Written by Ian Morales.
Twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra Deheza met Benjamin Curtis while their respective bands were opening for Interpol. The three had so much chemistry that the Deheza sisters left their band On!Air!Library!, while Curtis quit The Secret Machines. The trio moved into a shared space and built a home studio. The result was a new band called School of Seven Bells.
After their debut album, Aplinisms, was released in 2008, the group toured Europe and the States, including stops in Austin for South By Southwest two years in a row and Austin City Limits Fest in 2009. Their style of indie is often described as “ethereal” and “dreamy” with many layers to each song. Lyrically, they are known for being abstract, although that may change with their sophomore release, Disconnect From Desire.
We spoke with vocalist Alejandra Deheza about touring with her sister, the new album, DJ remixes and what they do when they’re in Austin.
Is Ben still being asked questions about being the one dude in a band with hot twins? What do you think of that question when you see it in interviews?
Alejandra: Yes, I’m pretty sure he is. Personally, I think it is ridiculous. I don’t think it’s relevant. I don’t understand how playing with twins is different from playing with other people. It makes us sound like this alien breed that talks to each other in this weirdo twin language. I really don’t get that question.
So how is it being on the road with your sister? Do you guys still get along at this point?
Alejandra: Yeah. I mean we’re adults now, but it can sometimes evolve into that whole thing where you’re taking a road trip in a car with your parents and you’re like “Stop touching me! She’s touching me”! It’s that kind of thing. Now it’s a matter of being civil and giving each other space. Brothers and sisters have that kind of closeness where politeness can be gone really easily. We just have to remember to do that sometimes.
There are so many elements to your music that it makes me wonder about your writing process. Can you walk me through a typical song’s birth to the finished product? Specifically, what roles do each of you play in writing, composing, mixing, etc?
Alejandra: Songs can start in any way, really. The thing is, we are all writing all the time. We all have a lot of output. How it becomes a School Of Seven Bells song is, I’ll bring something to Benjamin and Claudia will do the same. Benjamin does all the music, like the composition of all the parts. Claudia and I do all the vocal parts and lyrics. In that sense, it is pretty uniform, but how songs start can be pretty random. Sometimes I’ll have the vocal part and the melody already written and I’ll bring it to Benjamin. Sometimes I’ll hear what he’s doing, get inspired and work off what he is doing.
Is songwriting any easier for you at this point, now that you have been together as a band a little longer and know each other better?
Alejandra: Yes. In way it is easier because we aren’t really limited by money and time now that we have everything we need at home. That allows us to hear what we are working on live immediately. The only thing hard about that is knowing when to stop and knowing when a song is finished. It is just so easy to go back to it and tweak everything just a little. That process can go on for an eternity if you let it.
In regards to your current album Disconnect From Desire, did you feel any “sophomore slump” pressure given the fact that Alpinisms received a lot of good feedback from the indie media and blogosphere?
Alejandra: Thank God I didn’t. I know people feel that pressure, but that can be pretty crippling. That never entered my mind. I was just really excited about the songs I was writing and for them to come out so people could hear them.
I heard Ben say on your official video EPK that “If you weren’t sure about School of Seven Bells yet, this record was probably going to be a surprise.” What is different or better about Disconnect?
Alejandra: I feel with this album in particular is a lot more spacious. The last album was denser. There are a lot of textures and all of our ideas put into every song. With this record I feel like we took a lot of care in terms of what we put into it. We recorded live, which is also what makes it different. Lyrically, it is probably less abstract than what we had in Aplinisms.
Was that a conscious decision, to be less abstract with Disconnect From Desire? Or did it just happen that way?
Alejandra: It’s just where I was at the time. We had been touring so much and we wanted to make a record that sounded really great in a club, something people could actually sing along to and understand what we they were saying. I wanted people to be able to attach themselves to a song and make it their own. That was really important to me.
Given that you are still young in terms of how long you’ve been a band, you are still new and/or unfamiliar to a lot of people. If you were to give a new listener or potential fan one song to make the best impression, which one would it be and why?
Alejandra: I’d say the best representation would be “Windstorm.” It was the first single and it got a lot of people listening to us.
While on the subject of one song, tell me about your decision behind putting out an EP with different versions of all your different songs with all the remixes.
Alejandra: We just want to hear different people’s take on our songs. We love hearing the songs in a different way. Some of them we know and some we don’t. if we don’t, we’re huge fans of them personally, DJs like Active Child and Pantha Du Prince. I think Pantha Du Prince is awesome. He’s actually put on one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a while. We met White Sea while on tour.
How do you pick the songs to push or get remixed for their own EPs?
Alejandra: That is a decision made by a lot of different people. “Heart Is Strange” got a lot of love on KCRW and so we figured it was a song people wanted to hear more of.
On this tour, what is on your set list? I assume the majority comes from Disconnect From Desire, but are you performing any other songs from your previous records for older fans?
Alejandra: We’re playing “Half Asleep Listen” and “My Cabal.” Also, let me just clear this up once and for all. Everybody sees it spelled like it is pronounced “Kabal” and we are very aware of that. It is about a character whose name is pronounced like “cable.” I get journalists asking about the song and pronouncing it incorrectly all the time. Clearly, that is now how it is pronounced. We’re playing also “Connjur.”
You are no stranger to Austin, as we saw you here at South By Southwest. What is it about Austin that gets you excited to be playing here again? If you have time to spend here the day of the show, do you look forward to eating or hanging out anywhere in particular?
Alejandra: Ironworks. We have to. It’s so good. That is the one thing we always think of when we are in Austin.
After this tour is over, what are your plans for the rest of 2010 and early 2011?
Alejandra: Oh man, just a lot of touring and a lot of shows. We’ll be going back to Europe for a few and we have a few things up in the air. We might be doing Tokyo and then probably do another U.S. run in early 2011. We are always writing, so probably the stuff we are writing now is going to be for our new record.