Sleigh Bells have been one of the buzz names at recent music industry showcases such as CMJ and SXSW and with good reason.
The self-released 2HELLWU EP gave a taster of what to expect: a blend of contemporary NYC sass with sweet 60s girl group vocals over a dancefloor-friendly yet hard-edged – occasionally massively distorted – sound (think Mad Decent meets the Jaynetts in Butch Vig’s studio as Debbie Harry drops by).
Now, with US tours supporting Major Lazer and Yeasayer lined up and a well-received trio of London dates completed, the duo of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss are threatening to become the next Brooklyn thing to break out big time. FACT caught up with Derek and Alexis via phone on their way to another show in the U.S.
‘Crown on the Ground’
Hi Derek, how you doing?
“I’m good man, just sitting in a car.”
Where are you off to?
I know it from The Wire, not much else about it.
“Yeah, yeah. It’s fun, it’s cool. We’ve played there before, the crowd’s always pretty nuts.”
How did you and Alexis meet?
“We actually met at a restaurant that I was working at. I was waiting tables at a Brazilian place called Miss Favela in Williamsburg and Alexis and her mother were my customers. Alexis’s mom’s really friendly so we ended up talking kind of later in the night and it turns out we are both from South Florida. She asked me what I was doing in New York and I told her I was looking for a vocalist. Alexis was sitting right there – “hey, I’m a vocalist” – so I told her about everything I was trying to do, gave her probably some ridiculous references and yeah, it worked out.”
“I told her about everything I was trying to do, gave her probably some ridiculous references and yeah, it worked out.”
How long ago was it that you met?
“This is July of ’08. We just recorded for a solid year before we started playing live. Alexis was teaching. I met her July and by September she was back at school so until the summer of ’09 our work was pretty limited.”
Why’s the band called Sleigh Bells?
“The name really has zero significance, it’s just one of those things. It’s just something that wasn’t already taken that we can’t get sued over and now we’re just stuck with it – it doesn’t really mean anything.”
What’s your working process? Do you write most of the music and Alexis the lyrics or…?
“I’ve done most of it up to this point. Alexis and I have started collaborating a little more recently which has been a lot of fun, so hopefully there’ll be more of that. It was just me for years writing songs and I didn’t really have anyone to work on music with, so out of necessity I just did everything and when I met her I had a lot of material already, but I think it will probably be more collaborative in the future.”
You used to be in a hardcore band, Poison the Well, who or what got you into beats and beatmaking and how did you start marrying the two influences?
“I mean just the interest in rhythm and just the sound in general. After 10 years in a room with a drum kit I just was so sick of the sound of a kick drum and a regular rock snare, it just bored me to tears. So pretty naturally I just started to find ways to find different-sounding rhythms like claps, low-end, 808s, that kind of thing. It was much more exciting. And just a general interest in anything rhythmic, whether it was hip-hop, R&B, funk, anything with a really strong beat.”
How does Brooklyn affect the music that you make?
“Not very much. I’m from South Florida and I think it left a pretty strong impression on me. Brooklyn’s a lot of fun, but maybe that question would be better for Alexis. I just went there for a very specific reason, and I’m not sure how much of it has rubbed off on me if any. But nothing wrong with it, it’s fun – expensive.”
“It’s called Treats, like candy treats…”
Is the album ready yet and when’s it coming out?
“It’s coming out in May and I think it’s just been mastered. We’re actually waiting to hear the first (hopefully vinyl) master. But this one’s going to be difficult to master because so many of the signals they clip and that’s confusing for a sound engineer. The whole record’s not like Crown or something where it’s all super blown out, but there are some songs that are cleaner and then there are some that are kind of split, you know – half of the stems are super gainy and then a lot of them are clean so it’s kind of a weird process. So, short answer, yes, the record is finished.”
What can you tell us about it?
“It’s called Treats, like candy treats. It should be 12 songs, possibly 11: we’re still waiting on sample clearance for one of the songs. It’s kind of varied, I think there’s a pretty broad range of moods throughout it really. The middle of the record has a couple of songs that aren’t quite as inventive, but overall it’s mostly very up and hopefully energetic, that type of thing.”
You’re touring soon with Major Lazer and then with Yeasayer. How’s the live show for the tours going to differ from the one-off shows you have done so far? Have you got anything special planned, or visuals and things like this?
“Right now we’re still just trying to tighten everything up, we don’t really have crazy production or anything, it’s pretty stripped. It’s skeletal as it can be, it’s just the two of us. You know we’re playing a lot of songs and a couple of songs that we haven’t played yet and so I think we’re just trying to go one step at a time. Right now it’s pretty simple; it’s still a lot of fun. It’s very portable, which is nice – we don’t really have a lot of equipment, the only thing that really needs to be there is the sound. You can’t really just set up in the corner with a couple of little PA speakers, we’d like it to be pretty loud. Yeah, it’s pretty stripped down actually.”
You did some shows in the UK recently, how did that go?
“It was great. We played three: The first one was at Madame JoJo’s White Heat. It was great but we had a technical difficulty which bums us out, but we sorted it out and the last two shows were incredible. Especially we played an NME night at Koko – that was really so much fun: really really good time, really big room, really loud. It was great.”
Have you done any remixes?
“I haven’t, no. I’ve had a few offers, but we’re not really in a position to do any remix work right now and I’m not sure how I would go about it – I haven’t even approached it in my head. We’ve just been so focused on [Sleigh Bells]. Before, when I was in the studio and just writing and writing and writing, that’s when I was getting offers and kind of said “no thank you, it’s flattering but…” And now we’re just trying to adjust to being on the road: it’s very different. I’ve toured before, I think this is the first time touring for Alexis so – and it’s great, everyone’s having a blast – but we don’t want to take on too much, just what’s in front of us. But in the future I’m definitely interested in doing it.”
“It excited me, I hadn’t really heard anything like it and I thought it was something that we could take someplace”
And who would you like to remix Sleigh Bells?
“A ton of dudes you know. I don’t want to name names because then I’ll be committed to it, but I’ve been thinking about it. Obviously we’re out with Major Lazer, so Wes and Dave I’m sure at some point we’ll approach them to do some remixes, they always do really good work. So yeah, Diplo and Switch I’m sure will end up doing something. There are a couple of other dudes. I haven’t really spoken about it with Alexis which is why I don’t want to talk about it, because I’m not sure how she feels about it yet. But yeah, it could be great, I’d love to hear what somebody could do with some of the stuff.”
Ok, thanks. Good luck in Baltimore. Can I have a few words with Alexis?
Phone passes to Alexis…
How does Brooklyn influence the music you make?
“Ummm, I’ve been in the city for about seven years and I think I guess the influence is that there’s just so much music surrounding you, and especially in Brooklyn you just have so many bands surrounding you and different influences coming through. And I was able to do a lot of work as a singer, honing my skills as a pop singer, which ended up being really helpful with Sleigh Bells. I guess that would be the main advantage of being in the city and in Brooklyn.”
Who are your musical influences?
“Derek and I both listen to a lot of stuff and me personally I’m a big fan of soul and 60s girl groups – vocals. For Sleigh Bells like I said I love the pop mentality and a lot of times I’m just more thinking about contrasting this really heavy rhythmic music with a sweeter pop vocal and then a very crazy chaotic shout – I’s a lot about the sensibility of playing between the two.”
Derek was saying you met in a Brazilian restaurant. Obviously as a vocalist you get opportunities to work with different people. What was it about Derek or his music that made you think yes, this is going to work out or this is going to be good?
“It was a funny time for me because I hadn’t really been working on music for a while other than just sessions and demos. I was teaching and working on other things, but it was always in the back of my mind that if the right person came along or the right opportunity I would love to get involved with music again. It was just really weird how it happened – Derek and I got together, he played me some stuff and it was just a match or something you know, when you feel that it is a fit. It excited me, I hadn’t really heard anything like it and I thought it was something that we could take someplace. It was the summer, it was sort of a ”why not?’ and it just ended up working out. But there was definitely something special about it that really intrigued me otherwise I never would have followed through with it.”