CINCINNATI – It has been quite a trip for Brooklyn’s School of Seven Bells. Following the September, 2010, departure of keyboardist Claudia, twin sister of lead vocalist Alejandra (Alley) Deheza, the now-duo this year released their third, and arguably strongest, effort to date – Ghostory. I caught up with Alley and guitarist Benjamin Curtis following School of Seven Bells’ MidPoint Summer Series performance last Friday on Cincinnati’s Fountain Square.
The new album is a pop Janus: written around a unifying theme, but laden with potential singles. The underlying story revolves around a girl named Lafaye; a lifetime of unpleasant memories, disappointments, regrets are ghosts which surround her. One wonders where Lafaye’s sense of loss ends and the band’s begins; somehow, the group has taken a loss and used it as a springboard. By their own account, things are better this way.
“I think it’s the way that people perceive us – in my mind anyway,” said Deheza. “The records before [Ghostory] were mainly Ben and I anyways. We were always the main songwriters, so we were fortunate. We were already in that habit, instead of having to completely reconfigure what we were doing. I think it was more having to present it in a different way to the fans and people who had gotten used to seeing . . . “ She paused, looked down at the table, then looked back up – resolved.
“You know there’s something really charming and romantic about siblings in a band, and I totally understand that. I mean, I’m smitten by it, too,” Deheza smiled. “So I think for us, it was more presenting it in a way that wouldn’t be as shocking as it probably was to a lot of people. But as far as creatively, I think the energy in a band is really important. When everybody’s there that wants to be there, it’s the best thing that could happen to anybody. Everyone’s happy now, so it’s better than ever.”
I turned to Curtis. Did he feel there was tension prior to Claudia leaving?
“Obviously,” he said with a wry smile. “She quit.” Deheza looked at him and they laughed, maybe a little nervously. They have clearly moved on from whatever unseen drama came before.
“We’re so happy making music right now,” Curtis said, with Deheza nodding her agreement. “I think we’ve never really been inspired more to make this thing work and last. We’ve never had more energy for it than we do right now. We were writing so much – we’re just trying to find a way to do everything that we can do whenever we want to do it.”
I asked Deheza what that meant.
“Put out music whenever we want, you know, not have to wait for any schedule or anything like that. I think that’s what we’re trying to figure out, is a way for us to be able to do that ourselves and not have to ask anybody, you know?”
School of Seven Bells’ late efforts have been noticeably engaging. In the course of producing my radio show and sourcing new tracks, I inevitably share impressions with peers. A DJ acquaintance, Matt Barker (host of “Totally Wired” on Juice 107.2 FM in Brighton, UK), and I find ourselves largely in agreement: many of School of Seven Bells’ recent B-side releases have been strong in their own right. I was flabbergasted that “Love from a Stone,” backing their “Lafaye” single, wasn’t included on the album. The same might be said of “When She Was Me,” the alternate track on their Record Store Day 2012 Siouxsie and the Banshees cover, “Kiss Them for Me.” I asked Curtis and Deheza who decides which tracks are released how.
“It’s funny, because we never have songs that we think are going to be a B-side or anything,” intimated Deheza. “We’re excited to write another one.”
Curtis half-shrugged and smiled. “The way we feel about it, in this digital age, every mp3 is just as available as any [other], and they exist forever. It’s not like a limited pressing. I feel like every song’s gonna have its day between now and infinity, so we don’t really stress [about] what side of the record it’s going to be on.
“It’s more a function of time,” he said. “I think the real quality that we have is we really don’t have the energy to finish something we don’t like or something we don’t think is great.”
“Yes.” Deheza nodded. “Yes.”
“I don’t know how people write songs that they know are not as good as the last song they write. Our favorite song that we’ve written is always the last song we’ve written, and it’s been that way since we started writing together.”
So their latest favorite song is . . . ? Deheza and Curtis shared a tentative grin.
“Well, we have a new . . . ,” she trailed. I have them on the spot.
“There’s a song called ‘Ablaze’ that no one’s heard yet. We have a bit of a backlog. It’s gonna be a B-side.” Curtis looked at Deheza; they giggled. “It’s headed in that direction. Lots more B-sides. It’s gonna be all B-sides from here on out.”