Click play on Sleigh Bells’ recently-released third studio album, ‘Bitter Rivals,’ and you’ll immediately hear a handful of playful finger snaps, barking dogs and Britney-esque cutesy hiccups and coos from frontwoman Alexis Krauss on the title track. There’s also minimal acoustic strumming and no chainsawing guitar riffs. WTF?! But take note of what may or may not be the sharpening of a sword within the first second of the jam, which foreshadows the chaos that ensues 30 seconds in whilst Krauss roars out “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times!” over Derek Miller’s, yes, chainsawing, dynamite-exploding guitar riffs. The adrenaline rush of a tune tosses the banger ball back-and-forth between Krauss’ breathy high-pitched, radio-friendly vocals (I get Janet Jackson-ish sassy vibes) and dynamite rock explosions and crashing synths. The juxtaposition is killer. So is the entire album. Let’s lose the “noisy pop” and call it something like high-voltage-school-girl-brawl pop. Or like, the film soundtrack to a hardcore ‘Heathers.’ I’m into that. I’m also into chatting with the crazily charismatic Sleigh Bells’ frontwoman/former fourth grade teacher, who talked to me about the new LP, her awesome mother’s “loquaciousness” and the whole holding the “noisy pop” torch thing.
Describe ‘Bitter Rivals’ in five words.
Lean, mean, bombastic, melodic, spontaneous.
Nice. I’m really into the album artwork. What’s the story behind it?
Derek and I always put a ton of time and attention into the album artwork. The cover is a photo of two of Derek’s favorite guitars, Tiger and Pink — yes they have names! We both fell in love with the colors and the chemistry of the photo. It just seemed to represent the music perfectly. The rest of the the artwork comprises images and objects we were both really drawn to and that are personally significant to us. Of course we had to include photos of us as badass children. I think it’s pretty hilarious that we essentially look exactly the same.
You guys seem to be still carrying the “noisy pop” torch — do you feel pressure to live up to the first album? How do you evolve and keep the momentum going?
I think it’s always challenging for bands to navigate the world of expectations. It’s difficult to not let the buzz of critics and fans influence your music. I think Derek and I have done a good job making the records that we want to make and not compromising for the sake of appeasing others. We’re not interested in making the same record twice. We want to take creative risks and we want to grow as a band and as collaborators. We’ll never make everybody happy but as long as we love our music and stand by it, that’s really all that matters. I think ‘Bitter Rivals’ is a true representation of where we are right now as artists. It’s exactly the record we wanted to make. It sounds much different than much of our past material but it is heavily influenced by both ‘Treats’ and ‘Reign of Terror.’ It definitely has a stronger pop foundation and is much brighter than ‘Reign of Terror.’ The music is bold and positive but still has the abrasiveness of songs off of ‘Treats’ like ‘Infinity Guitars.’
You guys really know how to make some killer hooks — is there a formula behind the perfect hook/the perfect song for y’all?
Never a formula, mostly just happy accidents. Those are always the most exciting moments, when you surprise yourself with an unexpected good idea.
So, you were a teacher pre-Sleigh Bells. Have you heard from any of your former students? Are any of them fans?
I have! I keep in touch with quite a few of them. I taught them when they were 4th graders and now they are big bad eighth and ninth graders. They constantly reach out to me whenever they hear our music on TV or on a movie trailer but none of them have made it to a show yet — I don’t doubt that it will happen eventually. I think my life will be complete when I see one of my former students moshing to “Crown on the Ground!”
Your mother introduced you to the waiter/now your bandmate at a restaurant in Williamsburg, right? Does she get a kick out of taking credit for this? Have you repaid her with like a fat ass house or anything yet? (LOL)
[Laughs] No house just yet! Hopefully one day. She does get a kick out of the press coverage she’s received. It’s crazy to think that if it weren’t for her curiosity and loquaciousness there would be no Sleigh Bells.
So, any pre-show rituals?
Derek does lots of push-ups and I like to jump rope. Gets the blood pumping!
What’s on your tour rider?
Nothing excessive. Touring can be really wasteful so we try to stay as sustainable as possible and only request items that we will actually consume. Our rider is nowhere near as exciting as the Major Lazer rider (who we had the pleasure of touring with). We have Clif Bars and Coconut Water in lieu of a Malawian orphan and a Gorilla.
Small venues VS. arenas?
Small venues are always better in my opinion. I love the intimacy of smaller rooms and the ability to interact with our audience so closely. However, if we ever get to the level where we’re playing arenas I doubt I’ll be complaining.
Wildest performance yet?
Wildest show to date was probably at the ShowBox in Seattle with Black Bananas. I thought the building was going to collapse and I’ve never seen so many kids crowd-surfing.
Let’s play marry, fuck, kill… Lady Gaga, Miley, Katy Perry…
When you’re just kicking it at a bar in Brooklyn, do you get noticed? You seem to live a pretty normal life, even though you’re selling out gigs, playing on SNL, etc…
Yeah, I try to keep a low profile. When I’m off tour I tend to spend most of my time with my man and escape upstate for hiking adventures with my mom and dog. Every now and again I’ll get recognized in my neighborhood and it never ceases to excite me that somebody actually knows our band. I still get the biggest kick out of it!