The new track is very in line with SVIIB’s oeuvre; airy vocal harmonies from Alejandra Deheza with vocal micro-samples and dreamy synth textures as a backdrop. “Open your eyes, love/cuz’ you’ve been sleeping/it’s getting hard to bear/watching you all alone,” Deheza sings, lines that I couldn’t help but read into later on.
After the song played, the DJ announced that the single was from the upcoming and final School of Seven Bells album, titled SVIIB. Final, because instrumentalist Benjamin Curtis died in December 2013, right in the midst of working on the album.
“What?!” I shouted at I-40. “Curtis died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He was 35,” continued the DJ. I felt my throat tighten. Why was I just now finding out?
It’s not that SVIIB is my favorite band. It’s not that I thought Curtis was a musical prodigy. It’s because, back when I was in high school and just starting to cut my teeth as a writer with a local music blog, Benjamin Curtis was one of the first musicians I ever interviewed. And he was lovely.
He was so sweet, so forgiving of my amateurishness and such an enthusiastic music-head who was as excited to tell me what he’d been listening to as he was to hear what I’d been listening to. It was such a relief to me. The couple of interviews I had conducted before the one with Curtis were miserable; nobody took me seriously, and I was always painfully nervous. Curtis was not only kind, but respectful to me. It was the first time that I thought, “Maybe the life of a journalist isn’t just constant abuse.”
When I got home from the drive, I went to see if I still had a copy of my interview with him from back in 2010. I do, and I even have the audio recording of the interview. It felt odd, listening to it; my nervous, young voice and his amiable answers. I asked him, at one point, what the songwriting process was like for the band. He answered, “Sometimes, when the music starts arriving, there’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to make sure you catch it all. We’re always writing, we’re always recording. It’s hard for me to say, because it’s so mysterious to me why it happens and how it happens.”
I wish that I had kept up with the band enough to know about his illness and death. I wish I could have written this then. I wish I could have added to the chorus of voices in the media cheering him on during his treatments.
Shortly after the diagnosis in February of 2013, SVIIB’s Alejandra Deheza released a statement about Curtis’ condition. She said, “These next few months will be tough, but he is the toughest person I know (even while [at the hospital], he was trying to figure out a way to sample the sounds made by an MRI machine).” Curtis was writing and playing music for the rest of the year, throughout his chemotherapy treatments. All of the tracks on the upcoming album, apparently, are ones that he worked on. Deheza penned a statement about the record, saying,
Benjamin and I wrote this record during a tour break in the summer of 2012. I can easily say that it was one of the most creative and inspired summers of our lives. What followed was the most tragic, soul shaking tidal wave that life could deliver, but even that wouldn’t stop the vision for this record from being realized. This is a love letter from start to finish. It’s the story of us starting from that first day we met in 2004, and that’s the story of School of Seven Bells. So much love to all of you. Thank you for being a constant light in our lives. This record is for you <3.
SVIIB comes out in February, 2016.