Short bursts. Intensity. Dynamics. These words come straight from Sleigh Bells’ guitarist, Derek Miller, when describing his musical inclinations. And, that should ready you nicely for the Brooklyn duo’s signature sound. The buzzy guitars bark over danceable rhythms, while lead singer Alexis Krauss is “dynamic,” toeing the line between charismatic and confrontational throughout the cute melodies of pop and the throat-curdling howls of punk rock.
The pair broke out in 2010 — a typical tale of attracting the right attention during the CMJ festival in New York and following up with an effective debut, Treats. Their first batch of songs was in-your-face heavy, but Miller’s writing demonstrated emotional depth on 2012’s Reign of Terror, thus altering the blogosphere’s generic descriptor for the duo, from peppy sample-based pop to more of a punk thing, heavier on the guitars.
Bands can burn out pretty fast after buzzed-up premieres. But Miller credits their staying power to their persistent work ethic. They often write (and record demos) on the road, (Miller travels with what he calls his “mobile sound lab.”) And if they aren’t writing between touring gigs, they’re at the gym or working out; both Krauss and Miller recently took up boxing while recording their third album, Bitter Rivals, which comes out this month.
Metro Times: We’ve heard you’re big fans of Danny Brown, one of our hometown heroes in the rap scene.
Derek Miller: Absolutely. He’s all over the place. He’s just inspiring. He’s frantic, exciting … just a badass. We’re doing two shows with him in New York. I’d be down for doing some production work with him at some point.
MT: Frantic and exciting, huh? What draws you toward erratic music and how does that influence your writing and recording approach?
Miller: I drive myself crazy, but in short bursts. I like short records … ours is 30 minutes, 10-11 songs. That’s just how I like to record. I like things that are lean and short on moody parts. I’m a big Motown fan and those songs are all two- to two-and-a-half minutes long.
We toured with LCD Soundsystem and I admire their layering process, but it’s not a strength of mine. Subtlety is not a strength of mine. I like intensity. I love bursts. I love dynamics. That’s who I am and I think our records reflect that.
MT: How do you sustain an MO of “bursts?”
Miller: Not to be too dramatic, but I lost my dad very quickly and tragically in 2009 and I think it’s probably fair to say that any urgency I feel stems from that. I respect the fact that things you don’t put on your calendar may and actually do happen to you, so I don’t believe in wasting time. I love doing this band. I love it to death. I just like to work. It keeps the demons at bay.
MT: The short, bursting guitars remind me of Gang of Four’s Entertainment…
Miller: Andy Gill’s a genius. I could never compare us to them but I love their dry, crunchy, deliberate sound. It’s like, there’s nothing there at all … in the best possible way.
MT: People wouldn’t think you’re a Motown fan, listening to your aggressive, more caustic songs …
Miller: Detroit has a special place in my heart. I’m a Motown fanatic. I’m frequently asked who my favorite band is and if I don’t name a producer, it’s definitely the Funk Brothers. I live in New York but I’m from Florida, where it’s not a lot of ‘rah-rah-I’m-from-Florida’ stuff. You wake up and get it done. Detroit’s just a fucking tough, hardworking town. Not a lot of pretension. I can identify with that.
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