Brooklyn’s Sleigh Bells have never been too far off perfecting a unique blend of earth-shattering riffs and anthemic pop. Following on from 2013’s Bitter Rivals, fourth LP Jessica Rabbit sees the pair scratching closer to pure pop perfection than ever before. But while the forthcoming album continues this quest to deliver the perfect tune, it concurrently strikes a darker vein.
In the intervening years since Bitter Rivals, Derek Miller’s personal struggles and an ongoing legal feud with Demi Lovato over copyright infringement have certainly left a mark on the duo’s sound. Ahead of the album’s release we caught up with Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss (en route home after a weekend of white water rafting) to talk about cutting their latest record.
Music Feeds: When I listen to Sleigh Bells I think simplicity and maximalism. Shredding riffs, heavy beats and swaggering attitude in all one. Then there are the Hooks! If you could sum up Sleigh Bells in a single sentence what would it be?
Alexis Krauss: I’m going to give you a string of words instead of a sentence. Okay it’s kind of a sentence. Let’s go with “Maniacal cheerleaders eating razor blades while drinking rainbows.”
MF: I’ve had a chance to listen to your forthcoming fourth LP ‘Jessica Rabbit’. There are these brooding instrumental tracks like ‘Lightning Turns Sawdust Cold’ and even ‘Loyal For’ that strike a bleaker tone than what you’ve done in past. They feel a little less triumphant. Has the inspiration for these tracks come from a darker place?
AK: Yeah, I think there definitely is more of a melancholy to this record. I think that has to do with a couple of things. There was definitely a darkness influencing the instrumental compositions and Derek’s lyrics. Derek’s input is informed by a myriad of personal struggles and demons. He’s pretty upfront about his struggles.
But then there’s also a lot of frustration behind this record. Not between Derek and I, but just a lot of frustrating experiences in trying to get the record written, recorded and released. Ultimately all of those challenges have proven to be very beneficial to the creative process because it forced us to keep writing, creating and experimenting. While we were in the thick of it there were a lot of times where we felt, I don’t know, I don’t want to say feeling a sense of desperation or hopelessness. That seems pretty extreme, but there was this sense of loneliness almost. We kind of felt like we were on our own, I think songs like Loyal For and I Know Not to Count On You reflect that sort of melancholy and isolation.
That being said Derek and I also felt a little boxed in by some of the music that we had been making. We had that kind of bombastic triumphant music on Treats, but Derek and I really love (laughs) sad music! I love writing sad melodies.
MF: I’ve noticed that your songs seem to have gotten longer…
MF: Do you feel it’s because you’ve matured as a band? Are you trying to push outward creatively?
AK: I don’t think there was any conscious decision to make music sound more mature or evolved or sophisticated or any of those terms, which I’m sure will be applied to the record. I think it’s just a reflection of who we are as people, what we’re listening to and where we want to go. I’ve said that I have a lot of respect for our fans because we definitely have asked a lot of them as far as coming along on this journey with us. We’ve changed our sound quite significantly from Treats.
While I think that all four records speak to one another, I can definitely understand why this is a real creative jump from some of our earlier material. All I can say is that we are a band that feels more motivated to make music that makes us happy and less motivated to write music that appeals to alternative radio or other people’s expectations of us. It’s probably not the most financially sound decision to make, but it’s a stubborn one. That’s really what this record represents.
MF: Do you feel you’ve exorcised some of that negativity? Were you venting?
AK: Do you say exorcised as in released?
MF: Yes, not exercise like running on a treadmill! It could be the Australian accent.
AK: (Laughs) That’s what I thought you meant! The record was very cathartic. I think most of our records have been cathartic and this one especially. We wrote a lot for this record and didn’t use a lot of that material. I think we were extremely invested in every song we were working on and took a lot of time with each of them. Every song that’s on the album, with the exception of I Know Not To Count On You, Torn Clean and It’s Just Us Now, were reworked or reimaged. Choruses were rewritten, instrumentals were changed and bridges were scrapped.
It was a much more ruthless process as a far as determining which songs were going to make the album. Anytime you subject your art to that much self-criticism it initially feels really shitty. But then it ends up being cathartic because you expunge all of that negativity.
MF: Once you’ve scrapped a song, is it something you might revisit in future or is completely canned?
AK: A lot of these songs started off in one form and evolved into completely different forms. I Can Only Stare is one of those songs. We wrote it as one thing and ended up adding an entire new verse, melody and progression. For I Can’t Stand You Anymore we had two completely different bridges and verses. For Baptism By Fire we didn’t have a chorus until late in the game. We were working with [producer] Mike Elizondo out in California and he very politely said to us, “Guys you know this song is very good, but it doesn’t have a chorus!” We were like “this thing here is a chorus!” But he was right. In the end, we wrote a chorus for it.
Most of the tracks went through a lot of changes and that’s not something we’d ever done in the past. It’s not something we could have done. If you have a song like A/B Machines or Infinity Guitars there really isn’t anything to it; just a hook, a guitar riff and a lot of repetition. On this album, there are a ton of tempo changes and strange arrangements. At the same time, things are much more cinematic and longer in general like you said earlier.
MF: You and Derek are a tight-knit creative unit, but it sounds like you’ve opened up a little more to external input. This time around…
AK: I think to a degree. We opened ourselves up in terms of working with Mike, trying to work with a new label and just encouraging the people we care most about to provide us with feedback. But I would say that overall, compared to a lot of artists I know, we’re still pretty closed off.
MF: Sonically where do you see yourselves going next? Are there any ideas still kicking around after the album?
AK: Yes, there are a ton of ideas. It’s kind of bittersweet, there were a lot of songs that didn’t make it onto this album, but we felt like we made the right decisions. There are a lot of ideas that I would like to revisit, a lot of ideas Derek would like to revisit and new ideas! I actually just got a new guitar demo from Derek while I was fuelling up my car at a rest area!
MF: Sleigh Bells’ music resonates with a really varied group of people. It seems like your fans are into all sorts of music. When you play live and meet fans do you find that there’s this kind of diversity?
AK: I appreciate that observation, that’s something I am particularly proud of. Our band has never really fit a certain formula or genre very well and as a result, it’s never catered to single groups of people. I think that’s a good thing!
I think when the band started it was mostly white men between the ages of 18 and 30 that were coming to see us as a result of the blogs that were talking about us. We’ve since grown our audience to include everything from eight-year-old girls to 75-year-old women. The majority of our audience are 20-30-year-olds and younger kids, but there’s this real diversity. I really like where our audience has come to, especially as a performer. Looking out at our fans, it’s very exciting to me.
‘Jessica Rabbit’ is out November 11th. Pre-order a copy here.