ALEJANDRA DEHEZA IN LOS ANGELES, JANUARY 2016. PHOTOS: GUY LOWNDES. STYLING: DANI + EMMA. HAIR: DALLIN JAMES AT THE WALL GROUP. MAKEUP: KRISTINA BROWN USING CHANEL ROUGE COCO STYLO AT JED ROOT. SPECIAL THANKS: APEX PHOTO STUDIOS.
SVIIB, the final School of Seven Bells record, was not an easy one to make, but one that had to be done. Since 2007, Benjamin Curtis and Alejandra Deheza’s intertwined lives have become a musical, romantic, and finally platonic love story. Within SVIIB (out this Friday, February 26), the duo’s relationship is shared through dreamy, synth-pop and lush vocals. “Every single influence we had over the whole span of School of Seven Bells is somewhere in that record,” Deheza says.
More than reflecting musical influences and marking an end of a band, the story of writing and producing the album is an emotionally overwhelming one to tell. In 2012, Curtis was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma, and later leukemia. He spent his final days working on one last School of Seven Bells record, continuing to produce up until his passing in 2013 at the age of 35. To bring SVIIB full-circle, Deheza then finished the record alongside producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen. Through and through, the result is a pure work of art and unconditional love, standing proudly alongside its three chapters before.
Prior to the album’s release, Deheza spoke with us about loss, piecing together SVIIB, and the final days of the band.
ILANA KAPLAN: The final School of Seven Bells album is gorgeous, and the story powerful. Can you tell me about the hardest part of releasing SVIIB?
ALEJANDRA DEHEZA: There was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to release it. The hardest part was knowing that I would have to talk about the album when I released it. I think the hardest part was waiting to see how long it would take for me to be able to get through the questions people would ask me. It took a long time.
KAPLAN: Were there interviews where you broke down and couldn’t keep talking about the album and band?
DEHEZA: There have definitely been interviews that have been really hard. I’ve always been able to finish them, but there have been some tears, definitely.
KAPLAN: How did you and Benjamin end up putting the record together at the end?
DEHEZA: I only wanted to put out songs that were written all the way through. There were a few things [Justin and I] had to write afterwards, but I didn’t want any songs on there that weren’t just truly the both of us finishing it. I didn’t want to imagine what part Ben would have laid down. I wanted to have everything laid down so it was truly a School of Seven Bells song, each and every one. When the time came, [Justin and I] sorted through all of the material we had and the material that was closest to being finished or was finished, and worked from there. Benjamin’s brother helped organize all the files for us because they had been on Benjamin’s laptop, which he had with him while he was in the hospital the whole time. So there was definitely some organizing to do—and digging. His brother really helped us find everything that we needed. Then I went into the studio with Justin, and we worked very closely with the demos to make the production as true as possible to his visions. We did everything we could to keep it in tact. Benjamin’s vision for the production was something he worked on for a long time. I’m really proud of him and it’s something I wanted people to hear. He worked so long every day on this record.
KAPLAN: So he didn’t get to hear this record in full before he passed?
DEHEZA: No, he didn’t. Just the demos.
KAPLAN: Do you think Benjamin would love this album?
DEHEZA: Oh god, yeah. Definitely. I think he would have been so proud.
KAPLAN: Is there a message behind SVIIB?
DEHEZA: The only thing I was thinking about when writing this record was that I had this urgency to document the life we had together up to that point—it was so important to me. If it wasn’t School of Seven Bells in its entirety, it was who we were as two people. We met, completely fell in love, and started writing music. It was one of those things that went without saying. We just knew we had to make music together. There was never a conversation, like “When are we going to start this?” It was just from the moment [we met]. A lot of people didn’t know that aspect [of our relationship] and didn’t know how important that was. I just really wanted people to know how much [Benjamin] meant to me.
KAPLAN: It’s really beautiful. If you had to pick one song that sums up your relationship with Benjamin and School of Seven Bells, which would it be?
DEHEZA: “Ablaze.” I don’t know where it came from, but it spilled out when I started writing. I just felt like I had to say everything in one song. I had to say “thank you” in some way to him. It was a complete love song—every kind of love that we’d had for each other. I just really needed to say all of it. He never asked me, but he knew for sure that it was about him. There was one point in the hospital where I did get to tell him, but at that point, I know that he knew. There was no way for me to say it while we were recording because there was no way I would have been able to say all that in front of him. We had finally gotten to a place where it was perfect. We were together for five years, and then we were best friends for the next five years. Every relationship has its drama and baggage, and we finally got to this spot where there was none. I wanted to protect that as much as possible. I also wanted to protect the songs. I wanted to make sure I could write freely and not be self-conscious about it.
KAPLAN: So your relationship at the end was purely platonic even though you had those feelings?
DEHEZA: Yeah. It was platonic because that’s the way it evolved. But I’m always going to love him. He was the most important person in my life. He changed my life when I met him.
KAPLAN: I’m sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine it’s easy to have these conversations with journalists over and over again.
DEHEZA: No, but it’s important to me.
KAPLAN: After School of Seven Bells, where does that leave you? Will you be making music on your own?
DEHEZA: Oh yeah. I’ve been writing a lot. It’s who I am. I was making music before I met Benjamin, and so was he. I think that’s why we clicked. It’s who we are.
KAPLAN: Did you get to say goodbye to Benjamin?
DEHEZA: Yeah, I was there next to him.
KAPLAN: What do you want School of Seven Bells fans to get out of SVIIB?
DEHEZA: I just really want people to feel the love that was there. That’s the most important thing to me. I want them to listen to the lyrics and music in their own way. Everyone is going to have a different reaction and interpretation and see them through the filter of their own lives, but I just want them to feel the love that was there for 10 years.
SVIIB WILL BE RELEASED FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 26 VIA VAGRANT RECORDS. PRE-ORDER THE ALBUM HERE.