Sunday, 8 March 2009
School Of Seven Bells Interview
For a front-woman of a scene Brooklyn band, Alejandra Deheza is unusually smiley on stage. The diminutive, raven-haired twin of fellow vocalist Claudia, Alejandra and her grin are almost completely hidden behind a thick black fringe as she executes gilded, frosted dream-pop that could melt an ice-sheet. It’s partly the angular, word-centric phrasing and crystal-clear harmonies of SVIIB that has seen their steady ascension to the realms of one of the must-see-must-hear bands this year. The other half is down to the band themselves – the combination of the beautiful and fascinating twin sisters, and the reputation of Ben Curtis, formerly of American alterna-rock trio Secret Machines. Ben’s reputation is a weighty one, too – when he left Secret Machines in 2007 he even received hate mail from some of the band’s more fanatical fanbase. So has it been worth it? Gigwise spoke to Alejandra about the SVIIB story up to now.
“It couldn’t have gone better, the crowds are really charged,” Ally Dehezra tells me of the early days of their mini-UK tour. The UK dates are followed by some time in Europe, SXSW, and then support slots with Bat For Lashes, White Lies and Black Moth Super Rainbow that will take them through to summer on a relentless and gruelling tour schedule. It’s not a predicament that Ally seems particularly concerned by, though. “Before we’d even thought about recording we were being asked by bands to go on tour,” she says of their early popularity, “so we worked out a lot of music live, in rooms, by hearing ourselves go through the songs every night, and I think it came from the live performance.”
Live, they were able to make the ‘very deliberate’ decision to use a drum machine and pre-recorded electronic bass that makes their songs so effortlessly rhythmic, conveying Ally’s sense that “it’s definitely dance music. People say they like to chill out to it, but personally, I think it’s got really great beats.” The oft-repeated shoegaze tag, then, is a misleading one. “People assign you to something, and that’s totally cool, as long as it’s a genre they love I don’t mind!” Unconcerned as she may be, SVIIB make music born of a slick process so far from the heavily distorted, noise-obscured tendencies of shoegaze that to label them that is to do both the band and the genre a disservice.
Perhaps SVIIB defy categorisation precisely because they eschew it, instead absorbing influences from all directions. “Deheza is a Basque last name,” Ally explains of her heritage, “but we were born in Guatemala, my mother’s Costa Rican and my father’s Parisian, and we grew up in the states since we were 11 months old.” Musically, their backgrounds are similarly diverse, “We don’t just listen to one kind of music, and I think that comes out, but we have our things that we love, like Robert Wyatt, and jazz.”
Certainly for guitarist Ben Curtis, SVIIB marks a huge departure from his previous work with Secret Machines. It was a brave move to walk away from the security of being in a mid-level rock band with a cult underground following, but ultimately, it has paid off. There is something very ‘new’ sounding about SVIIB, and Ally doesn’t speak out of turn when she says “I feel like this record has a really long life, and that people will keep on discovering it: it won’t get old.”
As you’d imagine of a band at the forefront of modernistic pop, SVIIB hail from Brooklyn, today’s creative capital of the states. Back home, they move in artistic circles with the likes of Blonde Redhead, which partly explains why they bagged a recent support slot on the Blonde Redhead tour – something that Ally draws out as a highlight of the past two years. “They’re really great,” she says of the fellow-twin-featuring band, “they really took care of us on the road. Amedeo changed our tail-light when it ran out and Kazu made us this really incredible curry one night, she fed us in the tour bus.” Blonde Redhead is also remixing some of their album, alongside Justin Broadrick from Jesu and Mark Clifford remix.
With debut ‘Alpinisms’ released only last month this side of the pond, it comes as some surprise that School Of Seven Bells are already eager to set to work on a new record. “We want to start recording again in the summer,” Ally says. For the time being though, as they sell out shows in the UK and the US and continually beguile with an angular dream-pop that is all their own, Ally is one cheerful front-woman with a lot to be smiling about.