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Interview: Sleigh Bells

Aug 27th | categories: Music, Music News

So last time Sleigh bells were in town, they absolutely demolished the Showbox Market, tomorrow night they'll do just that again at SoDo, HOWEVER they'll be sharing the stage with legendary punk band, Refused. In celebration of this I had one of our interns transcribe the full interview w/ Derek and Alexis from this last round that we only ever partially aired, for your dinner/lunch time tomorrow reading pleasure. Did I mention they're awesome? Check out their new music video for End Of The Line above and the full chat below (it's long but it's worth it), enjoy....

B: Alright, well we’re here with Derik and Alexis from Sleigh Bells. How’s it going guys?
D: What up?
A: It’s going really well, how are you?
B: I’m going great! Let’s talk about the new record “Reign of Terror”. It’s out now…
D: Yessir-
B: …it’s really, really good.
D: Thank you.
A: Thank you.
D: You don’t have to say that! (laughs)
B: When “Born to Lose” dropped my girlfriend and I listened to it fifty times in the car on repeat.
D: That’s amazing.
A: It’s a good car song. Good double bass.
D: Listening to music in a car is generally a great idea, ‘cause it’s blasting you, it’s surrounding you, your seat’s shaking and no one can tell you to turn it down cause they’re not in the fucking car.
A: You can act like a total idiot in your car. No one will judge you.
D: I’m sure you do a lot of car singing.
A: I do.
D: Just really stupid…
A: Sorry, we’re digressing. (everyone laughs)
B: The beautiful thing about it is that I can cut it out
D: Go ahead!
B: But I probably won’t.
B: But I think a lot of people were surprised by how intense and bleak the record is without being overall that heavy. Was that kind of a deliberate response to the last album, or was that something that just kind of happened?
D: Yeah, I just went through a really difficult time with my family and I would say that pretty much formed the darker, quote unquote, direction lyrically, thematically. It’s not a very up record. But I think that even though it’s a little… I don’t know what adjectives I would use, but sometimes it’s a little bit melancholy but it never feels oppressively so. I feel like there’s a little bit of hope in there, not to be a hippy.
B: Totally.
D: But it is dark.
A: Yeah, there’s positivity.
B: Was it deliberate to sonically go, I don’t want to say quiet is the word.
D: Yeah, the main difference is that everything on ‘Treats’ is clipping and distorting so I would pretty much just push the master volume up until the entire mix is distorted and nothing on this record clips. But what you get on the flip you get really crisp clear frequency response, so the low end is heavier. I use really, really loud heavy kicks that push a lot of air – you’ll hear it tonight. So it hits you in the chest just as hard but it doesn’t hurt your ears quite as much.
B: Sure!
D: You know it’s not as much, I use the word crispy. It’s not as thin and harsh and abrasive.
A: It’s more layered too so that everything kind of has its place as opposed to peaking or standing out in a jarring way. It meshes.
D: It does- look at that brain!
A: Huh, The Flaming Lips.
D: It’s a big brain…
A: ...poster. A ‘Flaming Lips show with a brain.
B: Totally translates to the radio (laughs)
D: (laughs)
B: Also, when you decided to not just push all the faders up you had to make some sort of decision about what direction to go. Was it a natural evolution to go towards more of the eighties with the electronic drums and what not?
D: Honestly, this is kind of a boring response but it’s usually an instinctive thing for me. I just follow my gut, really. I try not to make what people would call, quote unquote, creative decisions. I try to just follow wherever my ears are going and whatever gets us really, really excited. In that respect, no it wasn’t very deliberate. And then aesthetically as well I think it’s just us being honest with the stuff that we like.
A: It just reflected everything that both of us were listening to.
D: Yeah. I became infatuated with Def Leppard ‘Hysteria’. Mutt Lange, in general, his production technique. I just lost my mind with that stuff and it made its way on to the record.
B: You just answered my next question about things making their way onto the album. So Def Leppard was a huge thing? I saw you thanked them in the liner notes.
D: Absolutely! Actually, Phil Collen was just at our Terminal 5 show.
A: We hung out with him.
D: We hung out with Phil.
A: It was mind-blowing.
D: It’s incredible. Phil’s like, my dude now. That’s insane. We just did this SPIN piece a couple of months ago and I made a mix tape for David, the guy who wrote the piece, and I put Def Leppard on there and I wrote a little blurb “These are my dudes! I love these guys.” And yeah, it’s pretty surreal that it’s one step closer to being the case.
A: Actually, in that SPIN piece, Joe Elliot starts out the piece and there’s a quote from him and it’s like “Any band that has, essentially the balls…” can I curse?
B: Yeah.
A: it was like “any band that has the balls to admit they like Def Leppard is fucking cool in my book.”
D: Yeah, it was a really great way to start the piece off.
B: I read it, it was a great piece; really informative about the album. So here’s a question that I feel you’ve been asked, but I’m going to ask it anyway. So you guys are good friends with Diplo. Was there ever a discussion about bringing him or other producers to work with you guys on the record?
D:Every record, well every two so far, but now I’m thinking about the third I always talk about bringing in a co-producer and then I never do it. It just always sounds like a really good idea like get someone else in there, you know; mix it up, someone to fight me on things a little bit, someone to fight Alexis. But then once we actually get started once we start working we barely have enough time to cram all of our ideas into let alone have an outsider’s input. I’m telling myself that on the third record we’ll work with someone else.
A: I’m calling it right now and saying we’re not. (laughs)
D: (laughing) I don’t know how willing I would be to relinquish any control what so ever. I mean, Alexis and I have really good chemistry in the studio. You know, if it isn’t broken…
A: We’ve been fortunate to, up until this point, to not hit many walls in the studio. If anything we’re constantly surprising ourselves with what we can do and we haven’t really gotten to the point where we’re struggling to think of ideas.
D: Yeah. No melt-downs. No crisis meetings. No just sitting there for two days and you’re dicking and absolutely nothing is happening. Every day is usually pretty exciting for us. We stumble on something new or make process. We’re never just sitting there bashing our heads against the wall. It’s usually pretty inspiring 100% of the time.

B: That’s awesome. So on that note, have you ever thought of collaborating with someone on your record or doing stuff with somebody else.
D: So far we’ve written, with the exception of the Funkadelic sample, we’ve written everything ourselves and I’ve produced everything and played every instrument on both records. I don’t see why we wouldn’t just keep that going. I’m really happy with the results. I mean there are things I would change about it; I could tear the record apart in thirty seconds right now but I’m not going to, there’s no point that’s why you make another one. I don’t know… I could name you five people off the top of my head that would be a lot of fun to collaborate with. But I’m not going to. (laughter) Like I said, there’s just so much momentum and we’re still growing so much as friends and collaborators. I think somebody else would just get in the way.
A: And I think we like the idea of keeping Sleigh Bells as just us and then collaborating outside when the time is right. Whether it’s Derik doing production work or working on a different project or me doing vocals with somebody else.
D: Alexis contributed some vocals to our friend Sasha’s group, Calvinist. A Pylon remix/cover that’s really incredible.
B: Was that the one out on DFA?
D: Yeah! And I thought it was incredible cause there’s a lot of space in that recording. It’s amazing to hear her voice - sorry I’m talking about you like you’re not here – it’s amazing to hear her voice single track and just totally untreated. It’s a totally different world. That’s inspiring to me as well but for right now-
A: I inspire you?
D: You inspire me! But for right now I think it’s just going to be the two of us.
B: Cool! And kind of on that note, you guys have brought a third guitar player to go on tour with you guys. Is the live show something that’s we’re going to see continue to evolve?
D: I think this is it. And the addition is probably permanent. I cannot add imagine adding anybody else. I don’t want to be in a band. We’re not really a band, but we’re not really a four-piece rock’n’roll band. I said that like… I don’t mean to insult four-piece rock’n’roll bands. Nothing wrong with them I just don’t want to be in a band anymore, I did and I don’t need to do it again and there are plenty of them. I kind of like our set up. I like symmetry as well so having three people with her in the middle, it works.
B: Alexis, you were a teacher before this?
A: Yes.
B: I don’t what grade you taught, but do you ever have little girls show up-
A: What, twentieth? I taught 4th grade.
B: Grad School?
A: I taught little ones.
B: Oh so they’re probably not showing up to your shows being like “You’re an inspiration!”
A: No, not yet.
D: I think soon?
A: Probably. I would love that that would be great.
B: Do you stay in touch with them?
A: Yeah, I stay in touch with them. I get really funny facebook messages every now and then like “Oh we saw your video on MTV!” We had a couple of my students come into the studio for ‘Treats’ and they recorded some vocals for kids.
D: Like all the laughing
B: That’s awesome.
A: (in a childish voice) “Boy did I ever need a vacation…” all that stuff so… yeah.
B: Do you ever feel like the new Sting?
A: (laughing)
D: Wait what, say that again?!
B: ‘Cause Sting was a teacher!
D: Oh, oh! I was like “Do we feel like the new Sting? Definitely.”
A: In many ways, including in the bed room.
D: Yes, tantric sex.
B: The end of your liner notes is ridiculous and hilarious. You thank Binsey Luckingham, Michael Jordan and Kurt spelled with a D and Slimer among others.
D: Aw yeah, Slimer.
B: Are there any particular reasons for those?
D: Alright, Slimer. There’s a story behind Slimer. Ready for this? My very good friend since like the age of 12 and now he manages the band, Will Hubbard. He’s a very oily human being. He’s got a lot of oils. In the beginning when we were in the van, he’d be driving and if we took turns I’d get behind the wheel and my hand would just slide right off. Like I just ate 97 cheeseburgers and dumped pan frying pan oil all over my face and just touched the wheel.
A: Derik is also repulsed by oil. Like his skin squeaky and dry.
D: Crispy and dry. Like I’ll use bar soap on my face. I just can’t have films, like if someone gives me guitar after they eat fry chicken or something and it’s a greasy guitar neck… that’s like my worst nightmare it makes me ill.
A: Yet his favorite food is chicken wings.
D: Chicken wings are so good. But I scrub my hands-
A: You do scrub them after.
D: I’ll eat chicken wings and then I’ll be like “’scuze me!” and I’ll go to the bathroom and come back ten minutes later with tingly fresh hands.
B: Do you eat ribs then?
D: ..fuck. I love ribs. I LOVE ribs!
B: Do you eat them with a fork?
D: Nah, I’ll just dig in y’know. Fist and… rahhr! I like chicken wings… big time.
B: Fair enough now on to the perplexing questions. “True Shred Guitar” cool song. Why New Orleans and why is one “fuck” edited?
A: (laughing)
D: (laughing) You’re the first one to call that out! Well, you know a lot of the content on the record… can’t believe we just called it content… is fairly heavy, end of the line. Just dealing with a lot of harsh, intense subjects but we didn’t want it to be one-dimensional in that respect. That’s us just messing around to be honest. Both of my parents are from New Orleans. It’s sort of a tribute. I love the city; I’m a massive New Orleans Saints fan. Everyone in my family went to LSU. New Orleans just felt right, it’s just this strange haunted, lawless place. Like one of the last lawless states of the U.S. I was going to move there for a while, but I’d get in way too much trouble, I’ve got enough problems.
A: We’ve also never played New Orleans so this was kind of our way of imagining this epic arena show that we will one day hopefully play
D: Yeah, that’s the thing we’ve never played New Orleans. It was also tongue in cheek a little because it’s a pretty arrogant way to start a record. We clearly don’t play stadiums right now… right now… kidding! It was to let people in on the joke. We’re just having fun with this. It’s okay. We’re not super uptight all the time and not downer. The idea was to just bleep one of them out; I don’t know… it sounds funny right?
B: It does! I was perplexed.
D: More than anything, when the record starts and the crowd fades in we really hope the people smile and laugh.
A: Absolutely.
D: That track is ferocious and serious about what it’s trying to do but it should be fun as well.
A: So the mantra “True Shred Guitar”.
D: Absolutely, I’m trying to redefine what it means to play “shred” guitar. Because everyone thinks shredding has to have all these crazy leads. I’m a rhythm guitar player, I’ll play a little bit of lead but…
A: It’s a straight forward shred.
D: It’s a straight forward shred… it’s the gentlemen’s shred. I don’t know what that means.
A: tru shred lyfe-
D: tru shred lyfe
B: Is there stuff left off of the record that we’re going to hear?
D: Absolutely! Did you happen to see that two minute trailer thing?
B: Yes.
D: The music for that is going to be on the third record. It was one of the last things we recorded and it just didn’t have a spot on the record and I love that piece of music. So I’m going to develop it, flesh it out and arrange it and turn it into a fully fledged song.
A: It’s already got a really great beat to it.
D: Yeah, I’m really excited about that. So yeah, absolutely; if we went into the studio now I think we could come out now with six or seven really strong songs. We have a year and a half to tour, but I hope we’ll have between 15 and 20 songs.
B: No double-disc third album?
D: No, no. I like to keep it brief.
A: We’re also really interested in putting out the third album as quickly as we can because we want to. By the time we finishing touring we’re so excited about recording so I can’t imagine it’s going to be that much time.
D: I’ve been saying this, but we don’t go on vacation or take breaks. We tour and then there’s nowhere I’d rather be than in the studio. We tour, I get off the bus and I get back in the studio and we come out three or four months later with a record and then go back on tour.
B: Seems like a good way to live. Are there songs on this record that are leftovers from Treats?
D: Not really.
A: That was the plan
D: We had one song that was for Treats that I had actually before Infinity Guitar which was our first single called “Sing Like a Wire” that didn’t make it onto Treats and it didn’t make it onto Reign of Terror and it’s definitely going to be on the third record. I’m really psyched for that one. That one pre-dates Treats even.
You lost me for a example, from Reign of Terror, I’ve had that chord progression sitting around forever but the treatment was really weird and it didn’t fit in anywhere and then suddenly it just found a home and it was perfect. I have a lot of stuff like that, a lot of stuff in the bank.
B: Is there stuff on Treats that’s leftover from Poison the Well?
D: No, it doesn’t go that far. I do have a lot of material for a fourth Poison the Well record that never made it. It’s not very good that’s why I wrote new songs.
A: You were young.
D: Yeah, I was young I was 22 when I left Poison the Well and I’m 30 now. My interests and my ears are very different. And I’ve also become a producer since then. I wasn’t a beat maker when I was in Poison the Well.
B: The liner notes feature heavy imagery, maybe I associate with Vietnam there’s guitars in there and there’s firebombing and a big spread that says “M16”. What’s going on there?
D: Well I’m obsessed with M16s. What it really comes down to, all the artwork and what not, is just being honest with myself and what it is I like. That’s usually where strong artwork and strong aesthetic come from is when you just stop apologizing for who you are and what you like and just get to it. I was like “what do I like?” I like vintage American flags, I like M16s I like a lot of military antiquities, I collect old flags, I like guns a lot. Growing up I had a massive military fetish. There was a television show that was called Tour of Duty that was based on ‘Nam. War films in general really get me, especially ‘Nam era films. I’ve just always had a soft spot for them ever since I was a kid.
A: And that’s actually not a fire bombing, it’s a sugar cane field being burned.
D: They burn them as part of the harvest and my dad was sugar cane farmer so that was sort of a tribute to him. All that stuff with the canteen with the bullet holes in it, that was my grandfather’s. The bullet exited the canteen and went into his leg and that’s where we got the Purple Heart because that was his. So it all ties together.
B: That’s really cool. That’s really awesome.
D: We worked really hard on that stuff.
B: Is Demons the center-piece of the record?
D: No, not necessarily. That was one of the first songs we recorded for the record and I’m just starting to like it. For me the center of the record is Come Back Kid or Never Say Die, which is funny cause it’s at the end.
A: There’s definitely a transition. Demons leads into the second half of the record which is obviously more melodic and more ballad like. So I can definitely see that.
D: There’s a build up of energy and Demons is the release, it just peaks on Demons and then the second half of the record, which is a little shorter than the first half starts.
A: Derik has this love hate relationship with Demons, I love Demons.
D: Yeah, she loves Demons and I go back and forth with it.
B: It’s very Sabbath.
D: It’s very Sabbath, very agro. I doubt I’ll do it again… I dunno maybe I will do something like that again in the future. It’s a very classic sounding riff, straight out of Tony Iommi’s book. I'm not shy about that.
B: Alright well, thank you guys. Do you have anything else to say?
A: Nah, I almost burped into the mic.
D: She’s dumb…
B: Thank you guys so much. Buy Reign of Terror.
D: Thank you, man.


Interview: Sleigh Bells
| August 27, 2012 at 8:07PM
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