I recently had the privilege of seeing the bone-crushing noise pop of Sleigh Bells again. I had first seen them on May 11th, 2010 — the day they released their highly anticipated debut on iTunes. Debut, mind you. If you’re reading an article about an interview with Sleigh Bells, you probably know all that jazz about how they were CMJ darlings, their insanely popular demos, and and how they’re pretty much the buzziest buzz band ever, but still — the level of excitement for a band with no record out yet is a vibe that hasn’t been around since bands like The MC5 were trashing up shows in 1968.
Less than two years later, I found myself in NYC’s Terminal 5, ready to make a progress report. While the venue was bigger and the duo has since gone on to enlist the help of a second guitarist, Jason Boyer, the sound was just a furious, if not more skull pounding. Marshall stacks lined the stage while both guitarists stood at each side like royal guards as the queen made her proclamation. The crowd became merely a sea of bodies, violently shifting and jockeying for positions.
While the setting was more arena oriented, the band still maintained the unbridled chaos of that Bushwick show two years ago, with Krauss even crowd surfing during “Rill Rill.” The crowd sang and yelled into the air, not with the words, but with Miller’s guitar riffs. For instance, when the band ripped into the car commercial licensed “Riot Rhythm,” the whole audience could be heard singing out “Er Errr! Er Ah Er Errr! / Er Errr! Er Ah Er Errr!” It really sums up why the band garner such a contagious following — the songs don’t bother with being cerebral. They’re primitive, and they tap into the recesses of the brain that don’t require thought — it’s an instinctual impulse to simply rock.
As our review of their second album, “Reign of Terror,” makes clear, Sleigh Bells have completely bypassed the sophomore slump, and have likewise not lost any of their power and effectiveness live. Shortly after the Terminal 5 show, Derek Miller took a moment to talk to us about the record, the road, and some of his favorite tunes that have helped craft the band’s current reign over our stereos.
Reign of Terror completely holds onto the first record’s aesthetic while going places Treats doesn’t. How self aware were you guys of the sophomore slump? Did you ever feel intimidated by the concept?
Derek Miller: I’m aware that people perceive second records to be “difficult,” but nothing about making this record felt particularly hard. At no point
were we in the studio banging our heads against the wall. We usually have a lot of ideas…I don’t over think the process, I just try to get out of the way and let it happen. I know plenty of people who labor and stress over every single detail of the recording process. My technical knowledge is very limited so I follow my instincts and listen to what my gut tells me. Wait for accidents, etc. We expect a lot from ourselves and never really reach whatever goals we set—the point is to keep trying.
What are some of your favorite second records?
DM: Deftones “Around the Fur,” Guns N Roses “Use Your Illusion I & II,” Public Enemy “Nation of Millions,” My Bloody Valentine “Loveless,” Madonna “Like A Virgin,” Def Leppard “High N Dry,” The Smiths “Meat Is Murder,” Lil B. “I’m Thraxx,” M.I.A. “Kala, “New Order “Power Corruption & Lies,” Rage Against the Machine “Evil Empire.”
This record definitely ventures into some hair rock territory. What are some of the records that you feel were a point of reference for “Reign of Terror”’s sound?
DM: The biggest by far is “Hysteria,” my favorite Def Leppard record. Sonically that record astounds me. They went into it with total commitment and came out with a classic. It’s bright, shiny, heavy, pop…and full of amazing songs. Phil Collen came out to our last show at Terminal 5 and I’m happy to say he is an extremely nice dude. Definitely did a little bit of nerding out backstage. I recently acquired my first Jackson custom shop guitar with a camo finish. I was showing it off to him and he was like “Oh that’s nice. I HAVE MY OWN LINE.” Haha — Respect!
Do you guys have any pre-show rituals?
DM: Lots of Bud Light, Jameson, Ghostface “Pretty Toney”, fist pumping, pushups, high-fiving, Alexis warming up, and all manner of ridiculous behavior. I do this thing called “The Raptor” where I walk around and scream like a raptor. So I do that. A lot.
As far as I know, you guys don’t do any covers, yet it’d be an interesting concept considering how particular your sound is – what would be one song you’d like to give the Sleigh Bells treatment?
DM: We are covering Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” for our upcoming BBC Maida Vale session. It’s part of this thing called a “wild card”…you do two of your own songs and then a minute to a minute and a half of a cover, so we only get a verse and a chorus but yeah, Alexis sounds great. Psyched.
Sub question: Do you guys ever go to karaoke and if so, do you have a go-to jam?
DM: I’ll do just about anything, but my good friend and manager, Will Hubbard, does Chris Isaak “Wicked Game”…the kicker is that he does it on a stool with his hair in his face. Brings the house down every time!
Is it just business on the road, or do you guys do anything fun to break up touring monotony?
DM: Lots of weird, fun shit at all times. Jelly Belly Factory in Northern CA, had a massive Super Bowl party–always on the look out for the best chicken wings in town, swimming holes, go karts, airboat rides. Most bands think the record/tour cycle is soul sapping, but we love it. I have no life outside the band. I love it and live for it.
We’ve been listening to a lot of your record since it went up online two weeks ago. What have you guys been listening to lately?
DM: I cannot get enough Lil B. I’ve listened to “I’m God” more than any other song in the past 10 years or so, but his entire catalog is madness. Definitely wanna/gonna do some production work for him in the future. Clams Casino, Main Attrakionz, Refused, Araabmuzik, Liturgy, ASAP Rocky, Dave Grusin’s “Goonies” score, Fred Falke, Kuedo, Chris & Cosey, Young L, Smashing Pumpkins, Cult of Youth, Oneohtrix, Def Lep, Metallica, Mazzy Star, The Cranberries, Air Supply, Chicago, Michael Giacchino’s “Super 8″ score, Pantera, Roxette, etc, etc, etc.
In Nickelodeon Magazine interviews, I remember they often asked, “pizza or ice cream?” Seems only appropriate to ask.
DM: Fuckin’ ice cream on my pizza and pizza on my ice cream. Forever.