A collaboration between Benjamin Curtis of Secret Machines and twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza of On-Air Library, the School of Seven Bells (founded in name from a mythical South American pickpocket academy) that surprised all with their ethereal, haunting charms that found them in perfect company of shoegaze/dreampop acts like M83 and Prefuse 73. Chris Berkley of Static spoke to all three members of this New York-based act who were in Sydney on their first tour of Australia recently in support of last year’s Alpinisms album.
How are you guys holding up on tour? Are you all still talking and getting on?
Ali: Yeah, pretty well actually.
Ben: As much as usual (laughs).
You guys are on tour for ever now. I took a look at your dates, it’s a kinda military style operation the School of Seven Bells have got going on.
Ben: It is. No one can say that we didn’t go on tour for a really long time.
Did it always feel like School of Seven Bells would be such a live force or did it start out as strictly a studio project?
Ali : Actually, we weren’t even thinking about how we were going to present it live when we wrote the record, it just kind of happened, luckily, in a way that was very similar to the record.
Was it hard to work out how to translate to a live setting?
Ben: It was, actually, it took a long time. It’s just that we knew how it could sound like, but we didn’t know how to do it. It took a couple of tours, maybe about a year before we kinda settled in to something that worked.
So all those people that saw the first tour should be getting their money back?
Ali: Mmm… If they see us again (Laughs).
So I’m guessing, Benjamin for you in Secret Machines and also On-Air Library it must’ve been a thing then, or a process then, of busting out some jams and off your went. The arrangements on the School of Seven Bells record as quite intricate, so you almost have to unravel them to work out how you were going to do it live.
Ben: We had to stop trying to duplicating the music in the same way. We had to start replaying the songs in the same spirit, you know what I mean? It’s a different way to approach it. Stop worrying about this part being exactly this or this part being exactly that. As long as you play the song or feel the song, it will sound like the song.
It seems like such a vocals-led project. Is that where School of Seven Bells songs start out?
Claudia : Yeah, for the most part we build on vocals, but they have to come from somewhere obviously, so you know we take any kind of snippet of music or a loop. It can come from anything, but usually it’s built around the vocals.
Is it always the pair of you two sisters trading off on a vocal with each other. How do you nut the songs out?
Ali: It’s different for each song. Some songs are based on a vocal idea I have, some are based on something Claudia has. I think there’s a couple we collaborated on.
Do you have to be all in the same room to work on a School of Seven Bells song?
Ben: Well, we have to be in the same room, maybe not at the same time.
Ali: Yeah. (laughs).
Is that how it works to make a song of yours? Do you build and build and build?
Ben: It starts in a pile of ideas. Its usually pretty disorganised. We just kinda shape it. We spend a lot of time subtracting parts. We build it up and we tear it down, we build it up and we tear it down. It’s a really long process, making a song. Well, it’s a complicated process. It actually happens really quickly. We just kinda turn off and do a lot of work on mixing. We don’t know how it happens, but it keeps happening.