Interview With School Of Seven Bells
Few bands these days simply blow me away and seem unequalled. For me, SVIIB are one of those bands. I am somewhat biased having been a fan of Ben’s previous work (Tripping Daisy and The Secret Machines) but never the less, this band gets heaps of air time wherever I roam. Thanks to Ben for taking the time to answer some questions for our humble blog.
FMWYK – Is there any special meaning behind the band name, and how did you come up with it?
SVIIB – When I first met Alley, she had already thought of the name, and knew it was what she wanted to call her next project. It’s a pretty evocative name, and I think the meaning for us changes over time. At this point, it just feels like us, you know? It’s just what happens when we write music together. I think it has been divorced from whatever might have been the appeal at first. It just feels like our name.
FMWYK - How are ‘Ghostory’ and ‘Put Your Sad Down’ different from your previous work, if at all? Do you feel they are more mature than your previous work?
SVIIB - Well, we aren’t really interested in ever covering the same ground twice. Ghostory is definitely all woven from the same fabric. That is a record that appeared in our heads nearly fully formed. It had a style, sound, and vibe to it right away, and we just basically had to iron it out. I think being dedicated to an aesthetic that thoroughly probably pushed us in the direction of Put Your Sad Down. We truly had no preconception of what we were doing at all. They were just some songs we recorded pretty quickly on a whim some time a few months ago, but that isn’t meant to diminish what they mean to us at all. I think the spontaneity helped us access a part of us that maybe we haven’t been in touch with for a while. To me, it feels a little bit more like the way we were making music when we first got together and started writing Alpinisms. Pre-Alpinisms, really. We were just having fun, and making music that made us smile, and looking back it seems like something we had to do, and we’re in this lucky position where we could release it relatively quickly. I think in the end it was important to get it out, because it’s definitely the bridge between where we’ve been and where we’re headed.
FMWYK - Is there a specific meaning behind the album title ‘Ghostory’ and the EP title ‘Put Your Sad Down’?
SVIIB - Ghostory felt like the perfect title for a record that was basically about looking back and confronting the ghosts of your past. It obviously brings the word History to mind, as well, which is cool. Put Your Sad Down means just what it sounds like. It’s what we wanted to do then, and how we feel right this second. Alley’s got a great gift of articulating these massive concepts really simply.
FMWYK - Where the songs for ‘Put Your Sad Down’ from the same recording session(s) as ‘Ghostory’?
SVIIB - I think Faded Heart was probably the closest thing to Ghostory. It clearly didn’t fit on that record, and I’m glad we saved it. Alley and I are constantly writing and recording, but these are just a few things we’d been working on over the summer. We wrote and recorded them really quickly, and they just seemed to have a freshness about them that couldn’t wait for the next “album cycle”. Musically, I think I just wanted to something that was a little more shiny and colorful to close the year out, since we began it in such a different way with Ghostory.
FMWYK - What would you say are the biggest musical influences of the band?
SVIIB - Everything from Kraftwerk, Wire, Beyonce, New Order, Blonde Redhead, to Section 25 comes to mind, along with singers like Joni Mitchell and Robert Wyatt. We’re huge fans of pop, too, mainly because we’re huge fans of smart songwriting.
FMWYK - The song creation process has always greatly intrigued me. I play guitar and never even know where to begin. What is your song writing and recording process? (Lyrics, then music etc or vice versa?) What would you say is the average number of hours spent getting a song from concept to mastering?
SVIIB - That’s a tough question, because I’m not sure we even have a process any more. I guess more often than not we’ll start with a little piece of music, just a color of something that will make us feel a certain way, and while I start to develop it more melodically and structurally, alley will be writing lyrics and putting melodies together. That’s when it gets exciting, because when everything gets mixed together it always becomes something else entirely, and that’s the magic of our collaboration. Some songs, will come from a melody Alley sings, and sometimes I’ll make an entire track that we’ll add vocals too. There’s really no rule, but in the end the trick is not being able to tell where or how it started. As far as how long that takes, it can be a few days or a few months. It really depends. Each song is it’s own little creature.
FMWYK - Your sound is so “solid”, “clean” and “crisp” for lack of better terms. Any special/new gear you are using in the studio or live?
SVIIB - Thanks! At risk of sounding boring, I honestly think that comes down more to arrangement than any gear we use. I take a lot of time to make sure, musically speaking, that things fit together well so there isn’t a lot of work to be done to sculpt it into something that works. Certain notes on certain instruments carry certain resonances with them, and when you’re aware of how they’re interacting with each other then the production job is a lot easier. It’s strange because I love the obscurity of certain sounds in other peoples work, but with mine I just want to feel like it’s sitting on top of your eardrums.
FMWYK - Do you prefer playing live or recording music?
SVIIB - After being on tour for a year, I’m gonna say recording. Ask me in 3 months, and my answer will probably change.
FMWYK - Do you still prefer the physical medium of CD and Vinyl to digital? Do you think physical media has any chance to survive long term? How do you buy your music?
SVIIB - I absolutely love the convenience of digital. I was thinking of that the last time I was moving crates of records. Those things are heavy! But, that’s the thing. It’s hard to convince your average Joe of the value of the work and time that was spent on something that they are going to possess and make a part of their every-day lives, especially when it’s infinitely replaceable and for all intents and purposes, free. Clearly, sound is an issue at the moment, and the art always looks better on vinyl, but in the future disk space will be less of an issue and I believe the resolution will get to a point where it’ll be hard to argue that digital doesn’t sound as good as anything else. I think vinyl will always exist, however, because there will always be collectors, and there is a really warm and nostalgic vibe a lot of us associate with playing records in our homes. I couldn’t care less about c.d.’s. Jewel cases are horrible, and while I do like some of the things you can do with packaging, the cd itself always ends up being a useless piece of plastic. After you burn it, then disk itself is garbage. I buy music on Bleep.com and iTunes all the time. Drip.fm, the music service the people at Ghostly came up with is a great idea as well. They’re keeping the notion of the label-as-curator alive in the streaming music world. I like to buy vinyl at shows, and there are a few good shops in my neighborhood where I shop for vinyl on occasion.
FMWYK - What else do you do/are you into besides music?
SVIIB - Music dominates my life pretty thoroughly. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I honestly don’t have time for much else. It’s certainly cost me a few personal relationships, haha, but I feel lucky that my job is also my hobby. It’s what I love to do.
FMWYK - If you were an animal, what kind would you be and why?
SVIIB - I feel like I am an animal, on most days.
FMWYK - What are your top 5 albums of 2012 thus far?
SVIIB - Kendrick Lamar’s new one is amazing. I haven’t stopped listening to it since it came out. EXITMUSIC’s debut “Passage” is just beautiful. I also like the BEAK> record a lot, and even though it’s not a full length, Solange’s new ep is really hitting the spot right now. Man, it’s so hard to narrow it down, but I’d probably say Frank Ocean’s newest as well. New music seems to be in a really cool place at the moment.
FMWYK - What is next for SVIIB? (tour, record, collaborations, rest etc?)
SVIIB - We’re writing a record right now, and hope to have it finished in the spring. We’ve released more music this year than some people make in three, and I don’t wanna stop any time soon.
FMWYK - When all is said and done, what do you want the legacy of SVIIB to be? What do you want to leave behind?
SVIIB - I’d like to think we’re defining our own space, that we’re filling in a lot of cracks in between genres and moods that people didn’t know were there, and I wanna keep pushing that and stretching that until the space is just massive. We’re really passionate about what we do, and I think that comes through in our music, and every time somebody hears that and makes the connection with us I feel like we’ve done our jobs well. Celebrity still doesn’t motivate me in the slightest. I see some people I know chasing after a piece of that pie, which is fine for them, but for me I’d just like to sit back when I can’t do this any more and know that everything I’ve done, I’ve done with creative integrity, and that I’ve given back to music even a fraction of what it’s given to me.