School Of Seven Bells’ Alejandra Deheza on the art of the ghost story
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Shoegaze-pop duo School Of Seven Bells has always wafted of a hazily numinous aesthetic, but the band goes all out dream-goth on its latest album, Ghostory. Out earlier this year, the album is just what its title says—a ghost story. In preparation for the band’s show at The Bishop Bar in Bloomington on Sunday, The A.V. Club talked with Alejandra Deheza, one half of the ghostly duo, about what makes ghost stories so captivating, the Holy Ghost versus the Holy Spirit, and the difference between ghosts as metaphors and the ghosts you hear truckers call in to talk about at 3 a.m. on Coast To Coast AM.
The A.V. Club: What are the key elements that make up a good ghost story?
Alejandra Deheza: I think the scariest angle has always been to demonize the unknown, keeping it as faceless and as hungry as possible.
AVC: Is there any particular ghost story you remember from your childhood that has stuck? Anything that really brought the nightmares?
AD: Two things terrified me as a kid—the devil and dark mirrors. I think I needed electroshock therapy after I watched Poltergeist III. It took me years to get over it—I kid you not. Lucky for me, I had a huge mirror right in front of my bed for most of my childhood. Good times.
AVC: School Of Seven Bells’ sound is pretty cinematic. As an adult, what are your favorite ghost story movies?
AD: Lost Highway, Twin Peaks. Those stories, to me, epitomize the idea of “as above, so below.” No layer of existence is inaccessible. There’s no illusion of separateness, no facet that can be successfully ignored. They’re all exposed and all susceptible to the elements for better or for worse. I have a friend who had an epiphany on salvia once. The epiphany was “Popsicle.” The idea that when you bite into a Popsicle, there are all of these layers going on simultaneously. Now, this would have to be a Creamsicle maybe, but you get the idea.
AVC: Would you want to score a film?
AD: That’s definitely something I could see us doing. I’d like to take a crack at re-scoring What About Bob? or Groundhog Day. They’re so brilliantly funny and dark, but I just don’t get what’s playing in the background.
AVC: Ghostory is about a character named Lafaye. What kind of ghosts is she dealing with in the story?
AD: There’s a quote at the beginning of The Devil’s Backbone that sums it up pretty well. It goes, “What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.”
Ghostory is about Lafaye confronting these relationships, and these experiences that continue to follow her. It’s gotten to the point where she can’t even hear herself think. They won’t leave her alone until she gives them a voice. There you have it.
AVC: Have you ever experienced a real ghost? Our favorite radio show is Coast To Coast AM, especially when people call in with ghost stories.
AD: I’ve seen ghosts plenty. A couple of my cousins grew up kind of witchy, and they were always taught to speak to ghosts. One ghost would constantly switch her ceiling fan on and off, and her mom just told her to tell the ghost to stop. The ghost behaved ever since. Who’d have thought they’d be so compliant, with nothing to lose? To any ghosts that are reading over my shoulder right now, that’s a compliment.
AD: No one’s a ghost yet. Hope it stays that way for a while.
AVC: Would you say that your music has a particularly haunting quality?
AD: I would say it does, for the simple fact that I tend to write about things that I didn’t know were haunting me until that moment. When I begin writing lyrics for songs, that’s when the spirits come out. I realize how much they’ve been steering my life. And how much every movement and decision was influenced by experiences that I wasn’t consciously channeling, things that I had supposedly put behind me. It’s kind of like being possessed.
AVC: One of our favorite School Of Seven Bells songs is “Prince Of Peace.” Speaking of Biblical allusions, what do you think of the Holy Ghost?
AD: “Prince Of Peace” is actually one of my favorites too. The Holy Ghost always seemed so morbid to me. Like something serving a sentence. Funny how you’re taught to be scared of ghosts and then something like the Holy Ghost pops up. Holy Spirit always sounded better to me. Spirit sounds inspired. That idea actually seems cool to me. Holiness equals purity plus inspiration. I can get behind that. Then again, “giving up the ghost” sounds like a sweet relief, whereas “giving up the spirit” sounds like it would be sad. I could go on for hours about this. I’ll spare you.
AVC: What are the most overrated types of ghosts?
AD: The ones that spook you. I feel like people only think about those ghosts.
AVC: Then how about the most underrated ghosts?
AD: The pervy peeper ghosts. Being a ghost seems like it would be perv heaven. Makes sense to me. Simultaneous layers, see?
AVC: What’s so ghostly about your record label [Ghostly International] anyway?
AD: Maybe they can walk through walls? Wow. If I was a music writer, that would be a pretty killer metaphor, don’t you think? I think I’ve had too much coffee. In all seriousness, Ghostly is an amazing label. I couldn’t have thought of a better place for us to experiment and grow as a band.