Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat
Noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells are currently out tour to promote their fourth album Jessica Rabbit. Much like the other albums in Sleigh Bells’ discography, this album juxtaposes Alexis Krauss’s saccharine vocal hooks with guitarist Derek Miller’s buzzing guitars and a slightly electronic back beat. Krauss, who along with Miller forms the core of the group, took some time out of her crazy tour schedule. They’ll be wrapping up the international tour in Southern California, with the penultimate show at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles on Tuesday March 28 (the tour concludes the following night in Anaheim). Get tickets for the March 28 show in Los Angeles here.
Photo Credit: Sharon Alagna
mxdwn: First, congratulations on the release of Jessica Rabbit and on the tour. 2017 must be crazy so far. How’s the tour going?
Alexis Krauss: We did two smaller US runs in September and November including a UK trip. We just played another London show and that was preceded by a Europe tour which went extremely well. I have to say, Derek and I are both really happy with how the material is integrating with the set. The response from fans has been really encouraging so we’re feeling strong. We’ve got a great crew and we’re playing the first show of the long U.S. tour tonight which is going to be in Charlottesville.
mxdwn: Awesome! On Jessica Rabbit, you’re using your voice very differently than in past albums – where did you draw inspiration for this new sound?
AK: For Jessica Rabbit, I was using my voice in a way that felt extremely comfortable and natural to me. The vocal performances are much more stripped; they’re more vulnerable; they’re more emotional. There’s more power behind them and they’re less heavily treated. In the past, we would treat vocals very much like an instrumental. We would blend them into the track in a textual way. For this album, we took more the traditional pop vocals boat, in the sense that the vocals are kind of laying on top of the mixes.
When I was writing melodies for this album, I was trying to match the energy and at times, melancholy of the track. I was trying to do something that did the track justice and oftentimes, that called for, in my opinion, a much more powerful delivery than I’d given in the past. It was just a different approach. Derek and I were both craving something that sounded different than our first three albums so it was really the product of those different variables. It does feel like a real change of course for us but as I was saying before earlier, there is this type of integration occurring, especially in the live show, and we’re feeling good about those changes.
Photo Credit: Owen Ela
mxdwn: How is the new and super different sound changing your live shows?
AK: I think it’s making the live shows more dynamic. There are definitely moments in the set that are not necessarily softer, but there’s more space; there’s more vulnerability; there’s a real change in pace and tone. It’s kind of expanding the emotional range of our live sets which I think is a welcome change for both the band and for our fans so I think the set is just as energetic but less bludgeoning if that makes sense.
mxdwn: In the past you’ve sometimes been supported on stage by a backing guitarist or a horn section; and other times, it’s just you two. What’s your onstage configuration this tour?
AK: Our configuration is Derek and I and another guitarist Ryan Carmack who has been playing with us for a few years now. He’s a really integral part of our live show and also our behind the scenes production team. It’s the three of us on stage. We’re no longer playing with the drummer. It was great playing with the drummer but we are essentially an electronic act. 99.9% of the production is electronic. We don’t really sample live kits much in the writing process. I think it’s working out really well and I think more and more people sort of understand when they come to a show that they don’t necessarily have to see every element from the album being recreated live so it’s working out , it’s much more streamlined for us. I think as long as the three of us give two hundred percent on stage, there’s certainly no lack of enthusiasm.
Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat
mxdwn: You guys are hitting Okeechobee Music & Arts Fest in Florida this weekend, BUKU in New Orleans and finishing up the tour in LA at the end of this month. What do you want to say to your fans coming out to see you who have been with you on the journey since the very beginning?
AK: Well, first of all, thank you for the support and for the loyalty and for sticking with us through four very different albums. I think when fans come out to see our shows it’s going to be what they’ve come to expect from us – super high energy, a lot of engagement, a lot of reciprocity. Our shows are nothing without engagement from our fans so we’re trying to really perform as tight and as best as we possibly can. There’s more diverse energy to the sets now because we’re pulling from all four albums. It feels like our strongest shows yet.
mxdwn: What song do you most enjoy playing live off the new album? I personally would go nuts for “Rule Number One.”
AK: You took the words right out of my mouth. I love doing that one. We normally do that second to last right before “A/B Machines” and it’s a crazy song – lots of tempo changes but it comes across really well and it’s been great to see the response fans have had to that song. It takes you on a real roller coaster ride and is very enjoyable live so I’d have to say “Rule Number One.”
Photo Credit: Owen Ela
mxdwn: Jessica Rabbit is your fourth album, released after a three year hiatus, by your own Torn Clean record label. What was it like having complete independence and how was production different than your first three albums?
AK: I want to preface that by saying, when we were working with Mom + Pop, we had a tremendous amount of creative freedom so it’s not like starting our own label was a rebellion from working within the confines of a very controlling label structure. But Torn Clean definitely did allow us to release the album exactly as we wanted to. It’s a very stubborn album. It’s not an album that’s meant to have a tremendous commercial success. There’s a lot of weird arrangements, there’s a lot of strange songs, it jumps around a bit. Torn Clean was our way of really indulging those desires. It really did give us a platform and the ability to release something that didn’t have to be approved by a lot of different people. That was really the type of album we wanted to put out.
mxdwn: Your partner in crime, Derek Miller, has said, “Sleigh Bells is definitely a family affair. It’s not just business.” You guys are super close. Can you talk a little bit about your collaboration process and how your style has evolved together in the past three years while working on the album?
AK: He’s like my brother. We’re constantly talking about music. We’re constantly sharing ideas and Jessica Rabbit was a really intense time because we recorded dozens of songs and we were very critical of most of them so the process of whittling down the album was very intense. We revisited arrangements, we rewrote things, we worked with different people but it was a very transparent, open, honest process. Derek and I are very comfortable giving and receiving criticism as long as it’s constructive. I think it was definitely the best incarnation of our working relationship to date. We definitely felt the most comfortable with one another especially when it meant taking chances and pushing ourselves.
Photo Credit: Sharon Alagna
mxdwn: Do you feel like Jessica Rabbit is your most authentic work to date?
AK: Well, I don’t want to imply the other three albums were in any way disingenuous. I don’t want to say it’s the most authentic work to date but it’s I think it’s probably the most adventurous and creative work to date.
mxdwn: Are you guys working on a fifth album yet?
AK: We are! We have a few demos recorded. Derek actually just sent me a bunch of stuff we were working on in the dressing room earlier today. We’re definitely keeping busy with writing!
Sleigh Bells play the El Rey Theatre on March 28th