Benjamin Curtis of School of Seven Bells Talks Claudia Deheza's Departure and New Members

SchoolOfSevenBellsSleeping.jpg
The original School of Seven Bells trio, in all of their dreamy glory.
Bad news: Claudia Deheza may have quit School of Seven Bells. Like you, we were a bit distraught when we heard there may be trouble in paradise. But during our conversation with guitarist Benjamin Curtis on Tuesday, he gave no direct mention of Claudia's potential departure from the band.

However, Curtis did mention that the band will be incorporating a live drummer, Zach Saginaw, from now on. But when asked whether the trio would permanently become a quartet, he paused. Was he trying to tell us something?

The Seven Bells' publicists mention that Claudia is "a part of the band still," despite the Facebook status update which indicates otherwise. That said, she won't be at the Grand Central show on Saturday.  

By phone, Crossfade caught up with Curtis to talk cheesy pop music, art, and unconventional  influences.

New Times: Even though you're mostly on lead guitar, I've heard that you manipulate like different electronic devices in between riffs at live shows?

Benjamin Curtis: Yeah. I've been kind of falling in love with guitar again. That's pretty much all I do. I still mess around with other things, but the band's a little different now. You know, drums and all of that, so... We used to be more electronic, but the show's got a live drummer now, so it's a little different.

Oh wow. So you're no longer a trio? Now you have a fourth?

Yeah. [Pause]. Yeah. It's just been added on. And it's cool. It's more powerful. It's exciting.

Is this just going to be for the live shows? Or are you going to add in actual drums for future stuff?

Well, it's always... I was a drummer first before I was... There are always a lot of live drums in our records, as well. They're just manipulated so they sound electronic. So the approach is going to change. But definitely playing every night with a live drummer has been really inspiring.

So what was that like for you to go from playing drums to playing guitar?

It's cool. I dunno, I've never really cared what exactly I was playing. I just like to play music and whatever's really in front of me. So I don't really think about it, you know?

There is such a drastic difference between your former band Secret Machines to School of Seven Bells?

Yeah. But, you know, I think the change is in the collaborations. I really love writing with people and I love working with people. The thing is when you're really collaborating with someone, you react differently. Secret Machines was very much the way the three of us reacted. And School of Seven Bells was me interacting with them. So the result is just as radical as the shift in membership is, you know?

And you seem to work a lot with siblings, too. First with your brother in the Secret Machines and now with the Deheza twins in School of Seven Bells. Is that just a coincidence?

Yeah. I dunno. I think it's just a coincidence, really. But I do feel comfortable in family situations. But it's kind of the way it happened, I can't really explain it. [Laughs]

And you guys have a really interesting writing process. In the past you've come up with lyrics first, right?

Yeah. It's something we did a lot more on the first record than we did on the new one. There's some actual traditional songwriting done in Disconnect from Desire. But you know we just did it first because it was just how we'd write some words and come up with a sound based on those words. That was how we first arrived at what the sound of School of Seven Bells is, you know? We just took it from an open-ended approach and just filled out the music.

So it was more of an organic process.

Yeah, totally.

And you seem to work with a lot of made up ideas, like the imaginary school you created for your band name and the concept behind Alpinism being molded around characters in an unfinished novel. You guys seem to have really vivid imaginations. How does that play into your songs?

Well, I dunno. I guess we just seem to see parallels in real life with these stories. I think sometimes it's easier to explain a feeling or an emotion or a sensation with some kind of external story like that. But you know actually on Disconnect from Desire we've gotten into some more obvious feelings and emotions and more direct sentiment. So I dunno. It's kind of headed in a new direction, so we're kind of excited to see where it goes.

Do you think that has any kind of connection with your love of cheesy pop music? I read somewhere that you love American Idol bands and mainstream radio and stuff like that.

[Laughs] I mean we love songs. We love pop songs. Say what you will about mainstream radio, but a lot of times the emotions of these songs are just complete shit and horrible. But you can't deny that a lot of times these things are just really well crafted.

Yeah, and they're really catchy.

Yeah. And they're connecting with people on a very basic level. And I think that's something to admire completely.

So then what would you say is your guiltiest pleasure in music right now?

It's funny. I dunno. I can't really say that any of my pleasures are guilty. [Laughs]. But we were having this discussion... Alley and I were having a debate with somebody last night whether Britney Spears is better or Christina Aguilera. And they were saying Christina Aguillera is better because she sings better, but we were like, "Britney Spears is better because it's about the total package." Whoever is in charge of that whole thing is insane and it's just completely surreal and psychedelic and we're really into it. [Laughs].

But that's not really a guilty pleasure. I've heard of plenty of musicians who like them.

Yeah, that's what I mean. I think we're past the age of the guilty pleasure. I think it's also mainstream and underground. It's all jumbled up. It's just music. It's just information. You can't judge how cool somebody is by the things they're choosing to experience, you know? 'Cause everyone does everything now.

How did Seven Bells get involved with David Bowie? I heard that he booked one of your first shows?

Yeah. One of the first shows. I guess he was familiar with me from Secret Machines, and we got invited to... he did this festival in New York. It was called Highline Festival. He just asked us to play it. It was the second time we'd been asked to play in front of people, but it was ... umm ... It was crazy.

So did you get like a personal phone call from David Bowie asking you to play the show? Or was it more like his people calling your people?

Oh I think he's a little beyond making a personal phone call [laughs]. But it was really cool. 


Do you have anything special planned for your show at Grand Central on Saturday?

Yeah, hopefully. A friend of ours -- Juan Tapia -- is a Miami artist. He did some video pieces for our show. So we're really excited to do our show there. He's great. Alley's known him for a long time. He does stufff with photos and color and feedback and video -- and it's really beautiful and really engaging. He did a cover for a single we did early on, so it's kind of based off of that. When we go to a place the main thing we try to do is kind of transform it into something to take it out of a normal rock club.

So do you do something similar with local artists in whatever area you go to? Or is this just specific to Miami?

No, this is a one-time only thing with Miami, 'cause Alley's got that connection with him. So it's going to be special just for Grand Central.

I've also heard that some sets you guys only do acoustic guitars. Will Saturday's show be one of those sessions? Or are you going all out?

No, no, no. It's full-on. [Laughs] It's going to be a full explosion.

School of Seven Bells, with Active Child. Saturday, October 16, at Grand Central. Doors open at 8pm. Ages 18+. Tickets are $12 in advance, via wantickets.com.

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