Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sleigh Bells' Alexis Krauss: The Cream Interview

Posted By on Thu, Jul 8, 2010 at 4:17 PM

By now you've probably read Maloney's "terminally" effusive feature on Sleigh Bells, the Brooklyn electro-thrash duo that's headed our way Sunday. (They play The End with w/Nerve City & Popo.) I had a quick chat — cut short partly because of something fun we're working on for y'all — with singer Alexis Krauss the other day, as the band drove from Carrboro, North Carolina, to Florida.

A little background might be helpful if you've been off the Internet for a while or are new here. It hasn't even been a year since Sleigh Bells played their first show. They're signed with Mom + Pop Records for their debut, Treats, which also has the name of M.I.A.'s N.E.E.T. label attached to it. Krauss sang and played bass in a band called Rubyblue as a teenager, an experience she describes in an interview with the Minneapolis City Pages as a situation where a team of producers "tried to turn us into Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera." Her bandmate, Derek Miller, was a member of the hardcore band Poison the Well, and people used to get in fistfights when they played. The two met in a restaurant where Miller worked as a server, and Krauss and her mother were his customers. Krauss was a fourth-grade teacher in the Bronx at the time. They exchanged emails. The rest is Internet history.

Nashville Cream: Have you been to Nashville before?

Alexis Krauss: I have not been to Nashville, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m just really excited — it’s a place I’ve always wanted to play, and see. I have some friends down there, so it’s pretty exciting.

NC: It’s always good when you can meet up with people you know when you’re on the road. It makes it a little easier.

AK: Yes, it does. Little comforts make a big difference.

NC: The story of how you two met is widely known, but the thing I want to know is, was Derek a good waiter?

AK: [Laughs.] He was a very good waiter. Um, he was incredibly friendly, and I think that is what initiated what ended up being the exchange of emails that led to Sleigh Bells. But I remember thinking, “Wow, this guy’s spending so much time talking to us — he’s going to get in trouble!” But ... it was a pretty slow night that night.

NC: Any time the server’s talking to my mom, I think maybe they’re being too chatty, you know?

AK: [Laughs.] Yeah, it was just one of those things. ... I don’t know, there was nothing forced or awkward about it. And if you knew my mom, she can talk for hours, so no surprise.

NC: It seems like you had this kind of chance encounter, and the whole thing has come together pretty fast, considering that some bands toil in obscurity for years. How’s that been, just in terms of, like, making that jump so fast?

AK: Yeah, I mean, it’s been quite a whirlwind. But as quickly as things have happened, Derek and I both have experience with the music business, and it’s been very important to us to make wise decisions, and not to rush the important decisions. So, y’know, I think it’s just all about keeping your head on, and staying focused, and not getting overwhelmed by all the information that’s out there. Because it is, it’s overwhelming initially. Everything just happens so quickly these days.

I think, Derek and I, our philosophy is, it’s kind of like, as long as we are making good music that we think is worth people’s time, we’ll put it out there. But if we don’t think it’s worth people’s time, we won’t. And in terms of all the hype, and the buzz, we’re fully aware that just as quickly as, y’know, as you can go up, you can go down.

So, we’re just trying to take it as it comes. Obviously, we’re incredibly grateful, and we realize that we’re really fortunate, and this doesn’t happen for a lot of bands. So we’re just trying to enjoy it, and make sense of it.

NC: Yeah. Do you feel like your kind of previous experience — I know you were kind of disappointed in the experience that you had — do you think that’s kind of helped you ... handle this better, that you had that perspective at such a young age?

AK: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean ... having an experience in the music business, and seeing the dark side of it [laughs], for lack of a better term ... it definitely helps you realize what you don’t want. And, y’know, from everything in terms of — we were very careful with choosing our record label. We talked to a lot of people, but ultimately we went with a label that was very much aligned to our vision. And with everything, I mean, you just have to be careful with the decisions you make, because people try to make you feel like, “If you don’t do this, it’s gonna to be the end,” you know? Everything is just so dramatic. And you just have to believe that ... what you have is good enough, and, y’know, people will wait for it. ... I don’t know, it’s just about being smart. But yeah, definitely, the music business, if you’re not careful, it’ll just sort of take over, and suddenly there’ll be shit out there about your band, and about you, and you’re like, “What? I never approved that.” [Laughs.]

NC: Do you feel at all vindicated that ... this sort of more ... organic kind of music has taken off for you, in a way that the sort of corporate, more put-together music didn’t?

AK: Absolutely. I was really young when all that went down, but I made a promise to myself that I would never be involved in music again unless it was, y'know, on my own terms or it was with somebody who shared my creative vision, and did things the way that, um, I would do them. And Derek and I work incredibly well together, and we both are hard workers, and have devoted everything to it, so ... yeah, I mean ... it gives you perspective. It's great to see. One of the things that's so exciting for us is the fact that people sort of discovered Sleigh Bells on their own. You know, there wasn't this giant machine behind it. And there really still isn't. Most of it is word of mouth, and we have our MySpace, and Derek and a few other people do most of the artwork and marketing. A lot of it has been very organic, and that's something that's really exciting. With the Internet, and just the amount of blogs and journalists that are out there ... it's pretty easy to do that.

NC: I think I read somewhere Derek said that he likes to be the "guy in the shadows" or something like that. Do you think that describes your collaboration process?

AK: I think that was referencing the live show. ... So yeah, I think that was in reference to the live shows, in terms of, he likes to sort of be shrouded in darkness and hiding under a hoodie while I'm kind of the one making a complete fool out of myself.

NC: Do you feel like your experience as a teacher has helped you at all?

AK:Um ... [laughs].

NC: Keeping the kids' attention?

AK: In very abstract ways. I definitely gained a certain confidence, being in front of a class of fourth-graders. I think fourth-graders are actually a lot more intimidating than a lot of the crowds we play to, so in that sense, sure. But yeah, I guess I kind of know how to handle business. [Laughs.]

NC: Are there any artists that you are thinking of collaborating with down the road, or are interested in collaborating with?

AK: At this point, we haven't really talked about those things, because we feel like we have so much work to do, just as Sleigh Bells. We're such a new band, and we were only in the studio for two months, for this album. So I think Derek and I just have so much that we want to do, just as the two of us. But obviously, Derek in terms of production work, and me in terms of vocal performances, we're not shut down to anything. If the right person comes along, and the right opportunity presents itself, we'll be there.

NC: Have you thought about picking up the bass again?

AK: I don't know. As of right now, no. The past few years, I worked a lot as a session singer, and I did a lot of vocal coaching, so I've kind of really fallen in love with focusing on being a vocalist, and writing harmonies and melodies, and arranging. So for now, I'm fulfilled with that, but ... we'll see. In the future, who knows. I'm certainly open to it.

NC: Never say never, right?

AK: Yeah, exactly.

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