School of Seven Bells released their debut album Alpinisms last year and it drew pretty high marks from critics, including PopMatters’ Mike Newmark, who described the band as “a dream-pop band. But that’s not as simple as it appears on the surface, since modern day dream-pop can subsume shoegaze, twee-pop, and indie electronica, and School of Seven Bells incorporate all of those elements—the cascading guitars, the programmed beats, the sugary melodies grafted from the early ‘90s that will always remind me of licking a lollipop.” Benjamin Curtis, formerly the guitarist for the Secret Machines, pulled the group together and he sits down with 20 Questions to discuss his moonwalking skills and the greatness of Star Trek and Ney York City.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
You know, I’ve been on a plane so much lately and everything makes me cry on those things. The cool one I cried at was The Wrestler. I think everyone cried during The Wrestler, but the last one I cried at was Marley & Me. I was bawling my eyes out. I’m so hopeless on flights. At the same time I was thinking that this movie is horrible, but I can’t help it. It’ll ruin my cred for saying it but I don’t care, ha! I think it’s the dimensions on the plane and the screen in front of you and the fact that the air is weird. Alley looked over at me crying my eyes out and said, “is that good?” I said “no”. The tears left her unconvinced.
(Ghostly International; US: 28 Oct 2008; UK: 3 Nov 2008)
2. The fictional character most like you?
My favorite book is Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse, so maybe I identify with Harry the main character a bit. I guess I would say I"m Harry from Steppenwolf, except I’m not that dramatic, and I’m not at all suicidal, and I’m not necessarily the star of whatever book I’m written in.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Oh wow. People ask that and it’s so hard. It changes daily. Can I have a tie for six? Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, of course. Prince’s Purple Rain, David Bowie’s Low, The Cure’s Disintegration, Neu!‘s 1, New Order’s Technique. If you could put those all into one album it would be the best album. A greatest hits.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek for sure. The older I get, the more corny Star Wars starts to seem, and I feel like it’s such hype. I don’t know, I think the whole attempt at some grand mythology is pretty poor when you think about it. Star Trek‘s great. Thirty-minute doses. Cool outfits, and the sets are so amazing because it’ll be dim lighting and a piece of cardboard and they’re supposed to be on another planet. Very simple. Star Trek all the way.
5. Your ideal brain food?
At this point just sitting still and letting my brain slowly find its way back to this second on whatever part of the planet earth I’m on. And then maybe hitting the random article button on Wikipedia. I think it’s probably a combination of the two.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I just learned how to moonwalk. It’s been a lifelong goal and I just never made time for it. Never made time to just sit there and learn to moonwalk. You’re not just going to suddenly learn how, you know, you have to practice. Two weeks ago in London I learned how to do it. YouTube how-to videos, no joke! It was just a sudden inspiration. I had this thought that I didn’t want to die without knowing how to moonwalk, and now I’m a decent moonwalker. I’m proud of it because it wasn’t easy and if I imagine five-year old Benjamin sitting around knowing that one day I’d be able to moonwalk, I know how happy that would have made me.
7. You want to be remembered for…?
For my advancement to moonwalking technology. Definitely.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Ada Lovelace, she was great. Charles Babbage had the idea for making a sort of mechanical computer, called an “analytical engine”. Ada saw the potential in his idea, started writing programs for it, and had this incredible vision for the invention. She saw in it the potential for intelligence and even making music. There’s an interesting movie out there about it called “Conceiving Ada” with Tilda Swinton. And maybe Pythagoras, he was cool.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Probably the Yves Klein monochrome works. They’re really beautiful. I used to think, he just painted a canvas blue, but if you stand in front of one they’re unbelievably beautiful and immersive. It’s such a simple idea and I don’t think that anyone will be able to do something so simple again, and so beautifully. I saw one at Tate Modern, saw one at Christie’s, and they have a few at the MOMA. That was a good idea.
10. Your hidden talents…?
It was moonwalking, but not anymore. I think I don’t have any hidden talents anymore. It’s all on the surface now for the world to enjoy. Or not.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
I’m horrible at taking good advice. I’m sure I’ve been given good advice, but I’m not in a position pass it along, that’s for sure. I like that Bob Dylan lyric, “he not busy being born is busy being dying”—not sure if that was advice and he obviously wasn’t giving it to me personally, but I like that. I can stand behind that one.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
It’s so boring, but I can’t even think of anything. I don’t really put much into things I buy. I don’t give them much priority. I’m the biggest fan of throwing things away. I have nothing because of that. I sit there and think sometimes, “oh man I wish I hadn’t thrown that away!” We stole our band name, that was probably a good idea. Maybe we borrowed it. I’m just gonna say we borrowed it.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
I can’t really afford Armani so I’d probably feel really broke, and not Levis, just because it’s Levis. I pick question mark.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Probably whoever the chef is at the Ritz because she’d know what to order and the bill would be on the house.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
I totally know this one. I would go to the top of the mountain and catch Moses in the act, talking to aliens. I’d bust him and take a picture. I’d bring it back, have somebody carbon date it, show them my time machine, and suddenly a whole lot of confusion would be solved. Immediately.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
I’m a fan of mixing natural and chemical remedies, but never murder. I don’t think I’d choose murder.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
I think definitely coffee and question mark. That’s all I need.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
New York City. That’s the best place. I miss it. I’m sitting in it right now and I miss it. In my new apartment, I have a small backyard and for some reason the landlord put in this 8” tall square astroturf island. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s too small to put anything on and it’s too big to avoid, so we put a blue lawn chair on top of it and I’m sitting on it right now. At the moment, this is my favorite spot on the planet.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Whoa! I probably wouldn’t say anything other than “thanks for trying”. I really don’t think I have any knowledge that will benefit him in what he’s doing. I think just a simple ‘thank you’ and I’d probably leave wondering how I found myself talking to Barack Obama.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
The second School of Seven Bells record. Every time I’ve made a record it’s always been at home, after a long break. This time I want to try and make it in the middle of all the chaos of touring. You’re seeing so much and listening to so much, it just puts my brain in this insanely creative place.