If you haven’t heard of Sleigh Bells by now then you must have been living under a rock for the past two years. The noise pop duo made up of Derek E. Miller and Alexis Krauss burst onto the music scene in 2010 with their debut, Treats. The album was a bona fide smash which sonically came from three very different places. Miller’s heavy metal guitar work was put to an army of drum machines while Krauss’s sickly sweet vocals were host to some of the catchiest melodies imaginable. And it was loud. Really loud. The live shows continued the album’s aesthetic and pomp - the band performing in front of walls of stack amps, using pyrotechnics and smoke machines, crowd surfing, shouting profanities and doing a bit of good old fashioned posing.

I managed to catch-up with the band in the midst of their latest tour for their new album Reign of Terror and on the day of their sold out show at the Electric Ballroom in Camden. It was to be their tenth London show, their first in Europe of the tour and following two weeks worth of shows in Miller’s hometown of Florida. I asked the band how they getting on, on the road.

"It’s been great. It’s gruelling...but the shows have been amazing so it’s worth it" begins Miller. "On the Florida tour, the record wasn’t even out, so it’s like ‘Aaaaah!’ and then we play a new song and it’s like ‘What the fuck is this? I don’t know this song.’ But every day that we get further away from the release date there’s more and more energy. Kids are actually singing the lyrics to the new stuff" adds Krauss.

"In our liner notes on the record it says that Derek exclusively plays Jackson guitars, which is true and it says I exclusively eat strawberry pop tarts, which is also true. So the other night, at our Seattle show, somebody threw up a box of pop tarts but Derek took them in the middle of our set, grabbed it, ripped it open with his mouth and started crumbling pop tarts all over the place" says Krauss, delighted to be telling the tale. "So that’s how tough we are" adds Miller "sprinkling pop tarts on the crowd! That’s how seriously we take ourselves!"

Despite the confidence that both Miller and Krauss exude in conversation and on stage, they openly shared their feelings of nervousness when playing newer tracks live, something that I was not expecting.

"We play this one track ‘End of the Line’ which I love, it’s one of my favourites, but it still scares me" says Krauss. "Yeah, because the energy in the room dips, because it’s not [up tempo], and I want to get used to that because people don’t want to thrash around for fifty minutes. Maybe we need to get used to the fact that people want to watch If I go see something I love, I’ll stand with my arms folded, I’m not smashed against the barricade in the front with everybody with my fists in the air, which is amazing, I wish everyone would do that, so I just have to put myself in their shoes. But we have generally shied away from the songs that have less energy."

"By the summer, when people have had more time with the record, we’ll definitely feel more comfortable introducing a lot of the other songs, whether it’s ‘Road to Hell’ or ‘You Lost Me’...It’s more my personal insecurity."

"Yeah, Paranoia really, like you’re putting on a bad show."

Reign of Terror uses the same essential ingredients that made Sleigh Bells a massive hit in the first place, yet the overall sound is bigger and less compressed than before. It also shows more variety in tempo and mood than on Treats. Was this deliberate?

"I sound like a broken record, but I really do just follow my instincts. That’s all I do, whatever my gut tells me, so it’s never a conscious effort. It is what it is and I have to live with it. I can try to change it and shape it, but there’s only so much I can do. The idea is the idea and that is there and I can toy with it or manipulate it with production value but you’re at the mercy of how good or bad it is at all times. I can’t change it. If I could I’d make it better. I think ‘Comeback Kid’ is one of the stronger songs and if they could all be as good as that song in the context of the record, they would be, but you get a few of those each time out if you’re lucky" assesses Miller humbly.

The aforementioned track and lead single ‘Comeback Kid’ possesses this ‘bigger sound’ and also exhibits the band’s penchant for an infectious song.

"We had ten songs and that one was sitting around"says Miller. "I was a little unimpressed with it because it’s five power chords, like ‘this is nothing, it’s just a handful of power chords’ and I just gave it to her [Krauss] and she did the melody. That was our first real 50/50 collaboration and I think it’s so much better because of it."

Despite being sonically intense, Treats is generally rather light-hearted in its lyrical material and the tracks could almost be considered ‘party’ songs. On Reign of Terror, death is a recurring theme both in the song titles and in the lyrics. I mentioned this to the duo and the mood suddenly became sombre.

"Yeah, it’s a much darker record... the title was literal. I just went through some really horrible things and they naturally made their way onto the record" says Miller.

Towards the latter half of the album there are a run of songs that are distinctly different. ‘Road to Hell’, ‘You Lost Me’ and the closer ‘D.O.A.’ are all slow tracks that go to places that we have yet been with Sleigh Bells. I delved further, to get to the bottom of whether the song ‘You Lost Me’ was genuinely about the infamous Judas Priest suicide, an incident where two youths took their lives that led the parents to sue the band.

"It’s not. I was actually totally unaware of that but it is essentially an identical scenario, but imagined" says Miller, quick to assert the truth. "I’ve heard it so many times. It’s more personal...from our own childhood, things we’ve experienced" adds Krauss, before Miller continues. "It’d be uncomfortable writing about something like that. This was purely a romantic, fictional notion of a double suicide that occurred behind a specific ‘Circle K’ [convenience store]. It’s a very youthful, romantic, dramatic idea. Two sixteen year old’s - We were just imagining this world where they were the only metal heads in their school and they bonded over that and they felt sort of like outcasts and they eventually...it’s like a Romeo and Juliet thing. It can be a little corny in that respect but it was a jump off for the lyrics, I feel like it fits the mood of the song. But it’s not about that specific event."

Sleigh Bells rely on several balancing acts for everything to come together. Miller’s background in playing hardcore is the yin to Krauss’ pop yang. There is seriousness and passion in the way the band approaches their music, yet they are more than happy to be playful and good humoured with it. On stage they can work a crowd into a frenzy while at the same time worry that the next song may cause a lull in their set. They can be truly shredding a guitar while simultaneously spitting out pop tarts. Regardless of which way the balance may tilt, one thing is for certain, Sleigh Bells are the real deal.


Reign Of Terror is out now, and you can read our review of it here. The header photo was taken by Dan Smyth.