GEN F: School of Seven Bells

Photographer John Francis Peters
October 24, 2010

In the past six months, School of Seven Bells have snagged touring spots with Prefuse 73 and Blonde Redhead, be featured on an Adult Swim compilation and seen themselves covered by the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie. More impressive than this amount of interest is that they’ve generated it without really trying. “We toured for nearly a year without having a booking agent, we made a record with no deal, no producer and no studio, and we eventually secured a record deal without ever really sending out music to anyone,” says guitarist Benjamin Curtis. “Our goal for the fall is to actually try and then see what happens.”

Such a response—particularly from a band promoting its debut album—would sound both naïve and annoying if it were coming from most other “new” bands, but the three members of School of Seven Bells aren’t rookies. Curtis is formerly of megasaurus rockers Secret Machines and twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra Deheza were in texture-weaving, post-rock outfit On!Air!Library!. Having experienced the bullshittery of both indie and major label careerism firsthand, the choice to abandon their respective bands for SVIIB was a surprisingly easy one. “It was instantly, undeniably awesome” says Curtis. “It was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done.”

The band’s debut, Alpinisms (a term for “mystical mountain climbing” borrowed from French author Rene Daumal), is an arcane sidestep from any of the musician’s previously recorded work. Built largely around mesmerizing vocal harmonies, mind-spiraling guitar loops and a soul of computerized beats, the record bears a blissful resemblance to the olden output from the 4AD label or, at times, a gentler My Bloody Valentine. While such restrained, almost incantatory music could easily evaporate into a cloud of lovingly-harmonized nothingness, School of Seven Bells ground each track in solid melody. No matter how hazy it may sound, there are pop songs lurking in all that sonic mist.

Their songs flirt with concepts of transcendence and creative awakening, ideas that are dear to all three musicians. “A lot of our inspiration comes from the crazy fact that we all live together,” says Alejandra Deheza. “We have instruments scattered all over the house. I might be playing around on the keyboard in my bedroom and suddenly someone will come running out of the kitchen with a guitar saying, ‘I’ve got something that will go perfectly with that!’ It’s impossible for us to be together and not naturally generate something we think is beautiful.”

GEN F: School of Seven Bells