If you want proof of kismet (or at least a rock & roll version of it), look no further than the creation of Sleigh Bells. Without their chance meeting when guitarist Derek Miller waited on lead singer’s Alexis Krauss' table at a restaurant in Brooklyn several years ago, it’s quite possible that Sleigh Bells wouldn’t exist. Thankfully the food and rock gods aligned that day, and seven years into their career, the noise pop duo is about to launch their latest North American tour behind their mini-LP Kid Kruschev. The new run of shows kick off Jan. 23 with a show in their home borough of Brooklyn and wrap up at the 9:30 Club on Valentine’s Day.
Speaking from her home in upstate New York, Alexis Krauss took some time to speak with AXS about getting political with Kid Kruschev, being at home in the great outdoors and loving Def Leppard from afar.
AXS: Sleigh Bells has never been an overtly political band [but] there are songs on Kid Kruschev like "Blue Trash Mattress Fire" that contain the lyrics "Evidence of moral detours, In the downtown holy wars, Hysterical depths of casual hatred, Taking place in everyday places." There's no doubt that that's about our current political state.Why did you decide to pointedly address this and not take the escapism, party band route?
Alexis Krauss: You're right. We've never been an overtly political band but as Derek and I have gotten older we've gotten more comfortable - and especially Derek as a lyricist - speaking his minded creating imagery that is more concrete and tangible and narrative and of the zeitgeist. Where I think in the past, on Treats, the lyric writing was more abstract and more of an almost rhythmic compliment and the songs. Not that they were nonsensical, but it was more about how things sounded and less about message. There's definitely a shift. I think it started with Jessica Rabbit really and then continued with Kid Kruschev. We were writing this album right around the time [of the election] and we were on tour when Trump was elected and so this album was definitely written in an extremely charged political climate. It was hard to not include some of that and I think people want that in music now. They don't necessarily want to be told what to do or how to feel or what to think but protest music, I think, is such an interesting art form and can be expressed in so many ways. I think still with these songs you can choose to hear them for that: you can choose to hear the tension and the undercurrent of political frustration and socioeconomic inequality or whatever it is or you can hear them for what they are on a textural, musical and sonic level. I do a lot of, whether it's work in education or the outdoors and I consider myself an activist and Derek is extremely well-read and up on politics and current affairs so it just permeates our lives. It's hard for it not to enter into our music. I think we're fortunate to be part of a community of artists where that's okay.
AXS: Have you received any sort of push back from fans who are like 'Hey, what are you doing talking about these real world issues?' I want to rock out to "Crown on the Ground."
AK: No, not really. I mean Derek had tweeted some things and I posted things on Instagram and we've definitely had some people disagree but I always encourage an environment and atmosphere of discussion and conversation. If someone does reach out to me and they say something disrespectful or polarizing it's very rare that I'll counter that with aggression. If anything I'll be like 'You're entitled to your opinion and I respect that but you have to understand where we're coming from.' So, if anything, I've found a lot of common ground with fans over the years.
AXS: Sleigh Bells churn out music at a pretty steady rate. There never seems to be a lot of downtime for you guys. So that being said, with Kid Kruschev, why did you stop at a mini-LP? Did you feel like you had enough of a cohesive musical statement with these seven songs?
AK: I think it had more to do with the fact that we had just spent about three years working on Jessica Rabbit, which was by far the longest time we had ever spent working on an album. It ended up being a really rewarding experience but there was a lot of frustration, just in terms of having material and loving material and then ditching material and rewriting and reworking and just pushing and pushing and pushing forward to develop this consummate album. I don't want to say it was fatiguing because we were in so much momentum - it was the first album we put out on our own label - but we kind of found our stride towards the end of the writing process. The idea of then, you know, finishing this album but then having to wait another full album cycle/touring cycle just felt like we would lose a lot of the momentum and positive energy that we were feeling. So, we were like 'Ok, we have these five songs. We really love these five songs. What are we going to do with them?' We started recording them at my house and on the bus and working on them and throwing around the idea of having an EP, which was not something we had done before. We were just both attached to the idea of 'Let's just release this music on our own terms.' We have our own label. We're not beholden to a traditional label structure about 'we have to strategize about these things.' If we want to put music out, then we'll put music out. We got to seven songs and there was something about track listing and the way that those songs worked together as a body of work, which is still something that's important to us. We like singles and releasing music as a one-off but we really like putting together a body of work. Those songs just booked together really well and we like this idea of 'Ok, we're finished and let's wrap it and put it out as a digital release.' There's something really liberating about that.
AXS: There's some interesting imagery in the "And Saints" music video. You've got everything from you as a classic '50s lady with pearls and gloves who turns into a weeping saint to cheerleaders who turn into a skull and crossbones society. How did that creative concept for that video come about?
AK: It was a real collaboration between myself and Derek and our co-director Mimi Cave. Derek is definitely the brains behind writing our video treatments and he came up with the idea of bringing back the Treats cheerleaders and having them become these grim reapers. Then Mimi stepped in and really brought this mood and the choreography. I had very clear ideas for the styling and so, yeah, it came together. It was a one-day shoot out in California. It's a very different video for us. But the song, in general, is very different for us. It never explodes. The build never releases. It's just a steady crescendo. We actually just wrapped making another video [for "Favorite Transgressions"] and I'm so excited for it to be out because it's such a juxtaposition from the "And Saints" aesthetic.
AXS: With the rise of the #MeToo movement, as a woman in the music industry, have you experienced situations where men make rude comments to you or try to mansplain things to you? It could be something as subtle as an interviewer instead of talking to you about your music, asks about your favorite makeup products instead. Do you think, now with this movement, there's a chance that it will get better?
AK: I, personally, have been - I don't know if 'luck' is the right word - but I personally have not had any traumatic experiences as a woman in the music industry, and I think that has a lot to do the people that I've chosen to work with. I've been so fortunate to have a bandmate and a manager and have a crew that are solid, decent, respectful people who treat me as an equal, who have never taken advantage of me and never made me feel anything less because I'm a woman. We've also made it a point to incorporate a lot of women into our touring operation. We currently have an incredible tour manager, she's a woman and the one prior to that was a woman. We've had women monitor engineers. We've always made it a point to have as many women out on the road as possible. Our booking agent is a woman. Our publicist is a woman. Our attorney is a woman. We just have a very strong, empowered female-centered operation.
Now, as far as mansplaining and being talked down to, I've definitely had journalists who would engage a bit more with Derek about issues regarding production and writing and the band on that level, and then they'll ask me questions like 'You know, you're so crazy on stage. How do you do it?' So there has been a little bit of imbalance as far as the meat of questions but nothing to the point where I've had to call someone out.
In the live space, early on, I had some fans get a little grabby and get a little inappropriate when I was crowd-surfing and I learned very quickly that if I was going to be willingly putting myself in a position where I was in a crowd and putting my body on top of people, that those things were likely to happen and that it was up to me to set a tone and up to me to call someone out on their bullshit. So the whole idea of 'I'm not going to do it anymore because I feel violated,' that's not okay to me. When you come to one of our shows, you're in our space. Yes, this is a reciprocal space. I want you to feel respected and you're going to respect me. 99.5% of all my encounters with fans both male and female have been extremely respectful so I've been really fortunate that I haven't had a specific encounter with someone who took advantage of me. Unfortunately, I know a lot of women in the industry that have had those encounters.
AXS: You recently relocated to a new home in upstate New York. What prompted the move from Brooklyn? Do you ever feel isolated or do you welcome that now at this point in your life?
AK: I love it. I couldn't be happier. New York City will always be my favorite city and I have a strong community down there and I'm down there often for work and other things but being out in the mountains and having proximity to hiking and climbing and all of the things that I do outside is really nourishing for me. It's a more simple life. I find that I'm more productive here. It's hard to articulate but you kind of get to a point where you know that you're not supposed to be in a certain place anymore. So, yeah, I love it up here. Nature is, for sure, my church. It's my medicine and if I don't get outside at least a couple of times a week, I'm not who I should be.
AXS: When Reign of Terror came out, both you and Derek were very vocal about Def Leppard being an influence and being fans of theirs. Have you had a chance to meet them yet?
AK: I personally have not, but Derek met (Def Leppard guitarist) Phil Collen. Phil came to, I think it was our Terminal 5 show in New York City, and so [Derek] got to meet him and got to tell him in person how much he meant to him. But no, I've never met the rest of the guys - I didn't get to meet Phil that night - so I've just looked at many photos and pairs of light denim, shredded denim and thought of them (laughs).
Sleigh Bells 2018 Tour Dates:
Jan. 23 - Brooklyn, NY - Rough Trade (Click here for tickets)
Jan. 24 - Boston, MA - Paradise
Jan. 26 - Portland, ME - Aura
Jan. 27 - Montreal, QC - L’Astral
Jan. 28 - Toronto, ON - Mod Club
Jan. 30 - Detroit, MI - El Club
Jan. 31 - Chicago, IL - Metro
Feb. 1 - Nashville, TN - The Basement East
Feb. 3 - Austin, TX - Mohawk
Feb. 5 - San Antonio, TX - Paper Tiger
Feb. 6 - Dallas, TX - Granada
Feb. 7 - Houston, TX - White Oak Music Hall
Feb. 9 - New Orleans, LA - Republic * (Click here for tickets)
Feb. 10 - Athens, GA - 40 Watt
Feb. 11 - Raleigh, NC - Lincoln Theatre
Feb. 13 - Brooklyn, NY - Brooklyn Steel (Click here for tickets)
Feb. 14 - Washington, DC - 9:30 Club