Sleigh Bells: Leader of the pack

By Danielle Street

Noise pop duo Sleigh Bells have gone from strength to strength since meeting four years ago. Singer Alexis Krauss talked to VOLUME about the pair’s new album Reign of Terror album which is bigger, louder and more metal than ever before.

'The melodies and the delivery are very pop-orientated - with the exception of songs where I'm shouting my brains out.'  Photo / Supplied
'The melodies and the delivery are very pop-orientated - with the exception of songs where I'm shouting my brains out.' Photo / Supplied

As far as band origin stories go, Sleigh Bells' formation comes under the serendipitous category.

"I've done several interviews where people are like, 'So what's the real story of how you guys met? You obviously didn't meet in a restaurant,'" laughs Alexis Krauss, one-half of the Brooklyn-based noise pop duo. But Krauss insists that's exactly how it went down. Her musical other-half Derek Miller had quit hardcore band Poison the Well after becoming disenchanted with the music he was making and wanted to branch into production. In the interim, Miller found himself waiting tables at a neighbourhood restaurant. The same restaurant where former teen-pop singer Krauss, who was working as a schoolteacher at the time, went for dinner with her mother. There, her mother casually struck up a conversation with Miller.

"He started explaining that he is a musician and that he was really looking for somebody to work with," Krauss recalls. "My mom sort of looked at me and said, 'Oh my daughter's a singer' and I looked at her like, 'Stop talking mom, please... stop talking right now!' But she kept going."

Four years later the twosome have the incredibly successful debut Treats under their belt, and have just released their new record, Reign of Terror. While just as loud as Treats, Reign of Terror marks a definite shift in sound for Sleigh Bells. Miller wrote much of the music using guitar, creating a heavier, more metal-influenced tone than its predecessor.

"Derek would tell you that the inspiration for Reign of Terror was a lot more difficult than for Treats, because it reflects on the personal strife that he was going through with his family, things that were very dark and bleak. So it's a lot more personal record for him," explains Krauss. "But there are certain songs that are just pretty over the top and hopefully make people want to throw their hands up and dance and jump around. I think it's a nice balance of the different moods."

Working on the new album also saw Krauss and Miller evolve into a more tight-knit partnership. For the singer it was a huge step forward in terms of bringing her ideas to the table for proper collaboration.

"For many years after Derek left Poison the Well he was really self-reliant and very controlling of being able to do things himself," says Krauss. "But he understands full-well that this band is now very much my band as well. It's both of our lives that I needed to be more involved with the creation of the music."

While her strong suit in the development of the duo's sound is writing melodies, much of the Sleigh Bells identity relies on Krauss' trademark saccharine vocals. She says her singing is often recorded at a very low volume with her almost whispering into the microphone, and then layered to effect.

"I definitely approach the recording with a very childlike way of singing," she says. "The melodies and the delivery are very pop-orientated - with the exception of songs where I'm shouting my brains out."

In the midfield between the shredding guitar tracks and the jump-around party numbers lies Comeback Kid, the first true single from Reign of Terror. A video for the single has been released which features a sweetly-smiling Krauss holding a rifle and jumping around in an immaculately-kitsch bedroom setting, playing with contrasting elements in the same manner as their music. To shoot the low-budget video the two flew to Miller's hometown of Florida, and had it directed by his old high school friend, Gregory Kohn.

"We kind of kept in the family," Krauss says. "The scenes in the bedroom and in the house are actually Derek's parents' home, so everything was done in terms of production and props - it was just all right there."

Krauss says the pair will soon be looking to get into the studio and make another record and keep putting out music. She attributes their tenacity to the lack of romance in their friendship.

"We've never been in a relationship, there's no baggage. It's always been about working together as musicians, which is really great because from the start everything about Sleigh Bells was extremely focused."

But before that, Sleigh Bells is touring around the world to promote Reign of Terror, a journey that Krauss says will hopefully bring them to these shores.

*Sleigh Bells' Reign of Terror is out now on Mom+Pop/Liberator.

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