InterviewsPaul Stokes

Q&a Sleigh Bells - the inside story on their Reign Of Terror, studio antics & getting kids to dance in cars!

InterviewsPaul Stokes

New York-based duo Sleigh Bells are set to return with their second studio album Reign Of Terror on 21 February having blown away their audiences - and many an ear drum - with their 2010 debut Treats. We caught up with Derek E. Miller (instruments and production) and Alexis Krauss (vocals) to chat about recording, working as a duo and being the premier soundtrack for children in the back of cars (see below). Treats was a loud album. Reign Of Terror is also loud but more contained... Derek: "Awesome, thank you! I've been saying more and more... I don't have a lot of faith in making creative decisions. We just follow our instincts. When you overthink it, you end up killing it. You smash whatever's special about it. In that respect, it's just what needed to get done that day." Alexis: "The biggest difference is that the songs were coming from a different place."

What place was that? D: "All the music was written on the road. I don't need to be in a studio. I can be in a hotel room." A: "We did a lot of melody work in the studio quickly, not to say that a lot of thought doesn't go into it but..." D: "It's less thought, more action. That keeps it fresher. I don't like labouring over it, you know?" A: "Accidental things end up surprising us and, in my opinion, become the best moments on the record." D: "Absolutely."

What are the best and worst things about working as a pair? D: "I don't see any negatives. There's nothing about it that bothers me. I like it. I was in a band and I quit to avoid being in a band because I don't like too many cooks in the kitchen. That's a cliché but it's true. I don't like democracies. Well, when it comes to the creative process! A: [Makes rock hands] "Authoritarian rule! [both laugh]. Being a pair just allows you to have a more intimate, focused conversation about everything. About music, the live show, the aesthetics, everything." D: "We don't fight about it. We're usually on the same page. We're really hard on ourselves. For me, I never reach the standard that I set for myself. We just get as close as we possibly can. There's not a lot of fighting that needs to occur!" A: "There's less opportunity for poison. If Derek and I have an issue with one another, we have to confront it. There's no other person that we can go talk shit to." D: "There's no, bitching to my bass player about it. It's just the two of us."

Who wears the trousers in the studio? A: [laughing, points at Derek] "Yeah." D: "I'm not shy about it [laughs]. I produce it, I write the bulk of it. Since all of the music was written on tour when we were together she has a say on everything. If she doesn't like something it does not get used. That's always the case because I trust her. I wouldn't want her to do anything that she didn't feel good about." A: "Nor would I." D: "Exactly! So it's convenient that I feel that way. [Both laugh] Because that's the way it's got to be!"

Have there been any times when you've gone, Thank God I didn't do that? D: "Yeah, she's pretty good at calling me out on things." A: "Well, we haven't talked about this but here's an example of when I thought, I'm glad I was there. Derek was working on the song Crush... [Both laughing]. There'll be moments when I can see it happening in his face, he's losing confidence..." D: "I just get so deflated..." A: "And he's like, Forget about this song. Maybe another time, another person, another place. And I'm like [gets angry] No! No Derek! This is our song! And we're going to make it a fucking awesome song!" D: "I'll do that, you know, Maybe we'll bank this one... I don't think it works on this record. And I'll see you [points at Alexis] sit there quietly and you'll have daggers in your eyes and you're like, Fuck you, we're working on this song!" A: "Now it's one of my favourite songs on the record."

You had that Funkadelic loop on the first album's Rill Rill. What influences your sound? D: "I'm a music fanatic. There's nothing I love more in my life. I love pop music as much as I love metal or hardcore. I don't listen so much to that any more. There's still something I get from it that I don't get from Top 40 or hip hop. So it's very natural for me to marry the two. Throw in everything you love and everything you hate, smash it all together and you end up with the output." A: Vocally, I think we live in an age where people are so impressed with more... louder, bigger notes. More detail. I'm obsessed with Everly Brothers right now. They do so much with the simplest notes. Every note counts." D: "We don't go for the vocal acrobatics. Some singers do that well. Also I don't like when singers sound... singer-y. They have all these affectations [makes orgasm sound]..." A: "There is a lot of emotion to the vocals on Reign Of Terror but they're not done in a clichéd way." D: "Yeah, it's not histrionic."

There's a video of kids listening to Sleigh Bells in their back of a car (below)... A: "I found that and it makes me so happy!"

What did you listen to in the car when you were kids? D: "My mum was constantly blasting Madonna's Immaculate Collection. Plenty of Belinda Carlisle. She was also a big rock fan, really into Boston. I heard a lot of Boston and a lot of Zeppelin. The staple stuff. Female-oriented pop music, which probably has a lot to do with my obsession with the female voice and why I was desperately seeking out a girl to work with." A: "I also love listening to pop music in the car. I think the car is such a great place because that's where you have no inhibitions. You can listen to anything in the car and you can sing anything in the car. It gives you that freedom to do whatever." D: "When I was 16 I had a Ford Ranger pick-up truck and I was playing in a hardcore band. We would practice an hour and a half from where I lived so I did a lot of driving. That was my primary mode of listening to music - in my car. When I went to college in Tallahassee - at FSU - on Thursday night after Algebra I would get in my truck and drive six hours and 400 miles to Jupiter and the next day I would drive down to Lauderdale and then on Monday night I'd drive back up. That was big. I miss living in Florida - you get to listen to a ton of music in your car. In New York? Not so much."

Alexis, you used to be a teacher. Are there any skills you learned that you can use in the music industry? A: "People ask this all the time. Skills? No. Whether it's being in a band or being a teacher you just have to work hard and stay focused. That's a bit obtuse but it's the truth. There's little crossover other than work ethic." D: "It's much less consequential. These are the lives of children!" A: "Yeah, the stakes aren't as high! Not to say we don't have a lot of goals but I don't feel that dread that I would often feel if I wasn't prepared with a proper lesson plan." Eve Barlow @Eve_Barlow Get Q308, on sale now, for a review of the band's new album. For more head to Reignofterror.tv