Disconnect from Desire
by Marcie Garcia
It took just a couple of years, but School of Seven Bells think they've got it down pat. After releasing full-length Alpinisms in 2008, the trio of enchanting identical twins Alejandra and Claudia DeHeza, and rhythm-obsessed Secret Machines alumni, Benjamin Curtis, are much more comfortable and happy with their just-released second LP, Disconnect from Desire (Vagrant/Ghostly). See for yourself as S7Bs take the stage at Lincoln Hall tonight.
Marcie Garcia for UR Chicago: How does Disconnect from Desire differ from your first release, Alpinisms?
Alejandra Deheza: Well, electronic music has always played a role with us all, so that will always be intentional. I remember having this idea for not necessarily a sound to imitate, but kind of like a feeling. I remember having a really strong feeling of walking into a club when I was sixteen and remember hearing that song “Kiss Them For Me” by Siouxsie and the Banshees, and that moment completely transformed my world. I remember thinking wow – I didn’t know music could sound this good — really loud, really beat oriented, filled with guitars, really pop, and it's always been something that I wanted to do. Not recreate it, but interpret that feeling in my own way and to put it on a record. That was Disconnect for me.
UR: This is the second LP as a group – did the process come more naturally than the first time around?
AD: For the first record we were just getting to know each other musically. We had never toured together before then for Alpinisms, we toured incessantly. I guess experiencing the music live and knowing what was good about it was helpful. With this record, a lot of it was written live. Yeah, a lot was also written in the studio, but I felt that we had this direct idea of what we wanted. It wasn’t an exploration of what the first record was. We knew exactly what we wanted and we knew how to get it.
UR: Disconnect is often more propulsive than Alpinisms in its rhythms. How did that come about?
AD: It's honestly just what we like. We listen to a lot of electronic music anyway and it’s just what we were feeling at the time.
UR: I've seen you perform some of the new songs with acoustic guitars; how do you approach these very electronic-sounding songs when you have a different set of instruments at hand?
AD: I guess what makes that easy is that the songs are so melodic. It's so based on a melody to begin with that it doesn’t really matter if there’s any percussion or anything. A song's element is really really important to us — it’s important to me to know that someone can go to a show and sing a song afterwards and not have it be too complicated and too much to think about. That makes me happy when I can do that, you know?
UR: You often share vocal duties, singing in harmony or singing complementary parts. What is the writing process like on these vocal parts?
AD: It can either start with a beat or be more collaborative. It can start with just me kind of just reading what I’ve been writing, because it starts a lot with words. Also, it can be very collaborative. Benjamin can be working on something and I'll just happen to be in the room and we will start writing it together in that moment. It’s pretty different every time. As far as harmonies go, sometimes when I've already put down the main vocal, Claudia will put harmonies on what I’ve written, so it’s basically feeling it. Each song is different.
UR: How do you incorporate the electronic drums and rhythmic synthesizers when you write? Are they a foundation of the music, or are they added after the song has taken shape?
AD: It’s all a part of writing it and all a part of a certain sound that we want to achieve. Electronic drums, I feel, are very much the beginning of the process, a lot of the time.
UR: Tell me about “Dust Devil." It's a favorite and I hear it was a late addition to the record—how did it come about?
AD: It started with entirely different music. I started with a guitar and messing around with two notes and I was thinking about a John Lee Hooker song – this reeeally powerful song. It’s amazing and the way that he performs it it’s so stripped down, it’s from his gut. It’s just painful to listen to and at the same time it's terrifying because I would hate to be that person he’s singing about, oh my God! There’s so much behind those words that energy is definitely real and can definitely affect you. I was thinking about that a lot and obviously there was a situation happening personally, and it always comes from that – it’s never made up for me – and with all those elements together, the song kind of happened. I put down the melody and when we were in Spain, Benjamin had been working on this music which bizarrely enough, fit perfectly with the melody I had written, and that’s how it came together.
UR: Tell me where the title of the record came from. I hear there's an interesting story behind it.
AD: The title of the record came from Oblique Strategy and that’s the deck of cards that Brian Eno created. It's like 40-something cards and each card has some kind of statement on it that’s supposed to be a perspective or some way to approach a creative problem. He uses them in the studio. I have been using the cards for a few years and when we were in the middle of writing this record, I pulled that card that said “disconnect from desire” and had never seen it before. It just resonated and totally hit me in such a way. I brought it to Benjamin and Claudia and we agreed it had to be the title of the record. I automatically thought, that’s what it is – I just know it.
UR: And finally, how has touring been? Do you do a lot of writing on the road?
AD: YES! If I’m not writing, I feel like I can go crazy! It’s how I process things and how I figure them out. I feel like I’m always writing and Benjamin’s always writing, but it’s weird. It’s not work. It’s the way to express yourself. It is work, but it’s necessary work.
UR: Perhaps something for the new record?
AD: It’s weird because I am always writing but it’s usually when I'm trying to express something or figure something out. I don’t use anything usually, but I feel everything I write is just me approaching that one clear idea that I want to say. For me, writing is very necessary and you don’t want to be around me if I'm not doing it (laughs)!