The band School of Seven Bells wrote its final album together in 2012, but it’s only now being released. They didn’t know it at the time, but one of the band’s two members, Benjamin Curtis, was about to be diagnosed with cancer. He died the following year at the age of 35.
His bandmate Alejandra Deheza was left to finish the recordings on her own. SVIIB comes out Feb. 26, and Deheza joined NPR’s Scott Simon from Los Angeles to talk about working in the shadow of loss, and how she came back to songwriting after a year away from music.
Scott Simon: How are you doing? Did making this album help things? Or aggravate them?
Alejandra Deheza: It’s a mixture of things. I think it hits every color on the spectrum for me. When we were recording the record, there was just so much joy, so I’m glad that I get to revisit that. But along with that goes with everything that followed.
This album traces your entire relationship, doesn’t it? It was a friendship that became a romance, and then not. But I gather it continued as a kind of musical romance.
Yeah, that’s actually the perfect way to put it. It was kind of impossible to just stay a friendship in the beginning, so it kind of went full-blast into romance, for five years, but also making music that entire time. And then, musical romance from then on. That part never stopped.
When you wrote most of these songs, did you know about Ben’s health?
We had no idea — there was no sign, no indicator, nothing. The one song that we did write during his treatment was “Confusion.” And that was one of the few times that he was able to leave the hospital, for maybe like a few days.
We wrote that without, really, any plans to write anything — we just went into the studio as usual, because he was pretty much unstoppable that way. It’s crazy, because I wish I knew that it was the last time that we would be writing a song together.
Did you stay away from music for a while?
Yeah, it was while before I could even listen to School of Seven Bells stuff, or music in general. Writing just escaped me for about a year.
And then what happened, do you think?
I moved to LA. I just knew that in New York, it was impossible to hear those songs outside of that context and outside of all that noise. Everywhere that I went reminded me of something, so I needed to be somewhere where I could hear the music for what it was — just pure sound, pure melody. That was the only way I was able to work on it.
What do you want to do now?
Music. More music. When you write with someone for 10 years, you become one body of music — and it’s been a trip trying to figure out what I sound like. [But] I’ve been writing songs ever since I moved here. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.