Derek Miller of Sleigh Bells: "You Should Never Apologize for What Turns You On"
All too often in the world of indie-rock, pretense dominates the conversation. Thanks perhaps to the bombast that goes into the music of the Brooklyn-based noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells, that's not a problem you'll find while listening to any of the group's three studio albums, including their brand new release, Bitter Rivals.
The group's continued employment of '80s thrashing hair metal, boisterous rap-rock and sugary pop is the musical proof that Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss, who've performed as Sleigh Bells since 2008, wear their influences on their sonic sleeves not because they're oblivious, but because they're unashamed. We talked to Miller as he and Krauss geared-up for a tour that will bring them to Granada Theater this Saturday, October 26.
"Pretense in music is a massive turn-off for me," Miller says. "Any of our inspirations are ones that we adore unapologetically and non-ironically. I think our band can work on a couple of different levels. I've had people tell me they like to turn us up and listen while they work-out, which is flattering to me, if we are able to energize someone like that. I think you can also go deeper into our music if you like to enjoy music that way. There's an onion quality to our music in that there are many layers for people who want to really dig-in and examine it."
To be certain, Bitter Rivals, just as last year's urgent and forceful Reign of Terror and 2010's Treats did before it, succeeds in offering searing rock tunes that Top 40 radio listeners can be drawn to as well as pop music that skinny-jean-wearing indie fans can reasonably enjoy. For Miller, such a stew of sounds wouldn't be possible if he were too worried about what others thought about the types of music he's been intrigued by over the years.
"There are records that I enjoy, and there are records I form a close, intimate relationship with," he says. "Sometimes those records aren't the obvious, heavy or serious records either. I might be talking about an Ace of Base record or something that's considered bubblegum. If it has resonated with me in a personal way, that's real, regardless of what kind of music it is, or what others think about that band or record."
Giving props to the Swedish group that gave us "The Sign" and "All That She Wants" isn't surprising from Miller, the former guitar player for Hardcore band Poison the Well. Last year, when he was interviewed by Spin Magazine for a cover story during the release of Reign of Terror , Miller admitted that another Swedish pop-vendor from the past had been an inspiration to him and the music he had been making with Sleigh Bells.
"Man, you made my day by bringing up Roxette," says Miller. "To me, their big hit-singles are unassailable and even beautiful. 'Dangerous' hits me really hard every time I hear it, and 'It Must've Been Love' is a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching song. There was real chemistry in that group, and I feel like Alexis and I continue to develop that chemistry as we each evolve. I embrace that development more and more now."
While there have been new elements and differences in the band's trio of albums and Miller's colorfully inventive album artwork, the base of massive beats mixed with sultry pop was something that Miller had been hearing in his own head, but not hearing as much outside of his imagination.
"I was hearing this sound," he says. "I also knew there was room for this sound, as there wasn't a cluttered scene of bands making the music I wanted to make. We don't own the sound, though. We obviously have influences, and we have debts to other artists, for sure."
The music Miller likes and makes is a product of his own growth in self-security. It's safe to assume that Sleigh Bells wouldn't exist in their current form if it weren't for Miller's seemingly simple ability to just do what he digs.
"I'm growing older and understanding more what I'm about. I embrace it. I'm 32 now and I recognize who I am and what I love. I think the band is a tribute to that and our integrity is completely intact. You should never apologize for what turns you on."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.