Sleigh Bells are the duo of Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller. The pair formed in Brooklyn in 2009, and garnered almost immediate attention for their demo CDR, which matched Krauss's singing to in-the-red beats so distorted they sound crumbling. After causing a furore at CMJ in 2009, they signed to M.I.A.'s NEET label and released their debut LP, Treats, in 2010.
Interview: 13 December 2010
Where are you?
"I'm in the middle of nowhere, in the desert in Eastern California. We're shooting a video for 'Rill Rill.' It's been extremely fun; I'm very comfortable in front of the camera. When I was 10, I got involved in acting, and TV commercials. So, I've been working professionally in that realm for quite some time."
What was it like to be a ten-year-old 'professional'?
"It was something I really wanted to do, and my parents were incredibly supportive. As a child, it's a lot of work. But, it was very exciting, and you learn a lot of lessons quickly. You have to deal with a lot of rejection, and you have to deal with a lot of criticism, and you're certainly put in social situations that are way more challenging than those for 'normal' kids."
Why did you have such strong desire to be an actor?
"Performing was in my family: my dad's a full-time musician, and my mom was an actor. I was involved in theatre when I was really young; my dream was to be on Broadway! Then, it evolved into making music in a band, going in a more pop/rock direction. After experiencing the music business as a teenager, I knew the commercial music world wasn't for me. Then things came full circle when Derek and I met. I was teaching elementary school full time, and had every intention of staying in the classroom, developing a career in education. It was definitely a pretty big decision for me to quit this career; I had a job, I had benefits. But, it just felt right to come back to music. Once a singer, always a singer."
What was it about working with Derek that inspired that?
"The first of the early demos he played me was 'Infinity Guitars,' and we immediately started working on it. We were drawn to the push and pull between the pop and the noise, the soft and the harsh, the quiet and the loud; this use of dynamics that we were exploring. I was very comfortable with singing pop music, but heavier, harsher music was more of a challenge to me. The more we started working together, it became about playing with those different elements."
What did you want the project to be, at that point?
"It was important to us to have a new, interesting sound. But, a lot of the things that are new and interesting occurred as a result of accidents. The fact that everything's so blown out, and the distortion on the volume, those things came about as a result of inadequate equipment, and forcing levels up into the red, and trying to mask the shitty quality of the beat-stations that we were using. Now, those accidents —the distortion and the volume, the poppy vocals mixed with these harsh, overdriven, blown-out beats— are what people associate with Sleigh Bells. The accidents are what make good music. When you rely on formula, you don't have that same excitement, that same freshness invading your music. Going into the second record, we expect that there will be accidents, but they'll just be different ones. And that's exactly what we're hoping for. We want to think outside our own box, to make music that we don't think sounds like a Sleigh Bells song, but ultimately ends up being one."
Do you feel people scrambled to put a 'box' on you?
"Absolutely. I think people are always scrambling for the right title, the right description, the right genre. The question always seems to be: where do they fit? When, ideally, as an artist, you'd like to not fit in anywhere, to be pigeonholed so easily. I think the majority of the people who listen to us will understand that we're a band, and we've just made our first record, and that we have a long time to explore different sounds and different ideas. Inevitably, there will be people who hate on the next record because it doesn't sound exactly like Treats, or adhere to this formula they have for us in their minds. But, we've felt really embraced by a large amount of people in a short amount of time."
What was it like, having the hype set in so swiftly?
"It was surreal just how quick it was. But, Derek and I both had experience in the music business, and we both knew the importance of keeping hype in perspective. Because, as quickly as the hype may rise, it may fall. And, if your music is that ephemeral and is that subject to trend and hype, then you have to wonder if it's music really worth creating. Music should be able to last, to past certain tests of time; and certainly it should be able to survive a hype cycle. We were pretty confident the record we were making could make it through all that bullshit. At the same time, hype has been good for our band. It was what put us on the map. The internet did wonders for us. We were able to just release our demos and build a following before we had a record label, or management, or had even finished making a proper record. Since then, our task has been to push past that, to become something that people perceive not just as a buzz band, but as a band that's actually relevant, and is here to stay, and progress, and do what other good bands do."
Strangest thing that's happened?
"I think, for me, just the constant surprise of travelling to places we've never been before, and seeing kids turn up and dance at our shows."
Like, actual kids?
"The other day we were on our way to Seattle, in the wilds of Washington state. Now, Derek and I never get recognized, it never happens. But, I was at this truck-stop, and this eight-year-old kid comes up to me, and says 'are you Alexis from Sleigh Bells?' And I was just completely taken aback. He said: 'Oh my god! I love your music! I'm on my way to see you!' So, yeah, there really are kids. The diversity in the people coming to our shows has been pleasantly shocking to us. Everyone from actual kids to teeny-bopper kids to punk kids to 20-something indie kids, to, like, a grown-up audience. I love that about our shows. I never want our music to be limited to one particular group of people."