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Sleigh Bells’ Success Story

Frontwoman Alexis Krauss Dishes on the Band’s Rise


Alexis Krauss began her musical career at the center of a teen pop group. Listen to her now, though, and you’d never guess it. As half of the electro rock duo Sleigh Bells, Krauss has quickly made a name for herself as one of the most energetic frontwomen in indie rock. A spin through the band’s debut release, Treats, only serves to seal the deal. Over a dark, fuzzed-out, and fist-pump-worthy mix of beats, guitarist Derek Miller shreds through effect-filled guitar line after effect-filled guitar line. All the while, Krauss dishes up a mix of cheers, screams, and pitch-perfect notes, tying the whole thing together in a neat, dance floor-approved package.

It’s no wonder, then, that the Brooklyn-based duo has met such a meteoric rise and media lauded reception. Since Treats’ release in May, Sleigh Bells have scored nods of approval from nearly everyone that matters. (Rolling Stone, Paste, Entertainment Weekly, and even indie blog behemoth Pitchfork all gave the duo an enthusiastic thumbs-up.) Aided in no small part by collaborator-cum-mentor Maya Arulpragasam (MIA to most), Sleigh Bells have become somewhat of an overnight sensation, and their live show (slated to stop by SOhO this Monday, October 18) outshines even that hype. I recently spoke to Krauss about the band, the record, and how it all began.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did you and Derek meet? Derek was my waiter. We met at a restaurant. I was out to dinner with my mom, and she was sort of the initiator in the whole thing because she has a bigger mouth than I do. They struck up a conversation, and it turned into her asking him what he was doing up here—he was from Florida—and him telling her he was looking for somebody to work on music with. And my mom being a mom and proud says, “Oh, my daughter’s a singer.” At the time, I was teaching full-time and I was working on music, but it certainly wasn’t my primary focus. But Derek and I started talking about what he was working on and what my experience was as a vocalist, then we found out that we lived literally two blocks away from each other. It was the summer, and I had time off from teaching, so we exchanged emails that night. It was just one of those weird things. I had a good feeling about it.

So you met up and started jamming? We met up about a week later in the park, and he played me a very early version of “Infinity Guitars,” and I was very intrigued by it. It was very refreshing sounding, and I was also sort of innately challenged by it. I wanted to hear what I could do with it and where my voice would fit on it. … So I went over to his apartment on a really hot summer day, and we set up his laptop so that I could sing into the internal microphone—that’s how budget our system was. So there I was, shouting to “Infinity Guitars.” It seemed pretty ridiculous at first, but then we finished it and we were like, “Whoa, this is kind of cool.”

When was the first show? We started playing shows in September of ’09, a little over a year ago. We just got really lucky. The right people came to see us, and we played the right shows, and we met amazing, amazing people who we are now working with. It’s pretty random. I have these moments where I think back on what I was doing a year ago and go, “Damn. This is the last thing I would have expected to be doing.”

Who’s got the tougher gig, teacher or musician? Oh man. They’re very different. I think in terms of day-to-day responsibility and work, teaching is more difficult. I taught in a really low-income school, so I had to give 200 percent every day. But I think they share that common sense of responsibility; trying to do something that is going to be really good. Certainly when you’re making music you are committed to doing something that is hopefully exciting. They’re different, but challenging. The daily grind of being in the van every day is hard, but I’m not a morning person, and I never have been. I do not miss waking up at 5 a.m. [Laughs.]

The album is really big, really loud, really energetic. How difficult is that to translate to the smaller live shows? I think it works. All we require is a big PA. If it’s a small room but it has a big PA and a lot of subwoofers that can tolerate the volume and the amount of bass, it works. We’ve gotten more comfortable with the festival setting, but I actually prefer the smaller venues. It’s more intimate, and when I’m onstage, I really thrive off of crowd reciprocation and being able to look every audience member in the eye and make the connection.

You’re currently opening for LCD Soundsystem. How’s it going so far? It’s been amazing. They’re an incredible band, and we’re so honored to be supporting them. I don’t know. They kill it every night. So to sort of have that standard, you really have to push yourself to put on a great show, because there’s a lot of pressure. But I think we’ve been holding our own, and we’re having a lot of fun. It’s pretty cool.

4•1•1

Sleigh Bells play SOhO (1221 State St.) on Monday, October 18, at 8 p.m. with opener Pictureplane. For tickets and info, call 962-7776 or visit clubmercy.com.

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