Sleighing the dragon

Sleigh Bells’ most recent album, Bitter Rivals, was released in September of last year. And after five months of promoting and touring for the record, guitarist Derek Miller sounds bored with it.

“I’m kind of over it,” he said. “I mean, I finished recording it last June, so it’s kind of older for me now.”

Sleigh Bells’ singular brand of noise pop has achieved much success since its inception in 2008. The duo combined the hardcore background of guitarist-producer Derek Miller with the alternately sweet and manic vocals of Alexis Krauss, who has done everything from singing in a teen-pop group to teaching elementary school.

The two met when Miller was waiting tables in Brooklyn and struck up a conversation about music with Krauss and her mother. Miller wanted a female singer for the songs he had been working on; Krauss agreed to give them a listen.

A unique marriage of contrasting sounds — heavy and light, loud and soft, dark and bright — is one element of their success. But perhaps more essential to their achievement is Miller’s creative restlessness, a seemingly innate need to move on to the next project, even just five months after the release of the duo’s last album.

“I feel like I’m only as good as whatever new stuff I’m working on,” he said, “which is probably not the healthiest thing in the world.”

Healthy or not, that inability to be sated by anything the group has already done — that yearning to create something different — has led to a distinctive sound that is tweaked with each album.

“The tone of the records couldn’t be more different, to be honest,” Miller remarked on the differences between Bitter Rivals and the band’s prior album, Reign of Terror.

There are various reasons for the divergence in sound between the two records. One has to do with the emotional state Miller was in when composing the material.

Reign of Terror is a very dark, kind of heavy, gloomy record, and that’s just sort of where I was at mentally and emotionally,” he said. “I was in a very, very different head-space when making Bitter Rivals, much better, much healthier, I would say.”

But the difference also stems from a need to incorporate new elements into the music. For example, even though the band has one of the heaviest, in-your-face styles of any popular band today, if you listen closely to Bitter Rivals, you will notice acoustic guitar sprinkled throughout it.

“I had this beat-up, kind of junky nylon-string acoustic guitar in my living room, and that’s just what was in my hands when I was home,” Miller said. “It just sort of ended up all over the record.”

Though often a bit of a stickler for things needing to sound a certain way and usually composing all of the music in his head before it is written or recorded, Miller embraced that variance and even included a fingerpicked acoustic part on the song “You Don’t Get Me Twice.”

“That was one of my favorite parts,” he said. “It’s got a decent little harmony in there, which was kind of new ground for me. I haven’t done a lot of fingerpicking in the past. So, it was cool.”

But, alas, Miller has moved on. 

“I’ve got a lot of new material, which is what I’m interested in,” he said. “I never really slow down. It’s not like a hobby or something I do for fun. It’s much more than that for me.”

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Kevin Pickard

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