Sleigh Bells: Serendipitous rockers who defy classification

CorrespondentOctober 31, 2013 

SXSW Sleigh Bells

The Sleigh Bells' Alexis Krauss, right, and Derek Miller perform during the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas.

JACK PLUNKETT — ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Details

    Who: Sleigh Bells with Doldrums

    When: 9 p.m. on Wednesday

    Where: Lincoln Theatre, 126 E. Cabarrus St., Raleigh

    Cost: $18-$20

    Info: 919-821-4111 or lincolntheatre.com

Guitarist Derek Miller, the mastermind behind the band Sleigh Bells, isn’t as much of a control freak as people may think.

And why should he be? After all, the band – which plays at Lincoln Theatre on Wednesday – was born out of serendipity and luck.

In 2008, four years after Miller left the Florida hardcore band Poison the Well (he found the scene “stifling”), Miller was waiting tables in Brooklyn, and one pair of customers changed his life.

They were his future band mate, singer and creative foil Alexis Krauss, and her mom. There had been a forecast of rain in Williamsburg that particular day in July, which meant that Sleigh Bells nearly didn’t happen.

“I think about it almost every day,” Miller says. “Had they just been in different moods, they probably wouldn’t have gone (out to the restaurant) and my life would be very, very different. It’s because of these serendipitous events, I’m literally living my dream. That’s insane.”

As it happened, they all met, and conversation turned to music. Miller, whose tastes were rooted in ’80s arena rock, mentioned to mother and daughter that he was working on demos and looking for a singer.

Krauss, of course, was a singer, with roots in radio-friendly R&B. With a nudge from her mom, she went on to informally audition for Miller. They clicked.

One EP and three albums later, Sleigh Bells is on the road supporting the recently released “Bitter Rivals.” This time around, Krauss, whose light, airy vocals provide a thrilling contrast to Miller’s Def Leppard-inspired guitar textures and 808 beats, was handed a greater share of the writing process.

In the past, Miller says he “micro-managed” the songwriting process and the sound of the vocals. This time, he just “let (Krauss) do her own thing.”

Sharing the load

The pattern of sharing the creative load started in 2012, with the tour for “Reign of Terror,” the band’s second album on the Mom+Pop Music label.

For that tour, Sleigh Bells brought along guitarist Jason Boyer to augment the lineup of singer, lead guitarist and programmed beats.

This year, Boyer has been sidelined due to an injury from a bike accident, so he’s been replaced for this tour by Sleigh Bells production manager Ryan Primack, who is also Miller’s former band mate from Poison the Well.

Sleigh Bells has also added a drummer, Chris Maggio, who plays off Miller’s electronic beats while giving the band more room for spontaneity.

“For the most part, I kind of just let everybody do what they want to do,” Miller says.

However, there’s one concession to a traditional rock-band setup that Miller is not willing to make.

“It’d be too much of a compromise to bring a bass player,” he says. “I’ve never recorded a bass guitar. It’s always been just pitched 808s. Those hit speakers in such a particular way.”

In its own lane

According to the band’s Wikipedia page, the music of Sleigh Bells has been described by critics as “noise rock, indie-rock, dance-punk, synthpunk, digital hardcore, experimental pop, alternative rock and industrial rock.”

Miller shrugs off those classifications. He says he’s proud that the band has created “its own lane.” He doesn’t worry about critics, although he states without prompting that Sleigh Bells is definitely not “indie-pop” (“that’s funny to me,” he says).

From their All-American-boy-and-girl look to their mashup of metal, hip-hop, R&B and pop, Miller and Krauss are just, as he says, “being honest” about what they like.

“There’s no manual or blueprint,” he says. “We just are making this up as we go along. That’s how you stay inspired.”

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