Even 15 minutes before Sleigh Bells began their set, it was pretty apparent that Pitchfork’s intimate Balance Stage didn’t have enough comfortable space to accommodate the duo’s burgeoning fan base. In less than a year, their infectious, fresh, genre-bending sound has launched the duo from day jobs to choice gigs and critical acclaim. Before the performance at Pitchfork, we spoke to Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss about the intersection of chance and talent, and replacing their B machines with A machines when recording the next album.
I remember hearing you say several times that you prefer playing in the studio, as opposed to playing live, which I kind of find surprising since your shows are so energetic. Is it just a quality control factor?
Derek Miller: I think in a live setting, there are just so many variables you can’t control, [like] the shape and sound of a room. We don’t have a live sound engineer yet, so you’re depending on whoever’s at the board. They’re interpreting your sound.
Are you mixing live now or still using the iPod to play beats during live shows?
DM: Yeah, it’s just beats, guitar, and vocals. Still, I prefer the studio.
Alexis Krauss: I like the live setting now. It’s the only time you get to interact with the crowd. It’s an amazing experience, especially when they’re behind you.
And Alexis, you used to teach. Do you draw on that kind of energy to influence your live performance?
AK: Not really. You just have to occupy a really different headspace than you do on a day-to-day basis. It’s definitely a special place to be. I enjoy it; I get a rush from it. I usually get sweaty and covered in beer.
For lack of a better term, the “discovery” of a band typically happens on the Internet these days, but for you guys it kind of happened live. Do you think that was a quicker vault to the top?
DM: No idea — I try not to think about it.
AK: I think we got really lucky. We played the right shows at the right time, and people saw something in us. It was luck — because we certainly didn’t sound good back then!
As far as new material goes, do you anticipate keeping this distinctive sound that you’ve cultivated? Alexis, I know at times you sang into the computer microphone to record; will you use similar techniques, or now that you have more money and flexibility this time around…?
DM: I’m sure we’ll use a variety of tools. Some of the same hardware that we used was really cheap. But it’s also nice to have access to a larger amount of sounds. It provides more frequencies. It’s just fresh. A lot of my old beat stations, I can’t even look at anymore. I’ve used them to death.
Have you started working on new material?
DM: Yeah, we’ve got a ton. We haven’t recorded any of it because we’ve been on the road. It’s probably going to be a while, but at some point we’ll get back in the studio.
Are you playing any of it live? Are we going to hear any new material tonight?
DM: No, we’ve got to record it first.
I think it’s kind of interesting that your sound turned out to be a combination of hardcore elements and pop, since these are your respective musical backgrounds, even if that wasn’t the intent going in. Can you talk a bit about the evolution of your sound?
AK: There’s definitely elements that have come out: these heavy, extended breakdowns in our music, and then a lot of pop melodies. It’s easy to look back and say, oh — hardcore and pop, put them together and you have Sleigh Bells. But it’s certainly more complicated than that. But they’re both genres that we love, so it’s nice that we had experience in them to draw from.
What typically comes first when you’re writing songs? The beat?
DM: The beat, definitely. I think that’s the main difference with the new stuff. The beat always came first before, and now I’m actually using my guitar and doing actual chord changes, as opposed to pounding a single rhythm into the ground for two or three minutes. So I’m sure that’s going to sound different.
Were you improvising the melodies and lyrics beforehand?
DM: It was really new for me. The lyric-writing process in general is really new and fresh and exciting for me. As far as melodies, we’re just starting to collaborate now.
AK: There were some moments in the studio where we had to work pretty quickly. But yeah, there’s never really an example that we follow. It’s different every time.
Have you gotten a chance to see anyone else at the festival today?
DM: I saw about five minutes of Girls.
AK: We saw some of Best Coast. I heard Beach House.
DM: Yeah, we heard Beach House from afar.
AK: Which is actually nice, because it was really relaxing.
You’re playing some shows with Die Antwoord next week. Is this going to be your first time hanging out with them?
DM: We played the Vice Creators Project with them, but we didn’t end up meeting. So that should be interesting.
Photo Credit: Ryan Meyers