Can You Exercise to Sleigh Bells? An Interview With An Actual Fitness Instructor

I mean, it looks like exercise, right? Sleigh Bells photo by Rebecca Smeyne
I mean, it looks like exercise, right? Sleigh Bells photo by Rebecca Smeyne

Since the apocalyptically cheery Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells first emerged in the fall of last year, critics have been drawn inexorably to sports metaphors (ahem) as a way to describe the band's signature brand of bombastic, pom pom-shattering pop. (An album cover depicting a monstrous cheerleader pyramid probably did not help.) But of course, rock critics are about the last people you'd consult about anything even vaguely exercise-based--most of them/us exist on a physical continuum somewhere between Jabba the Hut and the dude with the glass jaw in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!. So is there anything real to the supposed Sleigh Bells/exercise connection? To answer, we turned to a professional: Hawaiian SOHI Fitness guru Megan Clark. Earlier this week, a YouTube video of Clark previewing one of her proprietary workouts to the manic strains of Sleigh Bells' "Tell 'Em" made the internet rounds; she seemed like just the right person to ask. Well?

The "Tell 'Em" video

Here in New York, Sleigh Bells feel like a pretty regional phenomenon--how did you stumble onto them, all the way out in Hawaii?

We found them at either pitchfork.com or indierockcafe.com. In the beginning we discovered most of our music in surfing videos. Surfers always seem to find some good jams, if they're not making music themselves.

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Music critics and the pasty nerds who actually attend Sleigh Bells shows tend to describe the band's music as "hipster jock jams"--see, for instance, the Voice's own description of Sleigh Bells frontlady Alexis Kraus as "the world's deadliest aerobics instructor." As an actual aerobics instructor/hipster jock, what do you make of people's compulsion to apply workout-type adjectives to the band?

I think it makes perfect sense. I look for music beats that get my adrenaline going when I workout. They make me want to work harder and run faster. Labeling bands this way will help people who are looking for those great workout songs to find them easier.

Here is a picture of Sleigh Bells' Alexis Kraus; here's one of the band's other member, Derek Miller. Can you oblige us and gauge, in your expert opinion, their actual respective levels of physical fitness? How could they improve?

It's hard to say where someone's fitness is by just by a picture. People may be on the leaner side, but can't run five steps. I would say going purely on looks they're healthier than the average American. Anyone can improve their fitness in some way. I would definitely have them lift some weights or depending on their schedules, do their own bodyweight workouts which can be done anywhere, such as P90X or my videos!

Along those same lines, let me ask a question on behalf of the entire indie-rock nation. How can we get fit without collapsing into a sad heap of concave, bony chests and arms that snap like twigs?

It's different for everyone. I personally love to run and lift weights, but I will tell people, if you don't like running, then don't choose that for your workout, because you won't stick with it. I'm sure many people love dancing to all this great Indie music, and since dancing is an excellent way to keep fit, go find a class and improve your own style or learn a new style of dance. Find something you enjoy and have variety. There are so many things out there right now that are fun and different, but still tough. Lifting weights is important to gain size and strength so that you don't become "bony chested" with "arms that snap like twigs." If the gym is not your thing, buy your own TRX, Perfect Pullup bar, find a boot camp that has strength training in it, or check out the P90X videos.

Challenges are always a good motivational tool. I competed in Figure Competitions to motivate me to get stronger and leaner. I also do marathons and races to keep me motivated to run. You can even find small challenges like my push-up challenge video for example. Yes, even a personal trainer needs to find ways to keep motivated. Of course having great music plays a big part in my motivation as well. Make sure you have the best adrenaline pumping playlist on your iPod before you workout.

Sleigh Bells are not the only band to crossover into the exercise-type sphere. What do you make of earlier, more effete indie-rock and dance efforts to soundtrack people's workouts, such as LCD Soundsystem's "45:33," a running mix the band made for Nike in 2007?

I don't enjoy running to a club song that feels like it's slowly driving a nail into my brain. I ran a marathon once and there was a guy next to me who ran with a heavy step that drove me nuts. The next two miles I ran faster just to get away from his constant stomping. That's what I was reminded of listening to this song. I need more of an upbeat, lyrical song, that makes me want to get moving.

Lastly, you seem to have a bit of sweet spot for indie rock--you are almost certainly the only person to soundtrack a workout video using the San Diego postrock band Tristeza. What other indie-rock type stuff do you like to work out to? Do your students ever object that you're not just constantly blasting Kill 'Em All?

Some bands on my ipod right now: Cults, Freedom Hawk, Bloc Party, The Bravery, Eagles of Death Metal, The Gang, The Killers, and White Lies. I have actually tried to play some of these type songs in my weekly spinning class. Two older women came up to me and said they would prefer older 80's music they sing along to, while a younger lady told me she liked the music selection that day. If just depends on who is in class that day. Please feel free to let us know of any songs you think we could use in a future workout videos. And let me know how long it took you to do the push-up challenge......seriously.

Um...still trying?


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