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