American noise pop duo Sleigh Bells are in the country to play The Big Day Out and tour their album Reign of Terror. Larry Heath sat down to talk with them about on-stage stuff ups and their next album.
Welcome back to Australia. It’s been a long time.
Derek: Yes, we’re psyched to be here. It’s our third trip. I did Big Day Out in ’04 and then we came back over two years ago, so this is my third time around.
Alexis: Yeah, we’re happy to be here.
Around the same time, you were doing Falls Festival as well. Is that right?
Derek: Yes, we were doing Falls Festival and the one in Perth.
Must have been a big week.
Alexis: It was. We barely made it here. I was stuck in New York during an incredible snowstorm and we actually missed our first show in Tasmania. And then we got here the day of (the performance) and played that night. Crazy.
Derek: We were jet lagged as hell and all hell was breaking loose back at home.
Alexis: So far, this time around has been smoother.
Well, your first show is today. Are you feeling jet lagged? When did you arrive?
Derek: I’m feeling great. We got in yesterday morning and we had the day off. We hung out and stayed up. We had an amazing dinner with a bunch of friends.
Alexis: Yeah, we’re not feeling jet lagged. We’re psyched to play.
Derek: I feel a little off, but we’re ready to play more than anything.
Alexis: This is our last set of shows before we disappear into the studio for a while and work on our third record. So, for us, it’s a nice way to wrap up the record cycle.
You will appropriately be playing the ‘purple stage’ for your last set of shows.
Alexis: I got purple nails on, so I’m ready.
Your tour is called Reign of Terror. I would imagine that a Reign of Terror would leave bruises.
Alexis: We leave bruises at our shows on occasion.
Derek: Yeah, either self-inflicted or on other people.
Alexis: My leg’s by the end of tour are just a mess. It’s terrible.
Derek: They look like an abstract painting.
You always come onstage with a lot of energy. Is there a secret to it?
Derek: Usually, it’s the crowd. If the crowd shows up and we have them on our side – it’s one of the best things you could ever do with your time. I love it. It’s work when nobody’s interested, which happens – some cities just have that demeanor anyway. But we’ve never had that problem here. I’m sure today’s going to be really hot. So, it will probably be a little calm. But honestly if they give then we give it then we give it back and it just reciprocates.
Alexis: We usually take the approach that, if we feel like we’re fighting the crowd in the sense that they’re not giving us as much as we want, we don’t shut down. We’re super motivated to get them going.
Derek: We get aggressive.
You often crowd surf and always work to keep the crowd interested. Has being so rowdy on stage ever gotten in you in trouble?
Alexis: No. We’ve been really fortunate that we haven’t had any serious incidents. And I like to think that I’m able, this may sound naïve, but I’m usually able to gage to the crowd pretty well, because I am so close to it. You can tell when kids are positive and having fun – that’s 99% of our shows. It’s very rare that we get people that are aggressive or crossing the line. When you do get that, obviously, you keep your distance and you know that it’s not going to be good if you throw yourself in the midst of that. But 99% of the time the kids are there to have fun.
What can we expect from the show tonight? You’re going back into the studio soon, will there be any new songs in the set?
Derek: Not yet. We don’t road test stuff because we can never really practice. We record everything before we ever play it. So, we have five songs done, but we’re still arranging everything and mixing everything. Then it goes up on Youtube and it’s no longer new. And then people are like ‘when are you going to record some new songs?’ and we’re like ‘but we just did.’ And they’re like ‘oh that’s old!’ So, we like to keep it a surprise. It’s always a different sound.
Alexis: When we come back with our third record, we come back fully behind it – with a different approach and a different show.
Derek: In terms of what to expect though – sensory overload. That’s usually my go to descriptor because it’s very aggressive sonically. Our lights are really intense. It’s polarizing, which I’m comfortable with. Some people are like ‘this a fucking nightmare – get me out of here!’ and some people are like ‘we want more.’ That’s just the nature of the band.
Alexis: If all goes well, which is always a risk with festivals, it’s perfect for our sound because we do have a massive PA to use. And there’s something about being outside and having that amount of volume and enthusiasm that really works well for us – if all goes well!
Derek: You never know. You just got to flip a coin when you go out there. Sometimes, you go out there and nothing works and you’re like ‘all right! We’ll be right back!’
Do you want to name drop anyone to blame?
Alexis: Oh no! Sometimes that just happens. We played Redding and Leeds and we got on stage and we just had no lights. Our poor lighting guy.
Derek: When something goes wrong, there’s no time to point fingers we’re just thinking ‘let’s get it fixed as soon as we can.’ You just got to have a good attitude about it – that’s the way it goes.
So, do you usually work on new material at home or on the road?
Derek: We’re working on it constantly. I was working on it this morning in the hotel room. We’re always working. (Alexis) is always walking around. She uses her I Phone voice recorder and she’ll just be walking around on the street, covering her mouth and humming melodies. And I’ll see her and she’s just like ‘what do you want?!’ She’s a maniac. But we’re always recording between tours. We don’t want down time. I hate doing anything else with my time and I’m really not good with breaks. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’d rather just work – there’s nothing I’d rather do.
When your first album was released, a lot was brought up about your musical history and how that influenced your sound. So, what influences you now? Where do you draw inspiration from?
Derek: Anywhere and everywhere. I’m a massive New Orleans Saints fan. I’d say I get more inspiration from the Saints than almost any record I’ve heard in recent memory. I’m a Heat fan as well, obviously, being from South Florida. Honestly, I’ll watch a great Heat game and Le Bron will score like 40 points or have a triple, double and that gets me fucking psyched! So, that could be the impetus for inspiration just like a great record could be. I’m a hyperactive guy anyway. We’re never thinking ‘oh, what should we write about?’ We’re always like ‘what do we do with all this shit?’
Alexis: (Derek) will be reading a book about Micheal Jordan and he’ll say ‘read this passage!’ And that will become an inspiration. This sounds really corny, but it’s true that the way we work is: (Derek) will work on a track and he’ll build the song. Then we’ll sit down and he’ll play it. So, while he’s working in the studio, I’m just constantly singing and humming or doing things like that. So, in a lot of ways (Derek) is my biggest inspiration just in terms of constantly getting me to think about the song.
Derek: I’m the first domino and then it just builds. When I’m tracking (Alexis) is always on a couch nearby. But I can tell when things are working, because I’ll be like ‘what do you think?’ and she’s just like ‘ok.’
Alexis: Yeah, he’s like ‘what you hate it?’ and I’m like ‘no, I’m thinking.’
Your music could potentially be used to pump people up. Have you ever heard of your music being used at a basketball game?
Derek: Yeah, I’m always hearing it on Monday night football. Especially, Treats. “Tell Em” was used right before they cut to commercials or something and you can hear what’s going on in the stadium. If I don’t see the game, then somebody will blow it up on Twitter. ESPN uses our stuff all the time; we have a really good relationship with them.
Pays the bills?
Derek: Yeah. I love that network, so to work with them and be paid rent – it’s a no brainer.
Alexis: We licensed “Crown on the Ground” for a new commercial and it features this 21-year-old badass female boxer and I love it. People tell me all the time Treats is great for working out. I’ve had kids saying ‘I lost 200 pounds listening exclusively to Treats! I mean it’s an incredible story. So, to see this commercial where a girl is just losing her shit on a punching bag – we think it makes sense.
Derek: That’s my one beef with Reign of Terror. I love it but the second half is a little slow for me. At the time, when we’re making it, it was great. What I like that about Treats is that it doesn’t really come up for air. Treats just keeps going, and Reign gets a little darker and slower towards the end. A lot of the new stuff just feels a bit more up to me – it’s just more fun to play and that’s just where we’re at.
Have you thought about how you will be approaching the next record?
Derek: We’ve been trying not to talk about it too much because we’re still working on it. But it’s less of a downer, it’s less dense, it’s less aggressive – it’s just more up. Reign was very therapeutic for me, so I kind of got all that off my chest. It was just like a therapy session – you walk out and you think ‘thank God I did that.’ It wasn’t always fun, but you had to get it out otherwise it drives you insane. So, now, we’ve just had such a good year. We’ve had so much fun touring on this record. That’s when we work – it just comes out and that just rubs off on the music. I’m really psyched, but I’m trying to be patient.
Alexis: We have some people working with us on our team that are saying ‘oh, just take some time!’ and we’re like ‘no! this is what we do!’ We can’t really debut new material live, we don’t jam on stage. So, we need to get these songs out to make a record.