Sleigh Bells' Alexis Krauss: "Everytime We Get Onstage, I See It As a Fight We Have to Win"
Alexis Krauss (left) and Derek E. Miller of Sleigh Bells.
Sleigh Bells is long overdue for a Phoenix show. It's been more than three years since the noise pop duo rocked a sold-out show at the now-defunct Clubhouse with a wall of Marshall amps and lots of screaming. Since then, frontwoman Alexis Krauss says the band has developed significantly thanks to the addition of a live drummer and a second guitarist, and has gained more experience as a band.
"I felt kind of guilty making people pay to see us play for 25 minutes, but that was because we were restricted by our very limited repertoire at the time," Krauss says, "We've been playing shows now for almost five years...it's done wonders for our confidence and our efficacy on stage."
We recently caught up with Alexis Krauss in advance of Sleigh Bells' concert at the Crescent Ballroom on Wednesday night to discuss recording a new music video in a True Detective-like setting, how the duo's live show has progressed, and her top picks are for Coachella this year.
I see you guys are in New Orleans right now. What are you up to?
We actually spent the past couple of days shooting a music video, so we were wandering all around the city, and then outside of the city in the more like swamp/rural parts, so I kind of got my True Detective Louisiana experience over the past few days, it was great.
The last time you guys performed in Phoenix was on the Treats tour. The show was fast, furious, and short. Two albums later, how have your live performances changed?
They've changed so much. That first tour we did for Treats was incredible, but it was much more stripped down than our show now. It used to just be Derek [Miller, guitars] and I on stage with our trusty iPod ,and now we actually have a live drummer and we have another guitarist.
So the sound live is much more fully formed and we're just much more confident on stage. We've been playing shows now for almost five years, which isn't that long in terms of the lifetimes of bands, but for us it's done wonders for our confidence and our efficacy on stage. I think our show is much more exciting and dynamic.
As you mentioned, we used to play insanely short sets. There were a few times I felt kind of guilty making people pay to see us play for 25 minutes, but that was because we were restricted by our very limited repertoire at the time and Treats is a very quick record, so even if we played every song off of it, the show would have never lasted more than 32 minutes.
So now, we have two additional records, [Reign of] Terror and Bitter Rivals, and the show's much more substantial. It's really interesting how the three records work together. Sonically, they're pretty different, but they integrate really beautifully in the live setting. We're just a much more interesting and exciting band than we were back in 2011.
Your vocals are very rapid-fire. Did you need any time to adjust to singing so fast live, or did it come naturally?
It's a very physical performance. Vocally, there are a lot of quick deliveries, there are a lot of shouted deliveries, there's a lot of jumping back and forth between belted melodies to screaming to very soft falsetto singing, so it's a very diverse show vocally, but that's always the way it's been, so you just adapt.
It's definitely the type of show where you have to be at your physical best in order to give a good performance. I never drink before shows, I don't casually stumble on stage, I always warm up my voice and get myself in the physical shape that I needed to be in to execute a good show. We take it very seriously. It's our job, and every time we get on stage, I see it as a fight we have to win. We're not fighting with the audience, we're kind of fighting with ourselves.We're pushing ourselves to be better, so we're competitive in that sense.
That's interesting to hear, because I love listening to you guys at the gym because I feel like I'm gearing up for my own fight of sorts.
People always tell me, "I listen to Sleigh Bells while working out and it really motivates me and makes me really angry in a positive way," and I'm like, "I totally know what you mean!"
You're doing this full time, right? Did you stop teaching?
No, I'm not teaching anymore. It's a career that requires 24 hours of your attention. In addition to the time you're actually in the classroom to the time you spend lesson planning to calling parents, you're just dreaming about what you're going to do the next day. I'm full time with Sleigh Bells, which is great.
We tour pretty much constantly, and when we're not touring, we're recording new music, so it doesn't provide much downtime, but I miss teaching. Maybe one day I'll find myself back in the classroom, who knows. It's great how life takes you in different directions. I couldn't be happier doing what I'm doing.
Why did you kick off Reign of Terror with a live intro to "True Shred Guitar"?
It's not a live version (laughs), we created that in the studio. We did that song in one day, it was one of those...I don't want to say it was a joke, because we take all of our songs very seriously, but we wanted to create something that was really anthemic, and for it to sound like we recorded it in an arena, which we never played in an arena, so it was supposed to be ironic (laughs). We just wanted to come in with something really bombastic, something that was announcing our return, something that was confident and a bit playful for sure.
I think we intended for people to listen to that song and look at the person they were listening to it with and be like "oh yeah, Sleigh Bells are back." It's definitely overpowering and in your face and certainly not subtle. But yeah, we just wanted to set a certain mood for that record.
What's "Rill Rill" actually about? I always pictured it to be about kids cutting class to snort coke, or something.
It's not really a narrative, it's not specifically about one thing, but it definitely is about rebellion and youth and combining bizarre images. A lot of the lyrics Derek wrote for Treats were really about that and the American teenage experience as an overarching theme, but definitely incorporating more dark, twisted images.
The same can be said for "Infinity Guitars" and "Riot Rhyhtm," it's definitely that David Lynch-esque mood where everything seems sunny and happy on the surface, but there's a really dark, twisted underbelly with everything.
What was it like hanging out with Anthony Bourdain?
That was such a dream come true, I was a huge No Reservations fan, and I'm a big fan of his new show on CNN. It was great, he was incredibly gracious with his time and it's really fascinating how he can just insert himself into any context and act like he's totally comfortable. I think that's really because he is. We hit it off right away and we were barbecuing and drinking and he was the shit.
You guys are about to play Coachella for the third time. Who are you most excited to see?
I'm excited to finally see Chvrches. I met the Haim ladies at Treasure Island and they were rad, so I'm excited to see them again. I'm hoping that I'll get to meet Lorde because I'm a big fan of Lorde. I'm really excited to see the Replacements, I'm a big fan. I think Pharell is great, he's a charismatic performer. It's a really incredible lineup this year, so I'm sure I'll just be bouncing around for tons of great music.
Sleigh Bells is scheduled to perform at Crescent Ballroom on Wednesday, April 9.
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