With soaring guitars, contagious hook-laden noise pop anthems, and clever lyrics, Sleigh Bells have seduced AMBY since day one. The unstoppable Brooklyn duo are coming through Toronto to play The Phoenix, and before they hit the stage tomorrow night, I had the pleasure of speaking with the band’s influential front woman Alexis Krauss. If you want to learn about the making and influence of their third record Bitter Rivals, how they get riled up before hitting the stage, and Alexis’ personal inspirations, dig in:
AMBY: Hello Alexis, thanks so much for speaking with AMBY today! How are you, and what’s the band been up to lately?
Sleigh Bells: I’m great! Thank you for asking. We’ve been extremely busy touring in support of our third album Bitter Rivals. So far the shows have been incredibly rewarding. It’s our first time playing with a live drummer so the whole experience feels extremely fresh. It’s always super exciting to see how fans react to us playing new songs and so far the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
AMBY: Which three songs are the quintessential Sleigh Bells?
Sleigh Bells: Hmmm it’s hard to say but, if I had to pick three songs that I really think define our sound and represent us at our best I’d go with: Crown on the Ground, Comeback Kid, and Bitter Rivals.
AMBY: Your third LP Bitter Rivals was released in early October. What’s the significance behind the record’s title?
Sleigh Bells: Fighting and overcoming is a major theme of this record. As is the idea that your biggest rival can often be your biggest motivator. Someone that really pushes you to be the absolute best you can be. Derek was really inspired by classic sports rivalries so in that sense the title is pretty literal. However, this record like Reign of Terror also addresses the challenges of overcoming your own demons and personal obstacles.
AMBY: Bitter Rivals displays a more pop-inspired vibe compared to your first two albums. What influenced this new direction?
Sleigh Bells: Derek and I have always been fans of great pop music. Bitter Rivals was very inspired by the music of pop icons like Janet and Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, George Michael, Madonna and classic pop producers like Quincy Jones. We have always been captivated by the idea of writing songs that are essentially pop songs but then subverting them and twisting them into something a bit more bizarre and abrasive.
AMBY: You’re currently on a North American tour. What are you most looking forward to?
Sleigh Bells: I absolutely love touring North America. We tour on a bus with our incredible crew (and my dog) and we’re all like one big strange happy family. We’ve already gotten to play a ton of great cities the past couple months and I’m looking forward to finishing up the tour at home in NYC.
AMBY: When I saw you live in Toronto last year, your energy was incredible. How do you get riled up before going on stage?
Sleigh Bells: Thank you! I take performing really seriously and with each show I’m determined to give the audience 200%. I try to stay as healthy as possible so that I can be energetic and dynamic for every performance. Pre-show rituals tend to include lots of jumping jacks!
AMBY: For this tour so far, which songs are your favourite to play live?
Sleigh Bells: This set is by far the most fulfilling one we’ve ever played live. It’s so great being able to perform songs from Treats, Reign of Terror and Bitter Rivals. It’s a bit ironic because all three records seem so different on their own, yet they integrate pretty seamlessly during our live show. Currently my favorite songs to perform are You Don’t Get Me Twice and Sing Like A Wire.
AMBY: With all of the clever lyricism shown in your work, which Sleigh Bells lyric is your favourite?
Sleigh Bells: I’m super in love with the final lyrics in Lovesick, the last song on Bitter Rivals. They’re sincere and tender but simultaneously playful and ridiculous:
The pleasure of your company. Look what it’s done to me.
There’s a heart in my chest where a hole used to be.
There’s a hole in my chest where a heart used to be.
I’m sending gummi bears to the electric chair.
AMBY: Alexis – I have to tell you that your style and music is truly inspirational. Where do you gather your inspiration from?
Sleigh Bells: Oh wow! That’s so sweet of you to say. As I mentioned before Janet Jackson was a huge inspiration both musically and aesthetically. I listened to Rhythm Nation constantly. The styling for that video is so flawless. She’s the perfect balance of tough and feminine. I found myself watching tons of old Tina Turner footage as well. Live footage of her performing Proud Mary with her backup singers is what inspired the choreography for the Bitter Rivals video.
AMBY: We’re loving the video for Bitter Rivals. What was the best moment you had while filming it?
Sleigh Bells: Thank you! We had a blast filming it. The best moment was when the little boy in the video accidentally punched me in the face when we were shadowboxing. I leaned in to tell him to turn his body towards the camera and he caught me on the cheek with a MEAN left hook! I literally thought I was going to have a huge bruise on my face and we were going to have to cancel the shoot for the day. Never underestimate the power of a seven year old!!
AMBY: Who have you been listening to lately?
Sleigh Bells: I’ve been listening to lots of X, Public Enemy, Cat Power and early Stevie Wonder. I’m also really into the new Chvrches LP.
AMBY: And lastly, what’s something about Sleigh Bells that nobody knows yet?
Sleigh Bells: Hmmm… well Derek just wrote a song for my dog Rizla. He serenades her nightly with an acoustic guitar. Pretty darn cute.
Thank you Sleigh Bells, for giving us your answers!
Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout