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Ten Things You Need To Know About Sleigh Bells' New Album

Ten Things You Need To Know About Sleigh Bells' New Album

23 September 2013, 11:00

Noise-pop warmongers Sleigh Bells, in case you missed Amazon’s faux pas, are dropping a brand-spanking-new LP, entitled Bitter Rivals. Although they only released their lauded foray into shadier waters, Reign Of Terror, approximately a year ago, the creative juices were flowing so thickly that the duo of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss hurtled themselves headfirst into crafting a new record.

‘Bitter Rivals’, the first single, is a belligerent melange of katana slashes, finger clicks and acoustic guitar bombast. It’s got their signature face-melting blasts of sound, it’s got the same sonic punch to the noggin – but there’s a tangible difference. It’s pretty chipper. The pair feel hyped up on E-numbers, and though Krauss sings of “killing the new sheriff in town,” she does it with a wry giggle. It’s brutal pop.

The change in tone comes from a soul-cleansing detox. Gone are the 48-hour days of hedonism, and instead they’re eating healthier, going to bed at sensible times and going to the gym. They’ve started boxing. Derek has retired his sunglasses. They still party, but they don’t resemble the legendary benders of rock’n’roll lore no more. These days, they look after themselves, and find that the best they can muster comes from a clean mind and punching things really hard.

We spoke to Alexis Krauss to find out the ten things we need to know about the new album, Bitter Rivals. Unsurprisingly, they still want to incite riots.

They didn’t want to pull a Bowie or a Daft Punk.

It definitely took people by surprise! We brought out Reign Of Terror and started writing immediately after it, while we were still touring. We spent a solid four months in the studio. It felt right, so we wanted to just put it out in October, as soon as we could after it got mixed and met all the deadlines. We decided against a big press lead cause we put one out only a year ago, instead of bombarding people and making them go like “Didn’t these guys just put out a record?”. Instead of doing it in that way, we just sort of put it out all at once. That’s what kids want. There was no strategy. There was no desire to be awkward or mysterious.

It’s more of a joint effort.

The writing process was definitely much more different. It was the first time Derek and I worked as true collaborators. Reign Of Terror was very much Derek’s – it was about coping about his father’s death and his mother’s cancer. It was very dark, and kind of a musical therapy. It was his way of dealing with everything, and even though we worked closely together, it felt more like his record. The last track we recorded for it was ‘Comeback Kid’. That was the first time we sat down and I recorded the demo and lyrics and arranged the melodies and harmonies myself. He was like “Dude! I fucking love this!” That was a turning point. We built on that for Bitter Rivals. I’d take the lyrics home and manipulate them in an appropriate way – it was the same process for every song: I’d record a full demo I’d arranged and show it to him thinking he’d hate it. I’m not a super insecure person by any means, but when you put yourself out there creatively you get nervous! I think its good to have butterflies. It proves that it’s still exciting for you. I thought he’d hate it every single time, but without fail he’d be like: “Dude, I love it!” He was consistently surprised. I was so happy to be at the table.

It was recorded on familiar turf.

We recorded it at a small studio called Treefort owned by our engineer Shane Stoneback where we recorded Treats and Reign Of Terror. We went back there cause it’s great and only 10 minutes from our apartments. We’d wake up and box (we took up boxing) and work for 4/6 hours, not doing crazy long days and working until we were no longer inspired. I think working so close to where we lived brought a sense of balance. It was a pleasure, not a job. We started working midway through Reign Of Terror, and when we had a week spare we would book a few days in the studio, and formally finished it up after tour for the album finished. We started properly at the end of January and worked until early June. Even though it seems like a brief time between records, we’ve spent more recording time on this that the others.

They took themselves by surprise.

Musically, I think it’s by far the leanest, scrappiest, simplest, toughest thing we’ve done. It doesn’t have a tonne of elements. Vocals are more streamlined, cause we weren’t triple or even quadruple tracking, instead there’s more traditional direct lead vocals. Same with guitars. Lots of Reign Of Terror was dense and intricate and we used note-by-note tracking, but on Bitter Rivals Derek’d get great guitar sounds and only do one or two takes.

I think this record is similar to Treats, in that it’s empowering. I hope people will listen, and then go out and conquer the world. I think it sounds like a fight, but the result is a victory. It’s courageous and bold. It has energy. It has something in common with Reign Of Terror because we wouldn’t have this without it, and it’s definitely more melodic like Reign Of Terror, but Derek wasn’t feeling the need to compress so heavily. I was exposed to a whole new range, whether it was new claps or snaps or snares or synths. I think it’s a nice balance between the other two albums, but it’s also very new. There’s lots of surprises for us, and lots of things we didn’t expect to do. When we finished ‘You Don’t Get Me Twice’, we listened back over and over and we kept getting to a moment in the track and we’d just explode in a moment of hysterical giddiness like: “Is this even a Sleigh Bells song?! Can we do this?” Ultimately it’s surprising to us, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be us. There are several moments that we didn’t think we were capable of.

There’s fresh blood.

There’s little samples. A couple of funny sounds that Derek hand on his OP1 synth. All the vocals are me and all the instruments are him, it’s all us. Oh! We had a whistler come in for ‘To Hell With You’, and my dog barking in ‘Bitter Rivals’. The only really new element was Andrew Dawson who mixed it. He’d worked with Kanye and fun. before. We always did everything ourselves, and working with a new person was a very new experience, but I think he brought a lot of valuable things. He was able to create a separation between the elements that we’ve never had before. That really enhanced the music.

It’s borne of celebration, rather than despair.

Reign Of Terror was made from personal terror. Bitter Rivals is filled with a lot of accomplishments and positivity in our lives. After Derek’s emergence from the despair of the last record, we both started boxing and going to the gym. Especially Derek, I’ve never seen him so confident. We’d wake up at 7 and have these wonderful long days. We were just a lot healthier and brighter. It sounds like a cliché when musicians get tired of their old ways of partying and drinking all the time and emerge as healthier, happier people, but it was a huge influence. When you start you day feeling empowered, the music you make is a reflection of that. Its still has that pugnacious quality, but it feels like a celebration that you wanna get pumped to and conquer to and emerge as a victor to. I think that it occupies different headspace. I think that’s what it shares with Treats, like: “Get shit done!”

They hit rock bottom.

For him, it was honestly that he got tired of waking up hungover and getting fucked up. We realised it wasn’t tenable. If he continued to treat his body and mind the same way he wouldn’t be around for much longer. It was taking a toll on the band too, cause I’m not like that at all, I mean I party but…I sat down with him one day and said: “This is not your best self and we both know it.” He needed to change and he just did. He’s really found a balance now. I’ve never felt that it was the case that we’re dependent on addiction of abuse or self loathing to make music. Now we’re healthier and happier, we feel more inspired and take risks in our music.

There’s a big pop influence.

It sounds silly to say we were inspired by Quincy Jones, cause who isn’t? We were listen to a lot of Janet and Michael Jackson. There’s so many good ideas in each and every song. We listened to a lot of Beastie Boys, and it’s the same thing. Everything just jumps around and it’s spontaneous… they’re a huge influence on us. Vocally, I grew up singing soul and R&B. I’ve always loved Jackie Wilson and The Shirelles and Shangri-Las , and vocally I was trying to bridge the world of abrasive Sleigh Bells with the saccharine feminine vocal world. We were trying to make the melodies more accessible – I want people to sing along and latch on to the melodies! I was listening to early Justin Timberlake and Janelle Monáe. I’m not ashamed of liking Cyndi Lauper or Katy Perry. I love finding valuable pop music. I think it’s a sign of a good musician when they can shamelessly steal good ideas.

They like to read.

We’ve had references to Shakespeare in tracks like ‘Holly’, and Dickens on our new single ‘Bitter Rivals’. There’s even some references to Flannery O’Connor on Reign Of Terror. During this record Derek was reading a lot, especially Bob Dylan’s autobiography, so there’s some references to that this time around. I think what you’re reading inspires you. Our lyrics don’t exist in one isolated world from our day-to-day life. Derek will read something that will completely influence the music.

The lyrics are more than just a vehicle for the vocals.

Derek could speak more, but there’s not a huge core message. It used to be just a stream of consciousness that all sounded good. It was wordplay and I think the lyrics – I don’t wanna say they were secondary in the past – but the lyrics were more a means for delivering the vocals. They were more a part of the rhythm, and sounded very percussive. In Reign Of Terror, the lyrics were personal and dark, and talked a lot about death and loss. With these recordings, they jump around. Obviously ‘Bitter Rivals’ is the age-old needing your rival to push you and make you better and stronger, and ‘Young Legends’ touches on the idea of all these incredible people like athletes or musicians who never realise their potential cause their life is cut short, or they don’t have the right opportunities. Like, how arbitrary is life? There’s no guarantee whatsoever, I mean you could be this person who has all the potential or someone who never gets any. It was about me grabbing the lyrics that lent themselves the best way to the melody. I think Derek’s very proud of the lyrics this time round. He’s coming into his own on the record.

Bitter Rivals is released on 7 October on Lucky Number / Mom + Pop. Pre-order from here.

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