Smile Politely

Bringing dreams to reality at the Canopy Club

After listening to School of Seven Bells, I was surprised when I wasn’t connected to a ghost or ethereal spirit through the psychic hotline for our phone interview. Instead, what I got on the end of the line was a very lucid musician named Alejandra Deheza whose entrancing voice and lyrics have formed the basis of the New York-based band.

The birth of School of Seven Bells (SVIIB) stemmed from the twisted web that is New York City’s music scene. The band is a prime example of musicians taking advantage of the vast opportunities to collaborate with an incestual pool of like-minded individuals within an area of roughly 800 acres.

Twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza were members of on!air!library! when they met Benjamin Curtis, formerly of Secret Machines, on tour with Interpol.

“They were looking for bands to open for Interpol and we met Benjamin on that tour,” Alejandra explains. “We got to know each other, but didn’t really consider starting something. There wasn’t a formal plan for us to work together.”

on!air!library! disbanded into Daylight’s For The Birds, Girabbe, A Cloud of Mireya and SVIIB. Benjamin left Secret Machines and was replaced with ex-Tripping Daisy member Phil Karnats. The seemingly inevitable animosity of a band break-up didn’t hold true for Alejandra and Claudia in on!air!library!.

“I had known I was leaving the tour for a while,” Alejandra says. “I didn’t think that I could write for them anymore. You can’t force creativity because it won’t be sincere, and I feel like people can tell. There was no need to stick around.”

With the blessing of their previous bands, Alejandra and Benjamin began working together for SVIIB in January of 2007. Claudia joined shortly thereafter. In the beginning the band fluctuated from a three-piece to a five-piece until whittling back down to the core three members.

Alejandra, Claudia and Benjamin threw themselves into their newest musical creation with an emphasis on the unorthodox lyrical aspects. Alejandra bases much of her writing on her experiences with lucid dreaming, and she admittedly hardly ever deals with the doom of writer’s block.

“I try not to indulge it, which I think is key,” Alejandra says. “If I feed myself with a little distraction that’s normally all I need to get back on track.”

Having wildly imaginative dreams can’t hurt the lyrical process. The last lucid dream she can remember was about a horizontal staircase suspended in the air and her return to spot she’s seen many times before on those very stairs. Having a physical and mental awareness while dreaming can blur the lines between one’s waking and dreaming lives. The ability to control what happens in her dreams is something Alejandra has known her entire life, and it explains the somewhat surreality of her lyrics.

As much writing lyrics is a passion for Alejandra, she treats writing songs with a very matter-of-fact business-like determination. Free time on tours is spent almost entirely doing more work and writing.

“A lot of the writing happens on the road, because it’s the perfect opportunity for it,” Alejandra says. “You’re exhausted, but it’s impossible not to be inspired by that and everything else you see while you’re on the road.”

The group garnered attention early on from fellow musicians and critics for their profound lyrical skills and the twins’ enchanting harmonies. Blonde Redhead chose SVIIB to join them on tour in 2007 and they have been remixed by the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie, Prefuse 73, Jesu’s Justin Broadrick and Active Child, among others.

“The collaborations are always with people we love,” Alejandra says.

In addition to their numerous collaborations, SVIIB has released two full-length albums — Alpinisms in 2008 and Disconnect From Desire in July of 2010.

SVIIB’s music is starkly juxtaposed between a fluttering dream and a very calculated and very real projection of love, heartbreak, passion and relationships. As soon as the listener is thrust into the clouds, he or she is just as quickly grounded back into reality. The listener is given the option to enjoy the melodies and beats on the surface, or to dive deeper into the emotional blaze.

Claudia left the group in October of 2010 due to personal reasons, but it has not been a burden for Alejandra and Benjamin to continue on their own.

“We play with a live drummer as of now,” Alejandra explains. “We would definitely consider adding someone to the group at some point. There are a lot of people I want to work with.”

Champaign-Urbana is a change of pace from their home base of New York, but just because our venue is different does not make it any worse in Alejandra’s opinion.

“There’s nothing like playing in New York, just because it’s for a bunch of people that we know,” Alejandra explains. “The kids in small towns, though, are much rowdier and more fun. They’re much less self-conscious than anywhere else.”

Hopefully Champaign-Urbana will be able to live up their standards on Saturday night and show them as good of a time as they will inevitably give us. Common Loon opens the night at 6:30 p.m. with doors opening at 6 p.m.

Photo by Abbey Drucker

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