Interview: Sleigh Bells' Derek Miller talks New Record, M.I.A. and Escaping the Hardcore Scene
Derek Miller and Aleix Krauss of Sleigh Bells. The duo plays tonight at the Firebird, but if you don't have tickets, don't bother; the show has been sold out for weeks.
What's it like being one of the most buzzed bands in recent memory? 2010 has been a watershed year for Sleigh Bells, the playground crunk band that fuses explosive guitars and busted speaker noise with cheerleader-esque chants and a whole lotta camp.
And while any meteoric rise to the top of HypeMachine comes part and parcel with a big glass of Haterade from, well, anyone with an Internet connection and a bone to pick with the music industry, the Brooklyn band is too busy selling out venues nationwide to take notice. (Local case in point: Tonight's Sleigh Bells show at the Firebird has been sold out for weeks.)
A to Z caught up with one half the operation, Sleigh Bells' Derek Miller. The band's songwriter, guitarist and producer was fresh off a sold-out night at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles.
Miller left the hardcore band Poison the Well in 2004 and began looking for a vocalist for a new project called Sleigh Bells. It wasn't until 2008 that Alexis Krauss and her mother sat down at Miller's table at the Brazilian restaurant he was working at in New York. Miller mentioned he was looking for a vocalist, and Krauss' mother volunteered her daughter, then a music teacher and session singer helping songwriters shop their goods to the likes of Britney Spears. It wasn't long before the band's CMJ debut in October 2009 got the attention of Spike Jonze and M.I.A.; the latter quickly signed them to her N.E.E.T. imprint on Interscope. Sleigh Bells released its 32-minute banger of a debut album, Treats, in May.
A to Z: Some of the initial reactions to Treats -- people were saying "this rules, but in five minutes we're going to lose them to the mainstream." Did that color or effect your creative process at all?
Miller: It doesn't, you know what I mean, I think nothing factors into the decision making process or the creative process. You can't really control it. If I could some way affect it or change what came out, I'd make it better. But I can't, I just have to live with what it is. It's always changing and growing. We're constantly trying to define what we sound like, because I think we're pretty far from it -- we're just getting started. As far as the indie versus mainstream, it's not a conversation that Alexis and I have ever had. We both kind of maintain that no one person deserves to hear music or specifically our music more than another. Whether it's a Lady Gaga fan, fucking anywhere, Indianapolis. Or someone who spends all their time reading blogs."
How has the Honda commercial changed things for you guys?
I can pay my rent now. Seriously. [laughs]
No more waiting tables?
No, it's great. That was really great. We were excited about it. I think that people understand. Besides touring, you know, it's kind of difficult to make a profit touring. It's a little easier for us because we're a two piece and it's a really limited set-up, so it's efficient by design. Most people are psyched for us. I mean, we're not rolling in money but we're not broke anymore.
So you said the new album is going to be a little less party and a little more metal?
Probably, yeah. [laughs]
Have you started writing at all?
Yeah, definitely. I don't regret talking about it this soon; we're going to be on tour for Treats for a while. Probably until July of next year, we still have so many places to play for the first time, let alone possibly coming back for a second after more people have heard the record, if that's going to be the case. There's a ton of new stuff already. After we finished up Treats, on the last day, we just left on such a creative high note and felt really good about everything, but we were like forced to leave the studio because we had to get to South By Southwest to start the touring cycle. But yeah, we're excited to get back in the studio, even though it won't be for a while.
Have you been debuting any new stuff on the road?
No, we haven't. We probably won't. I kind of don't like that idea. We're still arranging everything and it's all really new. Once you play it live its essentially released; it'll be all over YouTube. It just kind of kills it. I'd like the chance to sit down, and at least work out the idea and get to a place that I'm happy with and then go out and play it for people. It's going to be a while.
Are we going to be treated to some guest vocals from M.I.A. on the new album?
Possibly, but when we record, we're pretty insular. There are three people involved basically. It's myself, Alexis, and we work with an incredible engineer named Shane Stonebeck, and it's sort of like, nobody goes in and nobody comes out. It's just the three of us locked in there. And I like that idea. So, probably not, but you never know. That could change. I'd love to work with her again. She's really inspiring and a good friend, but we like to keep the work solely our own. That way any failures are on you and it's yours alone. When other people get involved, if it does well, they'll be quick to take it away from you. We're pretty happy with the fact that we did it ourselves.
But you enjoyed working with M.I.A.?
I did. It was amazing. I was only in the studio with her for like a week, but it was great. It gave me a lot of confidence, actually, because that was in October, a year ago, almost a year ago to the day. I think this was the week last year that I was working with her. And that was before Treats, we didn't go to the studio for Treats until January. Yeah, I just felt really good about it.