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Sleigh Bells have always embodied something that many artists don’t consistently possess. Eschewing conventions, molding genres, and continuing to be bold, the Brooklyn-based duo is back with their latest album, Jessica Rabbit, which took them three years of deliberate, necessary work to craft.
During this creative phase, bandmates Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller sat with their songs, meditated on them, and learned what needed to be changed and what could remain. What they’ve created is their most cohesive work yet, full of the thrashing rock riffs and genre-defying prowess we know and love, yet laden with songs that sweetly dip into a place of melancholy and utmost vulnerability.
“I think it’s like anything in life; you try it, and if it doesn’t work, then you can always go back to the way things were. It seems so obvious, but a lot of times it’s easy to just get scared or insecure or kind of caught up in the way you’re doing things, but that was really one of the major lessons that we learned on this album. Just to push ourselves, to not get too comfortable doing one thing,” Krauss states definitively. Songwriting between Krauss and Miller has been shaped over time to a point where they’re effortlessly in sync with a firm creative process.
Sometimes Miller would send Krauss an instrumental track with full lyrics, or sometimes it’d be a sketch of an idea. Krauss would then study it and bring the track to life. “I like to send over demos to him that are arranged with a rough treatment, whether it’s gonna be reverb or distortion or a chorus effect, and I add harmony parts and everything, and I send that to him and anxiously await his response. And then from there sometimes we go with it as is or we then have a conversation about what the strengths are, what the weaknesses are, and kind of tinker with everything until we think that we have it right,” Krauss says.
It’s this perfectionism that has caused Sleigh Bells’ work to be so groundbreaking; the way in which they craft their music offers an unparalleled sonic experience.
For three years, Krauss and Miller worked in various studios with renowned producers, including their second time working with the ever talented Andrew Dawson [Kanye West, The Rolling Stones, etc.]. When working with him, they listen in until they all get it right, explains Krauss. “It’s one of those things where you don’t really know how good it can sound, so you can’t really articulate what you want because you don’t know that that option exists until he does something.”
Krauss and Miller explored their musicianship together in ways they hadn’t before, and sometimes it was nerve-wracking, but that’s what openness is, after all, and that’s what makes things great.
“It was a more vulnerable, open process outside of Derek and my private world, which was initially a little scary because there’s something about writing in front of another person. We explored more options as far as the creative process went for Jessica Rabbit than we ever had in the past,” Krauss states. This process included cutting nearly 30 songs, though she hasn’t taken a detailed tally. It’s this thoughtfulness and ability to consciously criticize and analyze their own work that has allowed for new sonic revelations on their newest album.
Krauss listened to a variety of music during this time period, from soul compilations by the Numero Group to Loretta Lynn to Etta James. “I’m always attracted to vocalists that are able to make you feel really triumphant and hopeful but also really devastated at the same time,” she explains.
Krauss understands why the three-year process was arduous: “Giving yourself time can be a curse as well because then it’s hard to stop tinkering; it’s hard to stop hearing the flaws. But I think ultimately at the end we were able to strike a nice balance.”
With Jessica Rabbit, listeners can expect the unexpected. The album boasts personal revelations and reflects the chaos of the times. “There are a lot of personal tumults in this album. A lot of personal, very, very intimate songs that really confront the innermost thoughts and feelings and demons. And then there are definitely moments that represent the anxiety and distress that are pretty pervasive right now. I think that kind of crept in, from the lyrics to the mania of the instrumentation and the vocal delivery, which at times sounds like it’s on the brink of collapse,” Krauss explains, introducing us to her musical world.
Their new album preserves the old, but smoothly introduces us to the new. “I think my favorite new part of us is probably adventuring into the territory of ‘less is more’ and having these very poignant, sad, lonely sounding moments on the album, like ‘Loyal For’ and ‘I Know Not To Count On You.’ I think we were a little scared to try going in that direction because we didn’t know if we could pull it off…people expect us to be this cacophonous, over-the-top sounding band,” she states.
It’s this quality of consistently pushing the envelope that allows Sleigh Bells to experiment with how their sound is represented, not only in music, but via videos, too. Their newest music video for “I Can Only Stare” featured guidance from Alex Ross Perry. Shot on Super 16mm film, the video took just two days to shoot on the vibrant streets of New York City. It captured the energy of an urban setting as well as its hauntingly beautiful qualities. Krauss notes, “It’s essentially a video that documents the demise of three different women, three different characters that I play, and then there’s also footage of Derek and I more as ourselves, as Sleigh Bells. It’s definitely the most narrative video we’ve ever worked on.”
It seems that with Jessica Rabbit, Sleigh Bells have come into their own. After subverting countless genres and breaking the mold, they’re finally settling into their truth with a raw, visceral quality. With this new material, Sleigh Bells are confident and at ease, welcoming us into the new sonic landscape they’ve created.
Where will they be in 20 years? Time will tell, but Alexis Krauss has her own ideas. “I would be much more interested in people remembering us less for one specific thing, or specific sound and more for the fact that we’re a band that took chances and was more interested in writing completely uninhibited brave music than we were in conforming to any type of formulaic expectations of what we could and should be.”
2-13 Hamburg, Germany – Uebel & Gefährlich
2-14 Amsterdam, Netherlands – Paradiso Noord
2-15 Paris, France – Nouveau Casino
2-17 Reykjavik, Iceland – Sonar Reykjavik
2-19 Dublin, Ireland – Whelan’s
2-21 Manchester, UK – Gorilla
2-22 London, UK – Electric Ballroom
3-1 Charlottesville, VA – Jefferson Theater
3-2 Charlotte, NC – The Underground
3-4 Okeechobee, FL – Okeechobee Festival
3-5 Tallahassee, FL – Side Bar
3-7 Birmingham, AL – The Saturn
3-8 Atlanta, GA – Terminal West
3-10 New Orleans, LA – Buku Music + Art Project
3-11 Dallas, TX – Granada Theater
3-17 Lawrence, KS – Granada Theater
3-18 Louisville, KY – Mercury Ballroom
3-19 Columbus, OH – Newport Music Hall
3-21 Chicago, IL – Metro
3-22 Milwaukee, WI – Rave II
3-24 Denver, CO – Gothic
3-25 Aspen, CO – Belly Up
3-27 Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom
3-28 Los Angeles, CA – El Rey
3-29 Anaheim, CA – House of Blues
**Photos by Pooneh Ghana