More about: School Of Seven Bells
Sometimes, when Alejandra Deheza reads back her own interviews, she struggles to recognise herself in the words. Not because they’ve been crudely edited (though perhaps sometimes they have), but because how she was feeling in that moment so dramatically affects the sense of self she presents.
“It's like… a mirror,” she explains slowly. “Like, 'Wow, I said that?' Because I can tell, by the way that I talk about it, that I was clearly really sad that day. Or I'll read an interview where I was more on the up that day - and it's always really far out for me to read those next to each other.”
Given the inevitable narrative of these interviews, it’s surprising Deheza reads them at all. Because the story of School Of Seven Bells’ latest, and final, album is a deeply sad one. At the beginning of 2013, as the duo celebrated a newfound prolificacy in their songwriting, and one of the happiest few months of their lives, Benjamin Curtis was diagnosed with lymphoblastic lymphoma. Less than a year later, he died.
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Curtis’ death shook the music world deeply, but few felt his loss more keenly than Deheza - his bandmate, friend and former partner. It caused an intangible, unquantifiable pain, and one which I had been hesitant to dredge up during our conversation. But Deheza doesn’t see it like that. “I can totally appreciate the fact that you would think that,” she explains, gently. “I understand. It is a touchy thing. Nobody wants to bring things up that are sad, but… the album is about him, you know? The decision that I made to finish the record also came with the decision to talk about the record, because I knew those would go hand in hand. Which is why I took - I had to take - a couple of years first.”
After she’d taken those few years, Deheza committed herself to finishing what she and Curtis had started. The resulting album, SVIIB, is a shimmering, expansive record which swims through feelings of loss and regret and emerges with a sense of cautious, yet at times euphoric, optimism. And Curtis’ DNA is inextricably woven into every note, beat and riff. “It was really crazy,” recalls Deheza. “It was like he was still there. He was so present, that energy. There's little bits in the record where he's singing background vocals. It was really eerie.”
On the day of our interview, The Guardian has just premiered the latest single, ‘Ablaze’. That song, more than any other, means a great deal to Deheza. “It wasn't just about him, it was for him. How much he changed my life as a person, as a musician, everything. It was just everything that I wanted to tell him about that. He was always the central force behind [the songs], the central character, the reason why I was writing it.”
One of my favourite lyrics on the album is on a different track though – one called ‘On My Heart’. As she builds towards the chorus, Deheza sings, “There was a you before me, there was a me before you, and that’s the way it goes.” It evokes a picture of two lives so intertwined, so wrapped and woven around one another, that they’ve forgotten to exist as individuals. “It's so funny because when I was writing that lyric, I remember asking Benjamin, 'Is that -' I just felt like it was almost harsh. You know when you're, like, so into somebody, so in love with them, and your lives just become this one life? It's like this thing that you feel the need to protect so much. And even if you feel like you're the one who needs to say that to someone, it still stings a little bit. For me anyways.”
Deheza found the strength to finish this album not because she had finished grieving the loss of her friend, but because she realised that sense of loss would never leave her – that she wouldn’t just wake up one morning and be OK again. “It was really hard to admit that to myself,” she says. “I was like, ‘If I admit that then it's real. It's so real.’ But it's... I'm... It's kind of a relief that way, because you'll never forget that person. You'll never forget how important they were to you.”
SVIIB is due for release on 26 February on Full Time Hobby (Europe) and Vagrant Records (US).
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More about: School Of Seven Bells