Album Reviews Q&A: Sleigh Bells
You only have to look at the above list of recommenders to realise just how loved Sleigh Bells are at the BBC right now. The Brooklyn-based duo's debut album, Treats, has been a mainstay on several stereos of late, yours truly's included. The band is Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss - his background is in hardcore rock, hers in areas rather gentler of nature. So it's perhaps inevitable that the pair's sound as Sleigh Bells is both violently raucous and melodically immediate - think your favourite pop act given the once-over by Crystal Castles or HEALTH. I sat down with them ahead of a typically boisterous headline set at London's Lexington venue for a little Album Reviews Q&A action.
Treats has just come out over here in the UK, but it's been available for a fair while now in the US. Do these different release dates confuse you guys as much as they do me?
DM: Yeah... it's just label stuff. They have their reasons. But it's not like you can't just get an album on import if you want to.
AK: I think they wanted us to be here, so that we could promote it around the album's release.
DM: I think this is the earliest we could have got here, so this makes sense. We can't be in several places at once.
Surely you've done introducing-style interviews in the States already, so is it not a little odd to go over the same ground several months' later?
DM: Well, we do get asked some of the same old questions, and we can find ourselves covering a fair amount of well-trodden territory. But we do have to do our work over here, so it's all good.
Was the album done and dusted last year, or was it not finished until more recently than that?
DM: Actually, we did only finish the record in... Well, we recorded it in January and February.
AK: So at the very beginning of this year.
DM: March 1st is when we were finished, so it's still feeling pretty fresh.
And is Treats effectively a collection of everything you had available, or is it more considered than that?
DM: There's one B side that isn't included, but for the most part this is what we have to offer. Or, rather, what we had to offer at the time. To be honest we ran out of time - there were so many more ideas that we just didn't have the chance to get to. We started touring pretty much as soon as we could, so that was that. But we're still going forward creatively, and we're always talking about the second album. I probably shouldn't think too much about that, with this one just out. But we could go right back into the studio right now. We're almost ready, I think.
AK: Yeah, there's plenty of new stuff coming together already.
DM: And all of this touring, which I love, really gets the creative juices flowing.
Were your first live steps a little awkward? The record is pretty sparse, instrumentally - in terms of as-live instrumentation, anyway.
DM: Well, it was always the intention to take this on the road, but our first few shows were certainly awkward. We were lucky to play them with friends of ours. For us, if the crowd isn't really energetic and part of the show, then I think we lose 50% of what we can offer live. We're not the kind of band that can show up and do our thing to a load of people just sitting there and watching.
AK: There aren't that many elements to our live sound, but we're really particular about all of them. And if one goes wrong, then that means the whole show is wrong. And live we make sure everything has loads of low end and bass - we're a band that's really suited to being really loud. We've had the odd complaint about it before, but most venues understand we're going to be loud.
You've been on the radar of several tastemaker blogs for some time before breaking through - what was it like being inside such a bubble of hype? Do you have to remain fairly detached from it all?
DM: We pretty much ignore everything that's written about us, because chances are everything written about us that's good I'll disagree with, and everything bad I'll agree with. So I try to stay away from it.
AK: It can be so easy to take things the wrong way.
DM: Initially there was the temptation to read what was being said about us, because if people are writing about us then that's great. But it's more important to stay focus on your own thoughts and feelings about what you're doing, rather than being distracted by another opinion.
To have emerged from this hype with an album that's proved to be more than an underground hit, though, must be very satisfying.
DM: Oh, yeah. We really care about that side of things. We want to make great records, and that's really the only reason why we're doing this. So it's amazing that people seem to understand what we're doing, and that they're into it. You never really know why something resonates, but it seems like this album is with a lot more people than we perhaps expected. It's a mystery... and we're pretty thankful.
Can you understand that many people might not 'get' Treats instantly? There's a lot of noise atop all of those pop hooks...
AK: We always describe our music as pop.
DM: I'm not even sure what is mainstream and what isn't anymore. If you listen to Rill Rill, that's about as sugary and as pop-friendly, top 40 as it gets, to my ears.
AK: People are exposed to so much more music nowadays, music of all different kinds. We're not trying to become mainstream...
DM: I think it is mainstream!
AK: We're not ashamed of the music, so the more people that hear it, the better.
DM: I feel really comfortable describing ourselves as pop, and I hope that nobody would be really surprised if we became more accessible. I feel the way the music is going, it'll have heavier guitars but more melodic vocals. I think Tell 'Em might be a good indication of where we'll be going next.
AK: There are people who will just hear the noise, though.
What do your parents think of it?
DM: My mum loves it to death.
AK: Mine too!
DM: They tell all their friends. Like, my nephew, we're his favourite band. He's seven, and he calls his iPod his "iPi", and asks: "Put it on my iPi". I played it to him really quietly, but he kept asking me to make it louder. He sat there and loved it... I feel bad for how loud it was though.
Finally, do you have any favourite albums of the year so far?
DM: I really like the new M.I.A. record, and the new Crystal Castles one. I like the Salem record, King Night (released in the UK in September). The new LCD Soundsystem album is great, too.
AK: I really wanted to like the Janelle Monáe album more, as everyone has been going on about it. And I love her, but the record doesn't quite do it for me. But that's just me.
DM: Actually, you know what record I really love but nobody talks about? Well, they do, because the band is massive, but it's not been that brilliantly received. The new MGMT record, Congratulations. It had a quiet reception, and I listened to it a few times when it came out without giving it the chance it deserved. But I kept hearing songs from it, and then wanting to hear them again. It's a really cool record, but I guess because it doesn't have any globe-conquering mega-hits on it, it's not good somehow.
AK: When did Yeasayer's Odd Blood come out? This year? Oh good. I love that record.
DM: I'm not saying MGMT need anyone's pity. They've done pretty okay for themselves.