Sleigh Bells may have the highest power-to-personnel ratio out there. The Brooklyn-based duo of musician/songwriter Derek Miller and vocalist Alexis Krauss has been pummeling the sonic plane since 2008. Miller’s beats are massive circular saws; repeating guitar lines fly off like sparks. With equal ferocity and finesse, Krauss’ vocal melodies trickle over the teeth of those blades, reducing the shrapnel but not the incisive drive of the music.
Many would-be fans heard about Sleigh Bells — in New York’s local small magazine, The New Yorker, as well as Pitchfork and other music blogs — before they heard Sleigh Bells. A few early shows in New York became mythical and the play count on the band’s MySpace page showed the up-ticking list of people waiting for a record. When Treats was released in May (first on iTunes, then, a month later, on CD and vinyl), so-called hype became a solid reputation. Xpress discussed beats, the accidental innovations of cheap equipment and the possibilities of Sleigh Bells unplugged with Mr. Miller.
Mountain Xpress: Sleigh Bells offers a rather unique take on pop music: confrontation. It’s an innovative approach to a type of music that is hard to innovate. What do you think of this term, confrontational pop?
Derek Miller: I'm not crazy about labeling our music or any music for that matter, but I suppose it's accurate. I'm pretty sure "confrontational" is one of the words I used when I was first describing the sound to Alexis. Thankfully she forgave me for it.
Considering that you use electronics onstage for beats and supporting vocals, would you consider your iPod the third Sleigh Bell? Is it easier to deal with than the typical drummer?
Running a track as opposed to having a live drummer is a way to avoid compromising the sound, simple as that. Added benefits include eliminating a person in the van, a mouth to feed, etc. We have rehearsed with drummers before ... it totally changes the character of the music — sounds very "nu metal" actually [laughs]. We haven't ruled it out completely, but I don’t see us adding anyone in the near future.
I think the “Sleigh Bells beat” could be patented; it is absolutely blown-out, and at the same time, precise and contained. How did you come up with this approach to engineering method?
It was done out of necessity. The gear/sounds I was using at the time sound awful when they are cleaned up. The only way I could stand hearing them was when I pushed the master to the point of clipping. The newest songs like "Tell Em" and "Riot Rhythm" are cleaner because the sounds needed less treatment and work better as is.
Does Sleigh Bells use any Moog equipment?
Never owned a piece of Moog equipment in my life, unfortunately! I didn't have a spare dime until January or so. We have been recording and touring pretty much nonstop since then, but I'm sure I'll pick some stuff up when I have time off to experiment with new gear.
Has anyone ever asked you guys to do an “unplugged” set?
Yes, not sure it would translate. "Rachel" might work; we have a guitar/vocal version of that we might do for the BBC. Haven't tried it yet...
How did the name “Sleigh Bells” come about? This question is terrible, but maybe no one has asked you before.
It's just a name really. I jokingly titled a song "Slay Bells" in 2005 and it stuck as a band name though we switched the spelling. I maintain a bands name is as good as its music ... so maybe it's decent-to-good with a lot of promise??!
Can we expect to see some Halloween costumes this year? Maybe the zombie-faced cheerleaders from the Treats record cover.
Don't want to give it away! But yes, costumes for sure.
How will Sleigh Bells spend the winter this year?
Touring then we will head back into the studio for our second record. Beyond excited.