Interview: School of Seven Bells
Tue, 25 Aug 2009 10:09:31
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School of Seven Bells get really psychedelic on Alpinisms.
In fact, the record could very well be a sonic gateway back to the 1960s. The New York trio unlocks all kinds of strange doors into narrow aural hallways and deep passages of sound. The music on Alpinisms twists, turns and transforms. It's living, breathing, haunting and beautiful.
Guitarist Benjamin Curtis talked to ARTISTdirect.com in this exclusive interview about Alpinsims and much more.
How do songs typically come together for you?
The songs usually start out as abstract ideas. Sometimes the skeleton of a song doesn't even make it to the end. Sounds or moods will set our minds in a direction. On Alpinisms, we listened to what the songs needed and built them around that. It was weird because the album unintentionally ended up sounding really coherent. I don't think we had any coherent message in mind with how we wanted to write our parts though.
So you didn't have one singular vision in mind?
I wouldn't say it was a singular vision. It was more about how we were going to do things and less about where they were going to end up. We were aiming at a point on the horizon but we weren't really sure what that was. I guess that was part of the surprise [Laughs].
Do songs start with you?
Typically the music does. The song ideas come from everywhere. It's a real collaboration when it comes to writing. We write and record at the same time a lot. I'm usually focused on working on music, figuring it out and making it happen.
The music is very visual. Are you typically influenced by visual art forms?
We definitely are. It's really strange though. When we describe things to each other, sometimes it's a lot easier to say, "This song needs an out-of-tune acoustic guitar," but, in a way, it's more direct to say, "This song needs to sound more like when you're drunk at Coney Island at noon" [Laughs]. That's a visual image and a feeling. Sometimes ideas like that are better for chasing a sound than an actual musical idea is.
Did you guys initially meet on tour?
I was in a band called Secret Machines, and Ally and Claudia [Deheza] were in a band called On!Air!Library! We were both opening for Interpol. There was a mutual musical admiration. We didn't start this thing right away. A couple years after, it was the right time. We started pursuing the idea and trading music. It was really, really exciting. It was a great way to spend our time, so we kept on it.
What does "Alpinisms" mean?
We had these songs, and we asked, "What is the thread here?" It was an idea that was popping up in our lives a lot. We'd been getting interested in Herman Buhl and this really fun Alpine-style climbing, not for the sake of mountain climbing, but more for the intense idealism these climbers had. They were such purists about the way they worked. It seemed really philosophical. When you read their writing, it's not really about sports but about these guys and this really intense way they live their lives. On the other side, there was this book called Not Analog that we'd really gotten obsessed with. The word "Alpinisms" was in there. In the book, it's the art of climbing mountains. It's not really about the mountains at all; it's about your day, week or your life—whatever you choose for your mountain at the end. The songs are about our lives. We're realists in a way. They're about things that happen to us night and day. There was this weird synchronicity that kept popping up. Allie actually thought of Alpinisms as a title, and it was perfect.
Where does the mystical element come from?
I think anytime you describe a feeling or your emotions, you give them a form or an image. We give them concrete descriptions that may be allegorical or abstract. People see these things in their every day lives, but when you describe them it seems mystical. It's not like we're Wiccans or something like that [Laughs]. It's really a bizarre place we live.