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Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells

Monday 5th March, 2012 3:27PM

Sleigh Bells garnered critical acclaim for their debut album, Treats, released in 2010. The electronic duo returned recently with their sophomore, Reign of Terror. Equally parts catchy and aggressive, we caught up with guitarist Derek E. Miller to discuss the album, how the last couple of years have been and what the future holds.

Hey Derek, how are you? What are you up to at the moment?

We are preparing for tour so we’re kind of prepping the household; stuff like that.

Are you excited about taking the new album out on the road?

I can’t wait, I’m so excited to play the new songs live, yeah.

So let’s start by talking about the new album, Reign of Terror. Were you nervous going into releasing the sophomore after the acclaim of the first?

I can’t lie, I wasn’t. As soon as I finish a record I start working on the next one and it’s sort of what sustains me especially if we’re on tour for a long time like we were for Treats, so more than anything I was excited to get new music out. I don’t get nervous when we’re recording because I think we’re extremely tough on ourselves so if we can approach the standard we set for ourselves – which we never really do – we usually feel pretty confident that it’s not terrible. I’m not saying it’s good but we at least know it’s worth something.

Tell me about the writing and recording process for this album.

I had a lot of Treats down when I met Alexis (Krauss) and so there weren’t quite as many opportunities to collaborate. This one I wrote on tour and of course Alexis and I are pretty much together 24/7 when we’re on the road so I was constantly bouncing things off of her and in that way she was just present for so much of it and in that way helped shape it much more than she did with Treats. It’s better for it, too.

Was there anything that you were particularly focused on achieving with this album?

Hopefully just making something decent and memorable - beyond that I can’t really think of anything. I just wanted to make good records. But again, we’re pretty harsh critics so while we enjoy the process we do put a lot of pressure on ourselves to deliver.

How would you compare this record to Treats?

Um, well, this one is much more of a guitar record whereas Treats was very much about rhythm. This one is still rhythmic but I focused a lot more on guitar and I feel like it’s a little more melodic because of it. I’m trying to think…it’s difficult to describe this stuff without sounding idiotic. Outside of that I try to avoid thinking about it and go with my gut and trust my instincts.

Are lyrical observations an important part of Sleigh Bells?

If the listener wants them to be important and if they want to put a lot of emphasis on them then sure they can be, but I don’t think it’s necessary for people to have a quote-unquote deep understanding of the lyrics to appreciate the music. I appreciate great lyrics like anybody but it’s usually the last part of a record that I latch onto. I can listen to a song a hundred times and it can affect me profoundly without knowing what the lyrics are. But that being said incredible lyrics – what can you say about them? They’re rare, so in that respect they’re valuable. I mean I care I work hard I’m invested, but it’s OK if people don’t stress over the lyrics.

Is there anything that’s lyrically important on Reign of Terror?

Yeah it’s a much more personal record lyrically and I don’t want to be dramatic but it’s pretty dark. Treats was more abstract and this record is more of a reaction to specific events in my life that were extremely difficult to deal with.

Has having one album already done given you the confidence to explore more personal, darker things?

Not necessary, no. I just didn’t have much of a choice because it’s creative work and I don’t know how to avoid it you know it’s whatever’s on your mind, those are the ingredients and I can’t really escape it. The only way to deal with it was to just get it down, get it out of my head and onto the record so I’m glad I did it and now I can move forward. It was kind of therapeutic in a way; I really don’t want to make it seem like this big deal or whatever but I think anyone who writes music would tell you the same thing, you know, you can’t avoid what’s on your mind.

You've had a massive couple of years since Treats was released. How does it feel to be here and reflect on the last couple years?

It feels great! It was so incredibly surprising and humbling that anybody gave a shit. You never know, there’s absolutely no way to know whether anybody is going to care and it was a privilege. I love touring and bands are in no way entitled to that type of reaction and if anything the great thing about having a second record is I really enjoy not being the new kid on the block – in internet years we’re kind of old now and I like that. When you’re the new kid on the block people are testing you and prodding you and want to see how tough you are and I feel really good about moving beyond that phase and getting to a point where we have fans and we can put this out and there will be at least a handful of people who will be anticipating it. Whereas with Treats there was just absolutely no way to know. So I’m excited about it.

Looking back over the last couple of years were there any amazing moments or creative objectives that you achieved?

We supported LCD Soundsystem on tour in September and October of 2010 and that was an incredible experience. Just watching LCD every night and seeing the way that James Murphy operates both professionally and as a person it was really incredible. And god there’s just so many memories and so many amazing experiences; I don’t even know where I would start. We only work with people that we care about and that we’re really close with so getting to work with them every day I feel really lucky. I sit back and get to travel around the world doing something that I love with people that we care about and it’s pretty amazing. I mean like I said we’re not entitled to it and I don’t take it for granted we’re very lucky.

And you mentioned touring with LCD Soundsystem before. They're arguably the Godfathers of Brooklyn dance music. Do you feel part of that lineage - does there even feel like there is a lineage or community going on in Brooklyn at the moment?

I can’t say that I feel particularly connected to what’s going on in Brooklyn even though we did form here. I think it’s more about feeling a connection specifically to LCD with the thing that I mentioned. I feel like we have things in common with them; James Murphy specifically is very uncompromising and he’s a bit of a perfectionist and he works hard and he treats people well. I’d like to think we’re cut from a similar cloth. I want to make it clear I’m not comparing our records to his but there’s a way he goes about things that I feel is similar. I feel a kinship there. You know what though we’ve been gone for so long and when we came back we didn’t take a vacation because I don’t like downtime very much. We did a video and then went into the studio for four months and came out and went home for the holidays and now we’re going on tour so there hasn’t been a massive amount of down time or time to reflect.

Going back to the beginning of the band, I hear you met Alexis in a restaurant?

Yeah absolutely. I was waiting on Alexis and her mother. Alexis’ Mother is very talkative and we got chatting and I mentioned that I was in New York looking for a vocalist for my band so Alexis of course was sitting right there and was like “oh shit I sing” and we exchanged email addresses and started recording a week after that.”

Did you know it was working out immediately?

It wasn’t immediate, we had to feel eachother out and it took a few sessions before it started clicking but we got along really well immediately which was a massive help and then it just started working. We were working on some of those first songs like ‘Infinity Guitars’ and ‘Tell ‘Em’ almost from day one. With ‘Infinity Guitars’ I started to feel there was something there; we were pushing something that people might like to hear.

What was the most important thing - beside vocals of course - that Alexis has brought to the table?

Well it became much more collaborative once we wrote Reign of Terror because we wrote that on tour. I’m constantly bouncing ideas off her and I trust her taste so I’d just play her the stuff I’m working on and a lot of it she liked a lot of it she didn’t and the stuff she liked I’d work harder on. She just had a much bigger hand in the second album.