It’s been eight years since the songwriting team of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss broke musical ground with Sleigh Bells, the band’s eponymously titled first EP. The album introduced audiences to the duo’s catchy pop / noise rock hybrid sound. Since then, they have been modifying their sound to varying degrees — especially with last year’s Jessica Rabbit. Jessica Rabbit features the duo’s most complex song arrangements to date. Additionally, it is the first album that they have released on their own label, Torn Clean, after having parted ways with Mom + Pop Music. When the group returned to the states, after completing the European tour dates of their current tour, the Weekly caught up with songwriter / vocalist Alexis Krauss to ask about the tour, producing Jessica Rabbit, running their own label, and the ongoing litigation with Demi Lovato (Lovato is alleged to have illegally sampled Sleigh Bells songs “Infinity Guitars” and “Riot Rhythm” for her song “Stars”).
OC Weekly (Scott Feinblatt): How was the European leg of the tour?
Alexis Krauss: It went extremely well! We got back last week. We played our last show in London about a week ago, and, you know, I'm always incredibly grateful when we travel that far and have people come to our shows and connect with the new material and sing along. It's really energizing and invigorating for me, so I was very pleased with their thoughts and the shows were just incredibly energetic and euphoric, so it was a really successful tour.
How has it felt performing the new material, which is kind of a dramatic departure from some of your other material — especially your earliest stuff?
You know I don't want to say that the integration has been seamless, but I feel like the combination of material from all four records is speaking to one another in a way that I wasn't anticipating. It works, it really does! There's something about the tempo changes, and the sort of irregularity and manias of Jessica Rabbit that complement the kind of repetitive nature of Treats and the pop sensibilities of Bitter Rivals and the kind of metal intensity of Reign of Terror, so it certainly is a very diverse, eclectic set, but it's working. I really think it's working.
I read in an article that your new album, Jessica Rabbit, was near completion in 2015, but then Tom Whalley [former Warner Bros. Records chairman / CEO and current head of Loma Vista Recordings] gave you guys notes which sent you back to work on it. Can you give me an idea of the nature of Whalley's suggestions that kept you guys at it until last year?
Yeah. Working with Tom was a real privilege. I think for Tom, he had an idea of what he wanted a Sleigh Bells album to sound like, so I think his feedback was influenced by that. But, without getting into the specifics of what he thought we should sound like, I think the real inspiration behind his feedback was: "Keep writing, keep working, don't settle. You have time, so why rush out an album." And, initially that was frustrating to us because we were very, very excited by the material we had created, and we stood behind it, but the more we embraced that philosophy of the process — experiment, take your time — the more we started to buy into it, and we wrote for a long time and some of our favorite material wasn't even composed until we were mixing the album. So, that idea of "just keep writing, there's no reason to rush things out," was a really important component of the creative process.
I don't know if this has happened with the other albums that you've produced, but for this one there's a bunch of songs that were written but didn't make the final cut. Are those going to wind up on future albums or, perhaps, on a proverbial B-Sides album?
We're already working on some of those tracks. They certainly won't be released as they were, but some of the parts will be turned into, hopefully, better material. Yeah, I think it was sad to say goodbye to some of those songs because we were really attached to them in the beginning, but ultimately I think we made the right decisions when it came down to the track listing.
I read in another interview that you had described the symbolism of the Jessica Rabbit character as a desirable yet, ultimately, unobtainable fantasy. How did that symbol materialize for you as being representative of the latest body of work?
I think a lot of that sentiment is reflected in the lyrics. You know, this idea that you're searching for something, you're setting your ambitions and your sights really high, you're striving for perfection and you're ultimately failing; but that doesn't mean you're not well-intentioned, and that doesn't mean that you're not going to give it everything. And that can be with a relationship, it could be with addiction, or it could be with trying to wrap your head around our current political system. Just this idea of like not compromising and really putting 150% into your pursuit of something, and if that makes you delusional then so be it.
Since you started your label Torn Clean, how easy or difficult has it been to manage your own show?
We still are working with our phenomenal crew and our agent, so our touring operation hasn't really changed a ton. I think, if anything, people are really doubling down and taking their roles really seriously. We don't have a major label budget for our marketing team, so everyone is just kind of super responsible for what they have to do every night. We have a really tight-knit crew; it's a family, and we care about each other and we love making music and playing shows. We're all just working hard to really make sure that we carry our own weight.
I've just got one more for you: is there any news on the Demi Lovato suit?
There's no news that I can speak publicly about. We are in discussions with them, and they've been responsive to our desires. And we're having a pretty fruitful exchange. We'll see where we end up. Hopefully we'll have an answer in the next coming months.
I certainly hope that you guys are treated fairly.
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That's all we want. Credit where credit is due.
Is there anything you'd like to say about your upcoming show?
I'll just say that it's an honor to perform in front of fans who have supported us from Treats through Jessica Rabbit, and I think even if people were a little puzzled by this album, I think if they come to the live show it'll make sense. And I think we're giving our best performances to date, so hopefully it will be a really worthwhile experience for them.
Sleigh Bells is performing at House of Blues, Anaheim, on Wednesday, March 29. For ticket information, click here.