Interview: Sleigh Bells

Published in The Music (WA) | 02.10.13 | Issue # 8

The Music (VIC) | 09.10.13 | Issue # 8



The pop-infused sound of Sleigh Bells’ new record may give the impression guitarist Derek Miller has somewhat mellowed out since 2012’s Reign Of Terror, but as Daniel Cribb finds out, the guitarist is in the midst of an emotional and physical battle.

When you think of escaping from work, there’s usually a secluded beach or luxurious hotel suite in the mix. Most find sipping on margaritas on a remote island beachfront relaxing, but for Sleigh Bells’ Derek Miller, waking up at the crack of dawn for a tireless workout is about as cathartic as it gets. “I’ve been training to box, so I box every morning for an hour,” Miller begins. “I’m not a tough guy, I don’t go around beating people up, but it’s just a really good way to get in shape and learn a skill. It’s certainly not the worst thing you can know how to do. It’s not a Hemingway thing, it’s just getting in shape and you will not go out the night before if you’re going to box the next morning; you just won’t do it, it’s hell,” he laughs.

It’s 9pm in Brooklyn when the exhausted guitarist answers his phone and, if his newfound passion for boxing wasn’t the first subject for conversation, such exhaustion would have been a little surprising, considering the band has been on somewhat of a break since February – their longest time away from the stage since forming in 2008. The again, Miller’s quick to reinforce his non-stop take on music. “I don’t do anything outside of the band; it’s not a hobby to me, I love it to death. I really, really, really love it, so even though I just called it a break, we’ve been in the studio the entire time. If we try to take a break this is usually what I end up thinking about. I know first hand just how fragile life is; it can just be taken from you senselessly in the blink of an eye. You know, you’re walking your dog and get hit by a bus. I know that happens, I’ve had an experience like that and I don’t believe in wasting time, so while I can, I make these records.”

“I’m literally living my dream; you could give me every dollar in the world and I’d still do Sleigh Bells the way I do it now. I don’t really like taking vacations. I can’t go sit on a beach somewhere because I’ll start working on the band – it’s my life and I’m lucky to be able to do it. I don’t take it for granted.”

It was losing his father in a motorcycle accident in June of 2009 that triggered such a proactive approach to music. Like a diary entry, each song Miller pens reflects a specific moment in time. Usually the feel of the song reflects the emotions brewing within whilst he was writing it and 2012’s Reign Of Terror had a deep-seeded darkness to it – even the title fortified such themes. “By the end of Reign Of Terror it was clear to me that I wasn’t in a very good place,” he tells. “It’s very dark and it’s very heavy and so halfway through this record it was so obvious to me, at least to my ears, that I was coming from a much better place and a totally different headspace and I was just so thrilled.

“This record’s just coming out, so I don’t want to be obnoxious and start talking about the next one, but I’ve been thinking about it obsessively… I couldn’t make Reign Of Terror again, and I wouldn’t want to and I couldn’t make Bitter Rivals again. I’ve been writing and recording since we left the studio and it already feels different. Everything to me has a certain freshness at all times; I don’t get bored very easily. I’ve lived on the same block for three years but I usually see something different every time I go outside.”

With three records in as many years, they’ve managed to land an impressive amount of their songs on movies, TV shows and ads. So if you haven’t made a conscious effort to follow Sleigh Bells, you’ve probably heard one of their tunes around the place. Most recently their song Rill, Rill, off 2011’s Treats, was used in the iPhone 5 commercial. The voice portraying Miller’s ever-evolving lyrics and driving the sound of the band is the other half of Sleigh Bells, vocalist Alexis Krauss.

On other records, Miller did almost everything, but Krauss lifted her game for album number three. “In the past I was doing a lot of the melody work, but with this record I gave her instrumentals and lyrics and let her do whatever she wanted. I was very hands off and it’s not that I was inhibiting before, but she wasn’t ready to take such a large role and she stepped into it perfectly this time. I was sort of blown away because she works very quickly and always has a tonne of great ideas; she compliments me perfectly and vice versa.

“The abstract, ‘magical’ part of the band, it’s specific to two people and can never be the same with anyone else. She was so excited to finally be fully invested in the band and have it be her band as much as is my band, so I think she came to love it as much as I do and I think that made the record stronger and I feel like it’s there in the music, you can hear it…for me, it’s the record I’m most excited about because it’s our first true collaboration. She’s infinity better at singing and writing melodies and I can’t wait to do more; I feel like we’re just getting started.”

Daniel Cribb