Words by Sam Valenti IV
Photo by Will Calcutt
“They are split by electronics and such insane vocal harmonies. I’m telling you man, they are really amazing – even better live(!) and you can peep a few joints on their myspace.”
School of Seven Bells was introduced to us with this e-mail from a fellow artist. At that time, Benjamin Curtis and his bandmates, Alejandra and Claudia Dehaza, were already established musicians. The group was fun, silly but serious about their craft. Signing them was a no-brainer.
On their exceptional first outing as a band at CMJ, they scored the front page of The New York Times Arts section and the following year’s SxSW. I can remember the ferocity with which Benjamin played, the ends of his guitar strings straying into the air. “Dead soldiers,” I think he called them.
His sly smile and easy hint of a drawl sat atop an intensity I haven’t seen in a musician before. His guitar tone was loud and direct. He was one of the best pure producers and engineers.
Their first album, Alpinisms (produced at home on a laptop no less), was a huge deal for us and remains one of Ghostly’s most beloved releases. Benjamin wanted to push the band further for the next release. He wanted to write directly with no obfuscation of meaning. Benjamin was the kind of musician who pushed every performance and sweated every song. It was always on.
A few friends and I went to visit Benjamin last month in the hospital. I regret not visiting him more. What struck me was what had remained after all he had been through. The wide cheshire cat grin. The humor and hope. Only his thin arms and shorn hair gave away his struggling health.
Benjamin said he stayed busy working on music, but joked that he was otherwise so bored from sitting in bed that his taste was in jeopardy: Any movie, no matter how schlocky, appealed to him. He also laughed his big, pleasing laugh when we said he should have been at the fundraiser his management had planned for him a month before, as there were plenty of beautiful women there.
Benjamin died at 35, in advance of his best work. What we have to experience is his music, and for those lucky enough to have met him, the evidence of someone who cared deeply.