Interview Sleigh Bells: It’s Really Gotta Be Loud

Peter Bloxham catches up with Sleigh Bells at their recent Lexington show.

Pretty often, there’s a specific way to listen to an album to get the best out of it - be it with certain friends, at a certain time, place, or through a certain medium. This definitely true of Sleigh Bells debut album ‘Treats’, finally released in the UK on the night the band pack out the upstairs of The Lexington with eager fans.

How best to experience the slew of energetic, often frenetic, occasionally brushing up against anthemic, head-swallowing shards of noise pop that makes up ‘Treats’? in the words of Derek E Miller, ex-Poison The Well guitarist, founding member and architect of Sleigh Bells sound - “It’s really gotta be loud”.

It’s incredibly hard to disagree. Onstage with his partner in crime, ex-teenage pop star Alexis Krauss, he does make impressively strong case. When Sleigh Bells blast out their rough-edged but glossy electro-hardcore-pop collisions at ear-tingling volume, it just sounds about right. This seems to be where Sleigh Bells exist, on stage, hammering out their material into a sweaty throng.

“It’s a different experience to see it live, when you stand there and can actually feel the bass moving through you.” Miller explains. It’s not just pure volume that matters- if you can squeeze yourself into one of the sweatboxes they’re currently selling out all over the shop, the live show offers a fairly interesting spectacle, due in large part to how at odds the minimal onstage set up is with the walls of sound that thunder from the speakers.

As a live act, Sleigh Bells don’t seem to have evolved their set up beyond the when Krauss and Miller met and began working together in the live, bedroom recording environment in which the songs first came together, the duo spending a full year collaborating and working on Miiler’s ideas recording before heading out on the road.

Perhaps somewhat controversially, the beats for the Sleigh Bells set live on an iPod, while Derek plays his guitar parts live and Alexis delivers her vocals while stomping and strutting enthusiastically. Tonight, as seems typical, she performs to an fairly adoring crowd. Indeed, while it was Miller’s intervention that probably lead Krauss to return to music, onstage she is clearly in her element. A true star of the show, she rides the energy of the material, feeding from the crowd, twisting, cavorting and crowd surfing. For the duration of Rill Rill, the stand-out favorite from the softer end of the Sleigh Bells spectrum that seems to have captured imaginations as something of a hipster Summertime anthem, Miller even leaves the stage. That the show at this point is essentially reduced to a girl singing along to an iPod and yet somehow retains it’s buzz is as much a testament to Krauss’ skill as a performer as how well the material has taken root with it’s audience.

“I was wary of being a singer, because there is so much out there, I didn’t just want to do something you know… bad.” Confesses Krauss. “I felt that I was contributing to things with my time that were worthwhile and helpful, but this opportunity came along and I’m really loving it.”

The album may only have officially dropped in the UK today but unsurprisingly, everyone here is intimately acquainted with the stuff, having completely packed out the Old Blue Last a couple of nights ago, tickets to this show had sold out a long time in advance. Are playing popular shows like this a catharsis for someone like Miller, who since Poison the Well spent years re-building towards his musical aspirations?

“I always knew that doing something like this was the only way I was going to be happy,” he explains, “so I just had to go for it, come what may.”

Miller takes a similar approach towards handling the production for ‘Treats’, a process that he learned new skills for. “I knew what I wanted, I knew what I was aiming for and I learned what I needed to get there,” he says.

To bring up something mind-blowingly obvious, in the “post”-modern, internet era music scene, many acts arrive on the scene and rise to notoriety very quickly, buoyed up my attention from blogs, hype and good old-fashioned new-band credibility, much as Sleigh Bells have. Part of the inevitable backlash to this often centers around the term Hype Band. With the implication of this label presumably that the popularity of such acts can be explained simply by mindless trend-following rather than any musical merit, could it possibly be irritating thing for a member of Sleigh Bells to hear. Both seem fairly philosophical.

“People need their buzzwords, their terms, journalists have word counts,” Miller, cheerfully offers. “If something is so seemingly instantaneous, then I think it’s inevitably going to get that sort of reaction to a point,” adds Krauss.

“Does it irritate us? No,” says Miller. “I guess it means we have a lot to prove,” finishes Krauss. “But we’re totally comfortable and feel capable that we can do that.”

They’ll certainly get their chance. The set is finished and the crowd is screaming for more.

‘We don’t have any more songs!’ Krauss shouts.

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