I'm lucky if I can remember anything from a dream five seconds after I wake up, let alone knowing that I am actually dreaming when it's happening. For School of Seven Bells singer Alejandra Deheza, dreams are more than nonsense occurring in her sleep: She sees them as a poetic source of inspiration.
"I've always been a really big lucid dreamer since I was a kid," Deheza says from her home in New York during a break from touring. "It's always inspired me and been a part of everything in my life. Dreams are how you see the world in an abstract way and one that makes sense only to you. I've always paid attention to the images and colors — they make great starting places for lyrics and poems. It's always really easy to remember them and I'm very aware of the fact that I'm dreaming."
She ends up writing down notes and ideas from the dreams and they later infuse and inspire lyrics. "The idea always progresses," Deheza says. "When it comes time to write a song, it ends up coming through."
Deheza wrote her first poem when she was in the third grade, and writing became a bit of an obsession. When she moved to New York later in life, she assumed it would be to start a career as a writer, until she found music was a great way to combine two things — poetry and singing.
She still writes often, though she admits not everything she puts down on paper would work with music in mind.
"Oh yeah," she says with a laugh, "a lot of them don't work as songs. They take some shaping. You need music. I can't just write lyrics on a page without having some musical idea behind them. It's hard for me to separate it now."
When she first started writing with bandmate Benjamin Curtis, she'd sometimes work on songs with the lyrics first and then try to find the melody and music to go along with it. She says the process between them has grown into something more collaborative and back-and-forth these days.
Deheza and Curtis met on a tour in 2004 when Deheza's band, On! Air! Library, was on the road with The Secret Machines and Interpol. She says they had a mutual admiration and appreciation for what each other did musically, though no decision to work together was made for a couple of years after that.
"It was in the back of our minds that we would work together at some point," Deheza says. "I knew that when I was ready to do something else, I wanted to work with him. It was the same for him — he knew that once he had finished what he was doing with Secret Machines, he wanted to work with me."
Deheza said she left her band shortly after that tour and went off on her own to try and develop her songwriting style and get more experience, while taking a break from touring and having a band. On! Air! Library was her first band — one that was created in the "let's start a band" fashion instead of trying to find out like-minded musicians to create work toward a similar goal.
"I was definitely branching out more," she says. "I was really trying to push myself lyrically and melodically. It was a definite change and I knew I couldn't do that in the band that I was in. I didn't want it to be a random experiment anymore."
School of Seven Bells formed in 2007 — at that time, Deheza's sister, Claudia, who was also in On! Air! Library, was in the band. Claudia left SVIIB in late 2010 for personal reasons, including being a mother. The change impacted the live dynamic with the elimination of harmonies, but the writing process between Curtis and Deheza remained intact. Deheza notes that some people don't even notice the change. The band's music remains within its indie rock roots, infusing a style of pop and electronica underneath it and Deheza's poetic vocals on top.
What brings this all full circle is that Deheza and Curtis, as School of Seven Bells, are back on the road with Interpol and it feels like one big reunion. Curtis' brother, Brandon, is a member of Secret Machines, who happens to be playing with Interpol at this time.
"It's really cool to see how their band has definitely changed — they were always good, but they're so solid and the songwriting has only gotten better," Deheza says of Interpol. "They asked us out because they like what we're doing. It's cool when bands that you admire have the same admiration for you. It's a cool energy exchange on tour — we watch each other's shows. It's awesome."