the AU interview: Derek E. Miller of Sleigh Bells (USA)


My favourite album of 2010 (so far), it goes without saying that I was stoked to chat to Derek Miller, one half of Sleigh Bells, about their debut LP Treats. While he was on a short break in Jupiter, Florida, he gave the AU review a call, and chatted to us about the album, Spike Jonze, M.I.A., the tour and chest beating. Oh and there’s some slight insinuation that they may be touring down here in January. Big Day Out? Laneway? Falls? We’ll have to wait and see!

You’re in the middle of a pretty extensive tour of the States at the moment.

Yeah, I mean this is a pretty small break, and we’re headed back out very soon.

How’s it going so far?

It’s been amazing dude, we just spent a month in Europe. And that was our first time over there. It’s always flattering when anyone shows up, because we’re just now getting our record out there, so it was exciting, really good shows.

Are you finding now that the album is out there, that there’s more reception to the songs as each show goes by?

Yeah, well I mean we’re had some demos that have been floating around online for quite a while, but it’s really exciting for us to play the new songs, so it’s nice for people to recognise them. Because it’s tough when you’re hearing a song for the first time live. You’re just taking it in, you can’t really react to it, or dance and lose your shit – you’re like “oh, wow!” So it’s good.

One of your most talked about performances this year was at SXSW – that’s when I first heard about you. How was that festival for you guys?

It was great man, I’ve heard good and bad things about it. But we had a really good experience. It kind of is what it is, it’s a big industry thing, so in that respect *eh*, but it was fine dude. We played with a lot of really good bands, and I think a lot of people were kind of hearing our music for the first time. It was a really good opportunity. We were psyched. 

The word on the street was that you were the band to see, so you must have done something right!

I don’t know man, we try. We’re pretty hard on ourselves. But we’re working on it.

I hear it’s a pretty crazy energetic live show though? Can you describe it, using as much hyperbole as humanly possible.

*laughs* I don’t know! I don’t want to pat myself on the back. Honestly, the man thing we’re looking for when we’re playing live is reciprication. We’re a two piece band, you know. And so it’s not like we have five people up there getting involved. It’s just us, and we both love jumping around and dancing like idiots, and it’s a lot more fun when people get involved and I’m only semi-answering the question here I’m sorry… I’m not going to be like “It’s fucking explosive man!!!”. I just hope that people get involved and dance. Maybe they don’t even notice the band, they’re just too busy dancing with whoever’s next to them. That’s good enough.

Going back to the beginning, you and Alexis come from quite different musical background – how did the sound that is Sleigh Bells come to be what it is today?

I feel like it’s a natural marriage of all the things that I really love. I really love heavier confrontational records, but there are aspects of it that I don’t like – they’re always so self serious, and kind of juvenille and macho, full of testosterone and chest beating. I hate all that shit! But I love volume, and I like the aggression. But I also love pop music, whether it’s the Immaculate Collection or ABBA, you know, anything – Fleetwood Mac. The stuff that’s not necessarily confrontational. So I feel like it’s a natural byproduct of all those elements. For your creative process, it’s like your mind and your body is a kitchen, then what comes out is going to a product of those ingredients, and those are the ingredients. So it is what it is. 

When you met Alexis did you already have a pretty good idea as to what the sound was going to be, or did she help shape it?

Well I mean she definitely shaped it, but I wrote most of the songs – all of them. A lot of what I was looking for was very specific, I don’t want to lie about it. But yeah we’ve been collaborating a little more, so I’m pretty happy about that. So in the future, she’ll have even more influence on the sound. I’m sure it’ll evolve. We’re going to be touring this record for a while, so by the end of it we’ll be really sick of this music and want to play something different. 

Usually the way it works!

Yeah exactly. 

Going back to the new album, you recorded it on M.I.A.’s record label?

It was a joint release between N.E.E.T. Records and Mom + Pop.

Was she at all involved in the making of the album?

Not in the creative process. As an influence for sure. I’ve been listening to her music since “Galang” and “Piracy Funds Terrorism”, so in that respect she’s involved, because I love what she does. It’s very inspiring to me, I feel she has a very left field approach to pop music. A lot of weirdness and energy, I can relate to that. But no, not directly. The studio was closed. It was just me, Alexis and a studio engineer who helped me out. So short answer no, but in a way yes.

Spike Jonze is a name that comes up, too, as someone who helped discover you. What’s the story there?

He had a blog for his movie Where The Wild Things Are, and basically he had a couple of friends of his that would write about anything that he felt would fit into the realm of what the movie was about, or what might have inspired him. And so there was a post about Sleigh Bells, so he heard it through that post, and really liked it. So he got in touch, which was amazing, really encouraging. And he’s friends with Maya, so he played it to her, and she got in touch with us immediately, which was mindblowing. But yeah he’s a really nice dude. We’re not best friends or anything, he’s an acquantance, he’s come out to a few of our shows, he’s such a sweet guy and does such awesome work. It’s really an honour to be involved with him in any way?

Do you think he’d ever direct a Sleigh Bells music video?

I would LOVE to see that. But that guy has got so much on his plate, who knows. It would be amazing.

Before we say goodbye, I just have to ask – is an Australian tour on the cards?

Absolutely! It’s not confirmed, so I don’t want to make any promises we can’t keep, but I can say that we are trying very hard to make it there in January. 

You came down here with (your old band) Poison the Well didn’t you?

I have actually, we played BDO in January 2004. It was great. I fucking love Australia. And we got to see most of it. At least the major cities. I mean I’m from South Florida, and it has a lot in common with South Florida. So I felt really comfortable, your culture – you guys are really friendly, so that suits me. 

Well we look forward to welcoming you back here, and seeing Sleigh Bells live!

Thanks so much man!

was released in Australia June 18th through Liberator Music. 

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.