When bandmates Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis began writing for their next full length album in the summer of 2012, the two were in a really good place. Despite no longer being romantically involved, their relationship as musicians and best friends had evolved to a point of true balance and perfection. When cancer suddenly claimed the life of Benjamin less than one year after receiving the diagnosis, Alejandra was left with the early stages of what would now be their final album as School of Seven Bells. Set for a February 26 release, SVIIB is a hauntingly beautiful eulogy in commemoration of a love whose strength transcends beyond worlds. Northern Transmissions caught up with Alejandra prior to the album’s release to hear her thoughts going into this final chapter.
Northern Transmissions: Your final album comes out one week from today, and it’s a pretty pivotal one to say the least. You describe it as “a love letter from start to finish.” Can you elaborate on what that means to you?
Alejandra Deheza: Well the whole record was written to Benjamin. Pretty much, it was just those were the lyrics that were coming out, all of these things – I felt like I had to tell our story. I felt like I had to somehow document it, everything that had happened from the moment we met until that point in time, which was the summer of 2012, and it was just this need that I had to do. I didn’t know why. It was just all that I could write about at that time and it was all things throughout our whole relationship – things that had happened, things I was feeling that I felt like I couldn’t say at certain points, and it was just kind of like this clearing out of all that old stuff because where we were at that point was such a perfect moment. There was so much love there that was just 100% pure. There was no lingering rollercoaster of feelings. We had just hit this kind of perfect stride, you know? So I guess it was kind of like my way of completing that process so we could continue on that perfect wavelength. I mean that’s the only way that I can describe it at that time because of course I had no idea what was going to happen so I didn’t even realize that was probably in the bigger picture or a big part of it. But at that moment, that’s just what I thought I was doing.
NT: It’s incredibly weird timing that it’s like you felt compelled to do this, even before you knew what was going to happen.
AD: Oh my god, yeah. It kind of gives me chills when I think about it.
NT: It’s perfect though. I’m so glad that it came to you at that time. Seriously couldn’t ask for better timing.
AD: Oh my god, me too. I don’t know how I would have felt if I hadn’t, you know?
NT: Absolutely. Did you find comfort then, in being able to work with music that Benjamin had previously recorded?
AD: That was hard. I feel like it’s that own feeling of catharsis, that idea that we can have that is also another way – that in itself, is comforting. It doesn’t always work out that way, you know? It’s like you really want it to be that. You really want it to be like, there’s a way to complete this sentence, like you’re grieving now but it’s going to be better or something like that. It was really just like a mixture of things and in some ways, it opened up a lot of stuff. I feel like our body’s first reaction to things that we don’t want to experience is to just don’t think about it or just immediately start thinking about how it’s going to be better instead of being like “No, I’m in the shit and it’s going to suck for a while.” I think working on the record again, it really just in it’s own way was kind of like this survival thing where all these things opened up again because there was a lot of stuff that I wasn’t dealing with or just refused to feel, you know? That being said, I couldn’t help – I wasn’t strong enough to keep all of it out. Naturally, I don’t think we’re supposed to. I don’t think that’s healthy. So yeah, it’s been rough but it definitely wasn’t as rough as it should have been, you know what I mean? I know that sounds like a weird thing to say.
NT: I really like what you said about how we’re trained almost to want to get to the better part. It’s going to get better, things will be okay eventually, instead of kind of letting ourselves experience the grief and the sadness and realize that it’s not going to be okay for a bit and we just have to figure out how we’re going to deal with that.
AD: Yeah and it’s funny, I would hear myself talking about it to people and I would hear myself immediately whenever I’d say something like “Wow, I’m really going through some shit right now,” immediately putting a Band-Aid on it by saying “Sometimes I just can’t get up in the morning but you know, it’s going to be better and I’m actually getting through it” when in my head, I was like “No I’m not.” It’s weird, this thing where you have to apologize for it in some way and I don’t know where that comes from. But yeah, it was a mixture of things and in a way I feel like it is very healing for me to hear these songs and for me to work on them, even though it was really painful at times, because it actually forced me to look at these things, to look at these memories and confront them, you know?
NT: Absolutely. So much of the album is incredibly upbeat though, and leaves the listener with an overall feeling of melancholic hope. Did you intend for it to have that feel while you were writing?
AD: When we were writing it, that’s what we were feeling. It was just such an amazing time. It was so happy and we wrote most of it when everything was fine and I was just determined to keep it as pure as possible, just as purely in that vision as possible. Justin (co-producer) was really instrumental in that because we were talking to him before everything happened, so we had all the demos and we knew that vibe of the record already. I wanted to keep his vision for the production of Benjamin’s just as – I just wanted to keep it in tact, because that’s the record we wanted to make and I wasn’t going to let anything interfere with that. That’s why it took so long to get back to it because I just couldn’t – I couldn’t see the record for a really long time. I couldn’t see what we were doing because the memory of everything was just way too strong for the longest time. I don’t think at that point I was strong enough to make it happen, you know?
NT: Absolutely, but I don’t think you really pushed it too much which is good. You kind of just let the lyrics come to you as a way of almost talking to Benjamin sometimes in some of the lyrics. So it’s nice that all came so naturally and wasn’t forced by any means.
AD: Oh yeah. I mean, with the exception of “Music Takes Me”, the lyrics for the verses were written after he died. That was only really a few months after and just working on those verses to complete that particular song – that’s how I knew that I wasn’t ready to work on it yet. That completely wiped me out. So most of the lyrics were actually already written, with the exception of that song and “Confusion” which was written during his treatment, before everything happened.
NT: You can definitely tell that a lot of it was written prior to. “Ablaze,” I feel, is definitely in the prime of that pure time for you guys. You can feel that when you listen to that song.
AD: Oh God, that song. It’s weird, the way that I remember the feeling exactly when I was writing it. It was almost like I felt desperate to get all of these words out. I don’t know what it was about that one song, but I just felt like this is it. This is my chance to say everything somehow, to say thank you, and I didn’t know how to ever articulate it. It was just me trying to get every emotion out of how much he changed my life in every way. It was my way of doing it in one song, just getting everything out, all the emo out. It was like this huge fist just punching me like do it, just say everything, don’t hold back.
NT: I love that and it totally comes across that way, you should know that. It really does. I feel completely overcome with emotion when I listen to it because I just feel this love that you two shared. You got your point across very well.
AD: I’m so glad that’s out there because I know some way, some how, that energy that was him, that soul, is some how receiving it without knowing probably what it is, but still. He’s getting it.
NT: It’s still there 100% and it’s being felt and will continue to be felt now, which is incredible. What song on this album evokes the happiest memories for you? Would you say that “Ablaze” would be that song?
AD: I would say – yeah, I would say “Ablaze.” That song brings me so much relief and I’m like yeah, I said it and I said it while he was alive so he knows. Whether he knew – we never addressed that it was about him. We never talked about it but again, that was just a survival thing. We just wanted to get through this record and I wanted to get through it without being self conscious, or without worrying about messing up our really even, cool chemistry we had at that moment. So yeah, that song brings me the most happiness and relief.
NT: Do you have any plans to tour this album?
AD: That’s a tough one because it’s just not School of Seven Bells when Ben’s not around, you know? It’s just not – it’s not us. That’s a tough one.
NT: For sure. I feel like it would be understandable to just let the album be, you know what I mean? I feel like it’s more than enough on it’s own. You’ve also been writing again and have spoken about working with your twin sister, Claudia, something we haven’t really seen a lot of since Disconnect from Desire. Do you want to take somewhat of a break before you delve into that?
AD: You know, I pretty much write every day and it’s one of those things where music was never anything that I had to think about. It always just happened organically so I’m just going to keep going with that approach. I know that when the time comes, it’ll just all happen. All of these events will take place and it’ll just settle into this one “Alright, I’m in the same room with my sister today. We’re going to make this record.” I’m still writing everyday and I still write songs all of the time. So yeah, I’m not even worried about that. It will happen, but as far as making plans – making plans in my life has never worked. It’s always been it’s going to happen the way it’s supposed to happen; it’s just going to flow that way. I know that sounds so vague and weird and just kind of like “Yeah okay, that’s an excuse not to make plans ever” but honestly, it’s never worked out that way for me. It’s always just naturally happened.
NT: I totally get that approach and I feel like that’s the kind of approach that is best to take sometimes, especially when you’ve experienced such loss and whatnot. You kind of have to realize that you don’t always have control and just learn to go with it and trust that you’re going to be going down the path that you’re supposed to.
AD: Exactly. I really, really believe that.
NT: Is that a piece of insight that you would also offer to someone struggling with loss and grief?
AD: It’s the only advice that I can offer from my experience. I’m sure everyone has a different experience with it but it’s just what’s worked for me. I know that fighting it has not worked for me, at all. I know that, I know it doesn’t work so I guess if I was to ever give advice, that would be it. Everyone’s different though.
Interview by Ava Muir