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It's a certain kind of sonic chemistry that drives band members out of their respective groups and into a shared living space and a brand-new project. Some might even call it magic. For School of Seven Bells, it's a little bit of both. Alejandra Deheza and her twin sister, Claudia (On!Air!Library!), met Benjamin Curtis (Secret Machines) in 2004 when their respective bands scored opening slots for Interpol. Claudia Deheza left the group in late 2010 for personal reasons, but Curtis and Alejandra have soldiered on without a hiccup. The dreamy duo forges rarefied shoegaze with trilling electronic beats and lyrical poesy delivered with airy finesse. The band's 2010 release, Disconnect From Desire, is all silky sound swells amid delightfully gnawing guitar licks and illusory reveries.
B-Sides: How is School of Seven Bells a different experience from your other bands?
Alejandra Deheza: It's a different experience every time you play with different people. Entirely new perspectives and ideas. It's going to be different because of the different noises you make when you're working with someone else. With my other band, it was one of those things, I had never been in a band before so basically I ended up in a band with a bunch of people. This was the first time I picked who I wanted to work with. That made a huge difference.
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[Benjamin Curtis] probably is my favorite guitar player right now. He doesn't really play it in any traditional way; he kind of plays it like a synth, which is awesome. I really wanted to work with him.
You've said that this band has been an exercise in gender bias. Do you still feel that way? You said that no one walks around saying it's a male-fronted band, so why is a female-fronted band exceptional?
It's true. I wouldn't say it's an issue; if it gets brought up, I'm going to say something about it. I don't really ever think about the fact that I'm a woman. I never think about that. Nor do I think about that when I hear music — it doesn't even occur to me to think, Is that a man or a woman? That's why I think it's just ridiculous.
How has the band changed since Claudia left?
The only thing that's changed is live. Benjamin and I were always the core songwriters in a band, so that hasn't changed. Live, there isn't another voice singing on the harmonies, Ben chimes in every once in a while. The way that we write songs is exactly the same. Live, I'm always playing guitar. Benjamin plays guitar, and we have electronics, definitely. We did have half of the six-week tour without the extra synth; we've gone from two to three to five members to four members. It's not really anything that's new. I think it's just about what makes the songs better, you know?
What can you tell us about the split with Active Child?
Oh wow, that was awesome! That was a lot of fun to do. Such a good band. I love what he's doing with the electronic beats and obviously just the harp. I know a lot of people focus on the harp, but live it's only in a couple songs; he's a great programmer and a really good songwriter. I love collaborating with people I really like.
Some of the lyrics come from your lucid dreams. Can you tell us about a certain dream that led to a song?
Good question. It's hard to say that it's from a particular narrative or something like that. It's poetic language. I remember there was this one dream where I was holding a puppy, and the puppy was wet. I knew that I was dreaming, and I knew what I was feeling wasn't really water; I was just really fascinated by the memory of water. I don't remember which song or which verse that particular image inspired but it was something I was thinking about a lot — these things that we experience throughout the day are more about our memory of them than what we're really experiencing.
This isn't a new idea, obviously, but I was thinking about it a lot. [A lot of times] I feel like [we are] numb to the things that are happening around us while we're awake. I'm not even talking about anything like war or this or that or whatever, I just mean experiencing a walk — how much of that is the movie and the neurotic thoughts happening in your head and your memory of what a walk is supposed to be? I always wonder what I'm actually experiencing. When you're aware of the fact that you're dreaming, it makes you think about waking life a lot differently. Experiencing pain in dreams — how do you do that? If nothing is really happening that is causing this pain, what were you feeling then? It's so interesting to me.