Skip to main content

Derek Miller on Sleigh Bells' new album, 'SNL' and touring

By Abbey Goodman, Special to CNN
updated 8:08 AM EDT, Tue May 8, 2012
Derek Miller (L) and Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells, shown here in 2011.
Derek Miller (L) and Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells, shown here in 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sleigh Bells has released their second album, "Reign of Terror"
  • "Comeback Kid" is the lead single and last song that made it to "Reign of Terror"
  • Derek Miller spoke to CNN about the album and going on tour

(CNN) -- Brooklyn noise-pop duo Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss, aka Sleigh Bells, may have just released "Reign of Terror," the follow-up to their critically acclaimed debut, "Treats," but, believe it or not, they have only written one song together so far.

"Comeback Kid," the lead single and last song that made it to "Reign of Terror," was their first collaborative effort.

As Sleigh Bells' story of origin goes: Miller, a former guitarist for the Florida hardcore band Poison the Well, was writing what would become "Treats" while waiting tables in New York. He served Alexis Krauss, a former teen-pop singer, and her mother. Miller mentioned he was looking for a singer for his unfinished demos and Krauss' mom stepped in to broker the deal.

Miller and Krauss recorded "Treats" and, within a year, they went from strangers to the pair behind one of the best albums of 2010.

At the same time the group was taking off, Miller was struggling with both the sudden death of his father in a motorcycle crash and his mother being diagnosed with cancer. He wrote everything but "Comeback Kid" during this dark period.

"'Reign of Terror' isn't a clever title," he has said. "That's what I felt like I was going through the last two years."

Now, things are looking up. Miller's mother is doing well, the album has scored top reviews, Sleigh Bells performed on "Saturday Night Live" and Miller is already working on new material. For their third album, he says, Krauss' influence will be much more obvious.

In the meantime, the band is opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers on tour and they have announced more summer shows.

CNN: How did coming up through the Florida hardcore scene affect what we hear in Sleigh Bells today?

Derek Miller: That's the music that was happening in my backyard and it was a great outlet for all of the directionless anger and aggression that young men have when you hit puberty. Just angry at the world for no g--d--- reason. Hardcore was perfect for me. Up until that point, I was as determined to become a professional surfer, but after I got a guitar, it took over my entire life. I just never left my room. And it hasn't really changed since. I mean, I've since become a producer and gotten into beat making, but that was it. That was the shift.

CNN: Since you hadn't worked with Alexis before "Treats," was there a particular a-ha moment when you knew there was something to your collaboration?

Miller: I could hear it. I'm not saying that I knew the music was really good, I'm just saying that I knew it deserved to exist. I didn't how it would be received, but I knew that, at the very least, I had broken through that wall of mediocrity that I had been smashing myself against for so long. I knew it. I was like, oh my God, finally.

This is what I've been waiting for. I can't tell you how excited I was. It came at a very dark time and I just completely made it my life. The whole thing seemed so improbable. I had been waiting tables for four years. I was the waiter who was going to make records and I'd tell anyone and everyone. And they were like, yeah, yeah, that's nice. An old Poison the Well fan came in to the restaurant and recognized me. He had a Poison the Well tattoo and I showed my manager; I was like, look, this is my old band! See? And he'd be like, that's very nice Mr. Miller, but can you please bus table 22?

CNN: It seems like from the moment you two hooked up, success with Sleigh Bells came very quickly. Did it feel that way for you as well?

Miller: I'm comfortable with the perception that it happened very quickly, even though I know how hard I worked on it for so many years and how much growing I had to do, how many horrible mediocre songs I wrote and threw away. But nobody needs to hear about that. From the outside looking in, it looks like it happened very quickly. I think the reason we've been able to really sustain it and turn it into something other than a flash in the pan is because there's a lot of work and a lot of serious focus. I was working very hard for it for a long time and failing.

CNN: What did you learn from the success of "Treats" that you brought into "Reign of Terror"?

Miller: Creatively, it was as simple as having a guitar in my hands every night. That is a boring answer, but before we went on tour for "Treats," I hadn't been on tour since I was 22 and I got into production. All I was thinking about was rhythm and I was making a lot of beats, then suddenly I'm on tour for 15 months playing guitar on stage every night. It was just by proximity that I just started writing on guitar again.

CNN: What were some of your influences?

Miller: Lyrically, I worked through a lot of the stuff that was f--king my head up on "Reign of Terror" and it helped me grow. This is borderline corny, but it was really therapeutic. It was like one long therapy session for me, just sort of working out some things. "Hysteria," the Def Leppard record, had a really strong grip on me. I love the songs, but especially the production as well. What Mutt Lange put on that record, I was obsessed with. But I'm moving away from those influences. I've been working on a ton of new stuff and branching out so it's an exciting time. I'm in a much better headspace and I think that that's reflected in the new stuff, which obviously won't be out for a little while, but the spark is there.

CNN: What direction will the new material be taking?

Miller: I'm going to be collaborating a lot more with Alexis this time around. We got a lot closer on "Reign of Terror," but really the last song we worked on was "Comeback Kid." I sort of just gave her the instrumental. I had the lyric and half an idea for a melody, but that's our first true collaboration and it's my favorite song on the record. I think really we have not utilized any of her talents. She is incredibly gifted when it comes to coming up with really memorable melodies, what I consider to be great melodies. There's so much of her in "Comeback Kid" and I love it. I happen to play in a band with her, but I'm also a fan.

CNN: So you don't ever resent her getting more attention than you even when you created the whole band and the music initially?

Miller: I actually push that, to be honest. We just did the cover of Spin magazine. When I saw that it's just a beautiful portrait of her, I was like, yes! Thank God! I'm not self-loathing or particularly insecure in my day-to-day, but I really hate being photographed. I hate looking at pictures of myself. I immediately just start tearing it apart. It's a lot like the creative process as well. I'm just really, really hard on myself. I like having her be the face of the band. She loves performing and she loves being photographed and she loves making videos. She looks great and she's confident. I'm the polar opposite. Even live, I'm never front-lit. I prefer to have the music speak for me.

CNN: How was it for you to perform on "Saturday Night Live"?

Miller: I didn't want to do "SNL," but we couldn't say no. You're a total a**hole if you turn it down. The only reason not to do it would be fear of failure. Like I said before, I know failure very well. I don't want to get into it, but I was particularly unimpressed by our performance. I watched it once and I'll never watch it again. But "SNL" was an incredible experience.

CNN: How did opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers on tour come about?

Miller: Flea came out to a show in New York City and somebody introduced him to me. He was like, hey, I'm Flea. I obviously knew who he was. He was incredibly nice and he was like, would you guys be interested in playing shows with my band? I was like, you mean the Red Hot Chili Peppers? Sure! It was literally that simple. There was no politicking, no agents or anything. It was just dude to dude. I really appreciated that. I think they're all going to be really great people and I'm pretty psyched on it. They're one of the biggest touring bands on Earth, which is a strange sentence. They're, like, top two or three on the planet. I'm interested to see how a production like that works.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT