Interview Sleigh Bells: ‘We Can Sound However We Want’

Sleigh Bells are not a band to pull punches, they’re here to throw them.

The video for ‘Bitter Rivals’, the first single from and title track of Sleigh Bells’ third record, shows vocalist Alexis Krauss clad in silk boxing gown and gloves, aiming at the camera. It’s not just an act – the duo – completed by guitarist and producer Derek E Miller – took up the sport while writing and recording the new album.

“We box at least three or four days each week,” Alexis reveals ahead of the record’s release. “We’re not sparring,” she’s quick to point out before anyone envisages inter-band punch-ups on a grand scale, “we’re not in the ring, but we’re working with a trainer.

“I thought it’d be a fun opportunity to showcase some of my combinations and my punches,” she laughs. “The video is really fun, and to me it’s most representative of the music. It works pretty seamlessly with the song and definitely represents the song accurately.”

She’s not wrong. Where debut ‘Treats’ acted as some kind of musical defibrillator amid the chillwave washout of 2010, follow-up ‘Reign of Terror’ seemed somewhat sedate in comparison – possibly partly due to Derek’s personal troubles (“that record was his catharsis,” Alexis explains, “it was very close to his story of losing his father and his mother’s cancer”).

‘Bitter Rivals’ takes the abrasiveness of the duo’s debut – the slamming synths of ‘Sing Like A Wire’, for instance – and presents it with a more immediate, crisp edge. Think Pharrell’s clicks and beats. Then there’s Alexis’ vocals – ‘Minnie’ has her sounding more girlish than ever – yet with a brilliant sneer.

“There will always be that abrasive, ‘It’s definitely clearer, sharper.’ pugnacious, aggressive quality to it,” she says of her vocal. “That’s just something we’re attracted to, and I love the interplay between a very feminine, sweet element and a very tough, masculine, punk-metal aggressiveness. I think that juxtaposition is really interesting.

“I don’t think the fierceness or shouting or that intensity will ever disappear from our music. And I think it’s fun, as a vocalist, to be able to represent those two seemingly disparate worlds and bring them together in a way that hopefully works.”

‘Bitter Rivals’ has Alexis having more control over how she uses her voice, as she explains the writing process was “much more collaborative” than for the two previous records.

“It was really the first time that we’d worked as equal collaborators,” she says. “When Derek and I started working together, he had a lot of material already written and a lot of very clear ideas about the direction of the band.

“This record was sort of inspired by ‘Comeback Kid’, which was the last song we recorded for ‘Reign of Terror’, and was the first time Derek and I had worked that closely, where he worked on the track and he’d give me ideas for lyrics, and I’d go home and record all of my vocal arrangements and harmonies and we’d then go and record it all officially the next day.

“And that’s what we did for all of the songs on this record. It was really exciting for me to have that type of role in the process, and I think… at least I personally think that our music is better for it.” She laughs. “We’ll just see what everyone else thinks!”

Alexis’ increased role does explain at least one shift – it’s like there’s more of her previous, girl-band self in there. More R&B vocal tics; more sassiness. “I grew up singing R&B and soul,” she says, “and so that’s the way I’m used to naturally using my voice. When I started singing in Sleigh Bells I was singing in a way that was, honestly, kind of foreign to me.

“But the singing on this record, you know, because I was writing the melodies, that’s just the way my brain works. The singing is more R&B influenced, and the melodies have that kind of winding, soul quality to them, there’s a fluidity to them that I don’t think we had on the other records.”

It marries up with another change – both literal and metaphorical. They’ve stopped layering sounds quite so much – both Alexis’ vocals and those multiple guitar and synth riffs – stopped hiding. And Derek’s stopped wearing sunglasses. Yeah, that’s a rock star without sunglasses.

Alexis laughs. “I know! And the fact he talks about it, like ‘I’m actually not wearing sunglasses because a lot of people were like ‘What is the deal with this dude always wearing sunglasses?’

“You hear a lot of bands talk about how they’ve changed their ways, stopped partying as hard, becoming clearer. And it sounds like a cliché, but it really isn’t. After ‘Reign Of Terror’ and getting all that negativity off his back, he really changed his day to day routine. I’ve never seen him so clear and so focused and so confident.”

“Clarity”, “focus”, “confidence” are all important this time around, in both reference to Derek’s new routine – he’s up at 7am, boxing almost every day, not hungover – and the music.

“It’s definitely clearer, sharper,” Alexis agrees. “‘Reign of Terror’ was a really dense record, there was lots of layering, there was a lot going on, and ‘Treats’ was completely blown-out, overdriven; we’d take one idea and just completely destroy it,” she says, laughing, “just beat it to death.

“So this record, it has the charm of ‘Treats’, and it has the melodic moments that ‘Reign of Terror’ has, but it’s much leaner than both of those past records. Most of the guitars are single-tracked, there are kick snares, snaps, claps. It’s cleaner and simpler and still more in-your-face.

“We worked with a new mixing engineer, Andrew Dawson, and he was really able to create a lot of space and separation in our music, which there’s never been before. There’s enough space to hear all the different elements.”

Which is again back to confidence. “Oh yes,” she agrees. “There were times when we’d record a song, like with ‘You Don’t Get Me Twice’, we actually looked at each other and said ‘Did we just do that?’, ‘How did we do that?’, ‘Is that our band?’ ‘Are we allowed to sound that way?’, and we ultimately decided that yeah, fuck it. We can sound however we want.” DIY

Sleigh Bells’ new album ‘Bitter Rivals’ is out now via Lucky Number

Read the full interview in the new edition of DIY Weekly, available from iTunes now.

Read More

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Stay Updated!

Get the best of DIY to your inbox each week.

Latest Issue

February 2024

Featuring The Last Dinner Party, IDLES, Yard Act, Crawlers, Remi Wolf and more.

Read Now Buy Now Subscribe to DIY