School of Seven Bells (or, as it’s better known, SVIIB) is the musical triumvirate formed between Benjamin Curtis (formerly from Secret Machines) and identical twins Alejandra and Claudia Deheza (themselves former members of On! Air! Library!). The trinity has been called everything from “dreamy and ethereal” to “a dark blur of life and art.” They’re also named after a probably-mythical South American pickpocketing academy. School of Seven Bells' debut album, Alpinisms, was released by Ghostly International in the U.S. on October 28, 2008, and they recently rounded up separate tours with the UK’s Bat for Lashes and White Lies, before embarking on their own US run with Black Moth Super Rainbow—which opens tonight at the Bottom Lounge.
I got a brief chance to chat with Claudia en route to Chicago until spotty cell service in the rural plains renedered our conversation complete. But nothing makes for better bonding than bad cell phone reception...
Hey! Hello? Can you hear me? We’re driving over a bridge, so—
Oh, really? Where are you?
We’re just crossing into Illinois—still on the road to Chicago! I’m just going to talk till I get cut off…
You just got into the country yesterday… How was the UK?
It was really, really good for us. It’s crazy—we actually did just four different small headline tours, and they were all so just so different. I mean, like Bats for Lashes? The audience was just perfect for us, very receptive audience. And White Lies was entirely different! Lots of dudes, y’know, what I mean? A lot of dudes, very much football fans.
How’d that go over?
Oh, y’know, it was actually really good. There were a lot of “Huh?” faces… But I mean, it’s kinda like a Top 40 type crowd and we’re just—um—not Top 40. (laughs) Which is fine! They’re [White Lies] really nice guys. They did everything they could to make us feel really comfortable on the tour, around London… Oh, but the headline with Telepathe! Their shows are incredible! We were right between them and Killing Joke—the slot right in the middle—and it was insane! There was just this steady stream of mania going on all the time. And this guy is right in front of you with a 60 foot cable in front of his mic, just strutting around, doing what he wants, the audience screaming around the whole time—they were so good. It was so fun. Ah! I want to go back.
Is that how touring usually goes? I’m starting to learn that the artist opinion on touring runs from either really hating or really loving it—
I love touring. It’s really weird, cuz when you’re on tour you miss home. But when you’re at home—I mean, there’s like this two week grace period where it’s the greatest thing ever, just euphoric, but after a while you just start getting restless. You pad around the house going “What am I doing here?” I personally love being on tour as long as possible.
I’m a bit of a folklore nut, so the first thing that popped at me about you guys was—
Yeah! It was—this sounds really shallow, but it was actually the reason I first bought your record.
How did that come about?
It was honestly random. I was watching a documentary about it [the School of the Seven Bells] really late one night—and it wasn’t even about the school itself, it was like a PBS doc on pickpocketing and pickpocketing as a serious craft. And I just remember—they had really incredible segments on shoplifting. Like in one, two ladies had these coats lined with aluminum, so if they dropped things in their coats no one could see them. Scarves, sweaters, coats, hats—they’d leave with 10-20 million dollars worth of merchandise. And it showed these people on video, and they seriously took like ten minutes. I just fell in love with that idea, that concept—that you could take this rogue-ish, illegal thing and start making a complete art out of it, taking a lot of care with it, being very precise. It seemed really cool to me. Plus, it was just a cool name. (laughs)
Do you take a lot of care in your music?
Oh, yeah. Oh-ho, yeah. It’s a very, very fine thing. The structuring—as far as the writing, and the words and melody, the basic melodies even—it takes a lot of time and a lot of care. There’s so many textures and beats, that nothing is just thrown in there, all of its really worked on. And it’s ironic how close and careful it’s all looked at, because it changes so much. I always think that if we’d turned in the record three weeks later it’d sound a little different than what you hear at home.
Are deadlines a painful thing for you guys?
Yes and no. If you don’t have one, you could work on that [record] for years, for decades. I think the most pain it caused was in mixing the record. Mixing is an entirely…(long, pained pause; sighing is involved) It’s a whole process in itself that makes the song completely different. It’s really weird; we could’ve mixed any cut a thousand different ways, and you just have to keep mixing to get the right song.
How do you know when it’s the right song?
When you have a deadline. (laughs)
Is there an equal contribution to the songwriting between the three of you?
We’re all involved with it. Because there’s so many parts to what we do—writing, recording, mixing songs, producing a record— Its really weird to actually know how evenly its split. We really truly all wrote the songs. And they all mean something, a little something anyway, to each of us. And I think we’re heading over some rocks and I am definitely losing you…
SVIIB plays the Bottom Lounge tonight at 8 p.m (doors at 7:30). Tickets are $12 advance, $15 at the door-- 18+