“It was nice to have something that we care deeply about and we love that we could focus on besides the news for a little while”
Brooklyn’s Sleigh Bells have a knack for embracing a certain sonic dynamic. Vocalist Alexis Krauss sings with a unique emphasis and delivery while multi-instrumentalist Derek E. Miller brings an abundance of distortion while shredding on guitar during the duo’s live performance.
It’s the intensity of the music meeting the elegance of the vocals that results in the stellar noise-pop sound that the act has been known for since the late-2000s. People will get to experience this when Krauss and Miller take the stage at Paradise Rock Club on Aug. 26. Denver pop artist N3ptune will open.
Miller and I spoke ahead of the show about a band he used to be in before starting Sleigh Bells, the way he and Krauss collaborate, making an album during the craziness of 2020, and a new album that’s almost done.
Before starting Sleigh Bells with Alexis Krauss, you were a guitarist in the post-hardcore band Poison The Well from your late teens until your early 20s. What would you say was the main catalyst for you wanting to make the shift from the style of that band to the music you currently create?
Mostly it was just trying to do something different with the creative process. I loved being in Poison The Well, I’m incredibly proud of that band and those guys are still some of my best friends on the planet. I really love them but I just wanted to try something different, I love the energy and intensity of hardcore records and hardcore shows but they tend to be pretty violent as well and I’m not into that. There’s lots of fights, lots of drama, lots of scene politics and I thought that side of the scene was kind of ugly so I just wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to think about that stuff anymore, I just wanted to make music.
I also really, really love a female voice. I don’t know if that’s cool for me to say in 2022 but it’s true, most of my favorite vocalists are women whether it’s Cindi Lauper or Madonna or Harriet Wheeler from the Sundays or Dolores O’Riordan from the Cranberries, rest in peace. I was interested in the marriage of a really sweet, beautiful melodic voice with instrumentals that are a little more aggressive so I like the idea of putting those two things against each other.
I totally get that with Sleigh Bells’ sound. It’s been mentioned that when you and Alexis were recording for the first time, you wanted to be in control with you producing and writing the songs. Has your musical partnership stayed that way since or has it evolved into being a more collaborative thing between the both of you?
It’s evolved greatly. It’s been close to a 50-50 partnership for a decade now so that was just an early thing because we were both trying to understand what the band was going to be. I had an idea of what I wanted it to sound like but I hadn’t really made the music yet and since that early stuff everything in the band has been done unanimously. Starting with our 2013 album Bitter Rivals, I’ll just send her instrumentals and I’m the lyricist as well but she has free reign to mess around with them and chop them up. She’ll send me back vocal ideas and rough sketches that she’ll do on her own so she’s not as self-conscious, it can be a little weird to write in front of people.
Then we just start tweaking from there. Even though she’s not actively making the music itself, she has a massive impact on it. She’s got really good ears, especially when it comes to arrangements and when something is working and when something is not. Her response to the instrumentals is really important to me, it’s something that I’m always excited to get her feedback on so the tracks always evolve after she’s heard them.
Last September, you released your fifth studio album, Texis. How would you describe the experience of making the album and the vision behind it? Did COVID-19 affect the process at all or were you able to get it done before the pandemic hit?
Half of it was done before the pandemic hit and then it was finished in the middle of all the chaos of the social justice movement and just the feeling in the country while transitioning out of a really, really dark and evil administration. Not that any administration is crystal clean, there are no saints in Washington, so I’m not really a fan of any of them even though I’ve been voting Democrat for over two decades. I don’t know how to talk about it without sounding kind of ridiculous or without spitting out understatements, just saying it was a strange time on this planet is a massive understatement. How that impacted the music, it’s hard to say. Lyrically, the record wants to be optimistic but maybe that’s aspirational and it’s probably a little darker than the newer stuff we’ve been working on.
I’ve noticed that in a lot of newer music, and we’re hopefully kind of at the tail end of COVID-19, but I feel like people are trying to be more optimistic and positive which I think is reflected in the new batch of songs that we have. Not in a coy sense but in a very real and sincere sense. I think with Texis we were searching, sonically it’s a little more focused than the previous two records, Jessica Rabbit and Kid Kruschev. Especially Jessica Rabbit where we were just throwing a bunch of ideas at the wall while understanding that it was going to make the record less cohesive but we weren’t really worried about it, we were just treating it as a studio project. I feel like we transitioned a little bit away from that with Texis and more so with our new stuff which I feel is probably the most cohesive of any of our records.
I’m not trying to talk about a record that’s not going to be out for another year or a year and a half, but just comparing the experience of making Texis to what we’re doing now at least. I’m rambling a bit here but I’m just trying to give you something accurate.
I appreciate it, it’s all good. It’s natural to compare what you’re doing now to what you did a year ago.
Yeah, but I think overall it was a great experience. It was kind of the one thing that we had to work on, not as a distraction because we weren’t trying to distract ourselves from what was happening. We were paying attention and obviously were engaged, but it was nice to have something that we care deeply about and we love that we could focus on besides the news for a little while. It was a little haven from the intensity of the news cycle.
It was a nice release.
Yeah, I’d like it to be clear that it wasn’t escapist because everything that happened, especially after George Floyd’s murder, was incredibly vital and as painful as it was it was also necessary. I guess maybe that’s what it felt like to us, a little place that we could go to do something that felt good so we weren’t just sitting indoors losing our minds.
What do you think of people who try to categorize Sleigh Bells’ music with terms ranging from noise pop to dance-punk to industrial? Do you think the music you and Alexis create is more enigmatic than those terms?
To be completely honest, I’ve never gotten too bothered by any of the distinctions people try to make with our music. Whatever you want to call it is cool with me, I don’t mean to be blasé about it or indifferent but if you want to call it noise pop that’s cool or if you want to call it alternative that’s fine. We feel that most bands would probably give you this answer because they mean it like we do, we just feel like we make Sleigh Bells music. It’s what happens when Alexis and I hang out, some people talk shit together, drink together or whatever but when Alexis and I hang out we just tend to make music. It’s just what happens, so I’ll just call it Sleigh Bells music.
It’s perhaps a bit pretentious as if we’re so unique that it’s totally fuckin’ singular and I don’t want to come off like that, just to make that clear. Whatever genre people want to stick on it is fine with me.
You mentioned that Sleigh Bells is working on some new music and you’ll probably have a new album coming out next year, so how far along is it and do you have a name for it yet?
You know I can’t tell you anything but we’ve got a title and we’ve been working on the artwork for the past couple of months. There are eight songs that are finished, they’re written and arranged with scratch vocals completed. We got a couple more to write but I want this one to be short and sweet, I think we’ll probably stick to 11 tracks but I want 13 or 14 to pick from. I’m going to trip over myself trying to describe it. It’s pretty much a Sleigh Bells record but it’s got its own feel and there’s a different flavor to it.
It’s a really hyped up record, it’s very upbeat but it’s not necessarily a moody record. It’s full of melody and some really pretty pop-leaning borderline sentimental moments but overall it’s kind of a rager.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.