Progress Report

Progress Report: School Of Seven Bells

NAME: School of Seven Bells
PROGRESS REPORT: Mixing their second album Disconnect From Desire, out sometime this spring

The first thing you notice when listening to School Of Seven Bells’ debut album Alpinisms — after its startling, free-floating dreaminess — is how insular the songs are. Lead singer Alejandra Deheza’s lyrics grabbed you intellectually before they hit your emotions, and that was the point: her metaphors are impressions of her experience, not yours. And that tightness seems to embrace the band, as if you were listening to music that was, ultimately, impenetrable to outsiders. But despite the title to their next album, it sounds like what the band wants the most is to connect. According to guitarist Ben Curtis, much of that comes from the extensive touring the band (Curtis, Alejandra, and her twin sister Claudia) has done since releasing Alpinisms. “It’s a funny situation because you make a record and then you go out on tour, and you play the songs differently. You’ve gotten to know them more intimately. So you get in touch with that energy and you see people’s faces and there’s this interaction,” he says. For this reason SVIIB wrote Disconnect From Desire almost entirely while on tour, something that lots of Progress Report bands can’t do. But it’s perfect for what SVIIB wanted to do. Playing tracks from Alpinisms in front of people brought certain aspects to the fore. “We realized something else about our music, which is that there’s this heavy quality to it, this powerful quality that we weren’t really aware of because we were just writing at home. Going out and playing every night and discovering that, we got really inspired,” he explains. Much of the songwriting and recording hoped to recreate the “wild cacophony” and energy they enjoyed playing live.

One unexpected tool for that? YouTube. It particularly helped for one of their new songs, “The Heart is Strange.” “You go, God, that was really good tonight. How did we do that? What did we do differently? Why did it work?” So Curtis would find the YouTube video of the night’s show and see exactly how he played the song (he does not read the comments). Still other songs that were written on the road are less the result of live-testing and more from the connection between Ben and his bandmates. He remembers how one song developed in the back of their bus while driving over the Alps. Ali had a melody she had been repeating, and Ben decided to find a chord change and sound that could remind them of the beautiful drive through the mountains. They were able to write a new song, called “Windstorm,” on the spot. “The song was born right there in that second and it was perfect and it was synchronous,” he says. “A lot of things happen that way.”

They recently performed five of their new songs in London, but one that Curtis is excited about that they haven’t played yet is called “Jovian,” a song he describes as having “massive, floating guitars,” and as sounding hymnal and open. “I feel like it’s when Superman turns and he puts both his arms forward, but then puts one arm down at his side and makes a hard right turn into space! Or something like that,” he says. Even with the bigger sound the whole record was still recorded by the trio, who work out of a space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. They’ve also been “trying to do as much with guitars as possible,” while programming them to sound disembodied and unrecognizable.

Likewise, the band’s lyrics are turning toward something less inside the bands’ heads. “There’s something obtuse about [Alpinisms] that was great, but we thought this time around it was going to be a challenge to make music that’s a direct injection to your brain, to what you’re feeling at that moment,” he says. Take, for example, Alpinisms’ “Half Asleep.” The chorus was, in part: “What begins as an unguarded train of thoughts slowly can become / an addiction to the slumber of disconnection and the resonance of memory…” Her phrasing makes you think she’s singing about something personal, despite the lack of personal pronouns. This time around they’ve got a song with the simple chorus “I used to love,” for example. “There’s a lot more to it than that,” he says. “[But] that’s been really fun, to deal with music that’s that directly emotional.”

A few sights from the studio. (That’s Claudia’s son, btw).

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If there’s a band you want Progress Report to drag out of the studio, or bed, for an update, e-mail [email protected].