With each passing year since their 2010 debut, Sleigh Bells have churned out a record uninhibited by the expectations put upon them by genre, hometown sounds or industry trends, and it’s garnered them a growing fan base full of thrashing kids copping letterman jackets and bangs Bettie Page would be proud of. Alexis Krauss and David Miller have been touring since the September drop of Bitter Rivals, their third studio album, and they’ve been enjoying the additions they’ve made to a live show that’s expanded alongside a climbing uptick of BPMs. We caught up with Miller in between tour stops before their deafening return to New York at Terminal 5 this weekend, and it turns out the Sleigh Bells status quo is about continuing this insatiable need to create and devour their music at a pace all their own.
What feels different this time around for Sleigh Bells on tour? When it comes to taking Bitter Rivals on the road, what’s something you did to change up either your prep for tour or your approach to the shows?
We’ve been playing with a drummer, which is something I swore up and down I would never do. I get a sick pleasure out of going against that for lack of a better term. It feels fresh. It feels really good. The new songs work really well in a live setting. Everything’s around 80, 85, maybe 90 beats-per-minute, which is, on average, 10 to 20 BPMs faster than the first two records. It all feels like it leans toward on the other stuff.
What lead to the decision to bring a drummer into your live framework?
Basically, I just wanted to keep things fresh for us. For each record, we’ve added a new live variable: For Reign of Terror we added a second guitar player to cover all the harmonies as there are quite a few on that record. I basically figured out a way to blend all the samples like a live kit and have it work at front of house. We’ve also found got an incredible drummer, Chris Maggio, so it was tough to find a guy who could cover stuff like double-bass, but still be a pocket drummer, which Chris is. That’s a tall order for a drummer, but he’s killing it. He’s a total maniac onstage, which is to be expected. He’s part of the family. Most of us have been touring together for a couple of years now. There’s a little bit of hazing and all that stuff. (laughs)
Hazing?! Do I even want to know?
It’s not bad. (laughs)
In addition to bringing in a new drummer, how did Bitter Rivals grow between the record and the launch of the touring efforts behind it? What was a hurdle you jumped while prepping for this tour?
Here we are, a band on their third record, and Treats doesn’t feel that far behind me. We just made that record in 2010. I’m still sort of wrapping my head around that one; if anything, it still feels kind of new. It still feels super fresh. It’s not a matter of banging your head against the wall trying to come up with things; it’s more, “What do we do with what we already have? How do we pick and choose where to go?” Usually, I just try to get out of the way and not overthink it. We record, and when we have 30-35 minutes of music that feels slightly cohesive, we call it a record. Then, we go play shows for a year, and then we go do it all over again. That’s what works for us. I can’t take two to three year breaks in between records. I can’t do it. I’ll go insane. It’s really important for me to keep working. It’s also a great way for me to gauge where I’m at in terms of head space, because I don’t think or talk a lot about how I’m feeling, per se. It’s not a macho thing; I just don’t do it. I’ve never been good at diagnosing myself with anything. I just tend to ignore it. I can make a record, and when it’s finished, I can stand back, and have an idea of where I’m at. It’s an important thing for me. Not to sound too precious about it.
Do you feel like your fans pick up on that?
We’ve only been out on tour for a few weeks, and to see fans who’ve come to see us two or three times, there’s a small culture that’s developed which is amazing! When you start a band, I mean, I’m 32–I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 20. Social networking doesn’t interest me at all, that type of thing. A lot of our fans are 21 and 22, so talking to our fans and getting their perspective on the show, and I feel really fortunate about that. Once that newness wears off, that’s the currency for a lot of people, especially internet people, and I understand that. But to see people coming back, and for us to have a real fan base, it’s fascinating. It’s great.
You guys are unabashedly noise pop, as far as genre affiliations go. How has your relationship with the adjectives people have affixed to your music changed with the Bitter Rivals cycle?
I don’t consider how we would fit in with would-be peers, in terms of the types of records that other people are making. I don’t have any idea, and I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that. My relationship to genre hasn’t changed. Sleigh Bells has always been an attempt for me to reconcile all the different records that I grew up loving that’ve inevitably sort of become a part of my DNA. It was always diverse. It’s not necessarily common, and strangely, it’s common among young people now that are making music, but genre’s just irrelevant. People will grab anything and sample anything. Not the Top 40, necessarily, but every other day, I just hear of a producer that’s making killer music, and they’re clearly pulling from all over the place. I think it’s healthy, and that’s how I’ve always felt. Genre continues to be a non-factor for me.
Let’s revisit this anti-social networking thing. What’s something that’s caught you off-guard about your fans getting to know you through social media, especially as a lot of the age group you’re describing gets to know you through YouTube or Spotify?
You sound like a jackass to say that the music speaks for itself, but with our band, because we do put out records every 18 to 20 months, we can afford to let that be what it’s all about. The band never really goes away for long periods of time. We license our music quite often, so the band always seems semi-present to me, which isn’t always a good thing … Every once in awhile, someone will ask us why we don’t Tweet more, or why there isn’t an official Twitter for the band, etc., and it’s like, well, you found me! You’re talking to me IRL. If you want to find me, come and find me. We tour a lot. I’m around. I’m not locked down backstage with security guys surrounding me. I’m available and approachable. I prefer that. We use Twitter just to promote a new record, but outside of that, I like it when the interactions with our fans Is in person.
Now that you’re nearing the end of your third album cycle, what’s something that’s happened with Bitter Rivals–either during the process of writing and recording it or touring behind it–that you never, ever thought would happen when you guys were starting out?
Basically just that: we’re seeing fans come to shows in letterman jackets wearing camo, and the girls have bangs, stuff like that. You see that with bands that have real fans–they sort of rub off aesthetically. That’s how I was! I don’t know what else to call it but a lifestyle. It’s incredible to see our fans when they come out to see us. It’s just amazing to me. [Our music] means the world to me, I love it to death, it’s my life happening in front of me, but to see something we make resonate with people, it’s just incredible.
Sleigh Bells play Terminal 5 Friday (11/22) and Saturday (11/23) with Danny Brown and Doldrums.