Interview: Tapping Into Benjamin Curtis' Wildest Desires, School Of Seven Bells.

Introspective, inquisitive and inspirational, former prog cog of Secret Machines Benjamin Curtis (um... middle), now of the ethereally expansive School Of Seven Bells is as stern as Howard Marks in an intoxicant-free barn, even through the medium of email. The trio's recently released sophomore outing, Disconnect From Desire is a tad gorgeous and in its hazy wake, Curtis tugs on heartstrings, purse strings and further confuses reality and fantasy, conscience and subconscious, etc...

Dots: Few bands conjure up such escapism as that thriving at the heart of both Alpinisms and Disconnect From Desire. How conscious an effort was made for your ethereal soundscapes to dislocate from reality as it were?

Benjamin Curtis: From my point of view, I've never thought of it as escapism. To me, reality is crazy. We have so many preconceptions about everything around us. We don't have to think about what a cloud is every time we see one, or how and why this insect is flying around. Our brain just says "cloud", or "bug". It's self protection, really. Otherwise we would be completely incapacitated with information and stimulation. But, it's actually really nice to take an afternoon off and just sit down someplace and look at everything from a different perspective. I like to think that this is what we're doing with pop music. Just taking a closer look at the sounds, and discovering all the intricacies and textures that are buried in there, and bringing that to the front of the picture. As far as sounds go, however, I do like to disconnect them from the time and place of a performance, or what instrument is making the sound. I'd rather people just experience the sound, than say "there's a guitar", or "there's a piano". It's just more fun that way, I think.

Dashes: That said, Disconnect From Desire could potentially be considered a more earthly record, more in line with contemporary artists, both past and present. How did emphasis shift, recording and writing your second long player in comparison with the process behind Alpinisms?

BC: Disconnect from Desire is definitely the most personal and emotional music we've made yet. Alpinisms is this broad view of everything we were discovering at the time, which was the first few years of us being a band. On the other hand, Disconnect From Desire came together really quickly, at a very specific moment in our lives, which was the spring of last year. All of this music was coming to us really easily, and it was really exciting. We noticed that what was being written was extremely direct, and the emotions were totally raw, so we just decided to let it happen and dive into the deep end of it all. The surprise for me was to find that the more personal our perspective gets, the better and more universal our music seems to become.

Dots: Touring is of course widely renowned for the tensions generated. Is touring with a twin the ultimate in sibling rivalry?

BC: If there is sibling rivalry between Alley and Claudia, they don't really show it. It seems like they are constantly lumped in together, like they are one person, even though they are both so different, and have such different contributions to the band. I would imagine that would be a little frustrating, but I'm sure they're used to it by now. We all love what each other does, and there's probably less ego in this band than anything I've ever been a part of in the past.

Dashes: To what extent have past endeavours with other acts inspired your current musical output and do you feel as though it's aided you to evade pitfalls that devour all too many fledgling musicians?

BC: We definitely have a realistic perspective on what we do now. Since it's not our first band, we knew we weren't going to be the latest craze for 12 year olds everywhere, and we've been smart enough not to chase or feed any kind of ridiculous hype that could be thrown our way. It's the music that's important, and it's only the music that is going to satisfy us in the end. Don't get me wrong, selling zillions of records would be nice, but I don't think any of us could live with ourselves if we made decisions in our music with that specific goal in mind.

Dots: Tracks like I L U and Windstorm, whilst intrinsically linked to many an aspect of Alpinisms, invoke greater human emotion, almost becoming tangible slabs of feeling. Emotionally, does Disconnect From Desire come from different corporeal alcoves, different chambers of the heart?

BC: Completely! Like I said before, this music that was coming out of us was really naked, emotionally speaking. There was definitely a moment where we stepped back and wondered if were were comfortable putting some of this out there for the world to hear, you know? But, in the end we knew that the music was good, and people would be able to relate to it in their own lives, which I believe is an important quality for music to have. Not all music needs it, but...

Dashes: Such musical lucidity as that created by SVIIB is a hugely rare occurrence. Do you almost feel twangs of schizophrenia when performing, writing etc. and going about the mundanity of reality we all encounter?

BC: Thanks. I appreciate the compliment. I don't feel schizophrenia, because the music is always with me. It might sound corny, but I think SVIIB is our reality in a way I can't really explain. Mundanity is just a perspective, anyway.

Dots: How damaging an affiliation can words oft batted about within the same sentence as SVIIB (hallucinogenic, shoegaze, dreamy, ethereal) be to the creative process and way in which you assess yourselves as a band?

BC: People can say whatever they like about us. It doesn't change who we are, or what we do.

Dashes: Finally, there's been much ado about your live shows since the band's conception many moons ago. Were you able to remove the logistical, economic and rational confines of venues, budgets etc. how would a SVIIB show pan out?

BC: Budgets are really the only thing that stand in the way of any ideas we have. To be honest, money is a really tough obstacle, because most people seem to download our music for free, and less and less people are going to see live shows every year. But we love music, which is why we carry on, and we're always trying to do something special for the people that do come out.

We've gone through many incarnations in how we present the music in a live setting, and I'm sure we'll go through many more. We've never cared much for a traditional "band" structure, so the possibilities for us are wide open; some of the elements that make SVIIB music what it is are the very elements that make doing a great sounding show the toughest, but it's also what makes it that much better when all the elements come together and work. It's different every night, really. I guess the first thing I'd like to control are all the variables we have to deal with from place to place, and make things a little more consistent sonically for us. That's about as specific as I can be for now.

Disconnect From Desire is out now on Full Time Hobby.

   School of Seven Bells - Windstorm by VagrantRecords

School Of Seven Bells' Myspace.