Sometimes the best things in life come straight out the leftfield. One day you’re just going about your day as usual – pursuing a Rhodes Scholarship in Alexis Krauss’ case – and the next thing you know you’re fronting a multi-genre beast in the form of Sleigh Bells. Yep, life can take a weird turn when you least expect it but, as Krauss points out, it’s the things we don’t plan than often reveal themselves as the best decisions we’ve ever made. In other words... just take a punt.
“I don’t know, it was just like a gut feeling that you get when you have to make a decision or if you’re at a crossroads,” she says of first crossing paths with musical partner and ex-Poison The Well guitarist Derek Miller, in 2008. “Your life can really go either way at times like that. I could have just kept doing what I was doing and things would have turned out so differently for me. I mean, I ended up leaving a career I was pursuing as an educator to start a band! It sounds almost funny when you say it out loud, but it’s the best decision I made. It certainly did not make any financial sense and it was not at all a part of my plan. If you don’t take chances, though, life can be pretty boring. Some of the most interesting things in life are not really a part of your plan. They are the things that you just felt really inspired to do instead of rationalising it.”
For Krauss, it was the teaser tracks with which Miller presented her that sealed the deal to the semi-interested future frontwoman of Sleigh Bells. But it wasn’t just that – it was also Miller’s enthusiasm and his vision for the band overall that helped Krauss make up her mind so quickly and easily. Kissing a ‘normal’ career path goodbye and embracing a life on the road and between studios, Krauss recalls there was an undeniable glint in Miller’s eye.
“I was so inspired by him and the way he felt about the music! He showed me all the materials he had been working on and what he was offering for me to be a part of. I just felt like it was something really worth pursuing, I could see he was so excited about and it that made me excited about it and the whole thing just came together so easily. I think something is really worth pursuing if you encounter it and it truly speaks to you and you can completely relate. That’s how I felt at the time. I heard the music and I just knew I wanted so badly to be a part of it. The whole thing just continued to grow and grow, and Derek and I have grown so much in our friendship too. We trust and encourage one another so much, we’re more close now than ever before because we spend so much time together. It’s like this creative encounter that came from meeting so randomly.”
If fourth album [Jessica Rabbit] is anything to go by, Krauss and Miller couldn’t possibly be more in sync at this point in their lives – both creatively and personally. It’s the reason why their first album in three years sounds like organised chaos (in a good way, of course), and it’s why Krauss so easily ‘got’ the idea behind Miller’s decision to give the record a seemingly-random title. Well, random-seeming to the outsider, anyway.
“If you just look at it as a title it could sound pretty delusional!” Krauss laughs. “Who is [Jessica Rabbit]? She’s this character that doesn’t exit, really. Jessica Rabbit is a cartoon character that Derek had a crush on when he was little, but how do you have a crush on something that isn’t real? That’s basically what it’s about – wanting something that you can’t have. And it’s kind of like: ‘Well, yeah okay, maybe I can’t have it, it’s not going to happen, but it doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop wanting it!’ So it’s that whole thing of not giving up, of just continuing to try and just do your best despite the fact you might have some failure along the way. You’ve got to keep pushing yourself forward even if you think you can’t do something, or when it seems too hard or impossible to make it.”
Which was a feeling both Krauss and Miller encountered during the making of [Jessica Rabbit] more than once, although in an altogether different context. After many stops and starts – after all, it had been three years since [Bitter Rivals] – [Jessica Rabbit] was proving to be a challenge for Miller in particular in terms of recording. Although the duo still felt very much on the same page despite the three-year break, the level of perfectionism had significantly increased this time around for the guitarist, and neither he nor Krauss were very keen to release anything even slightly half-assed. And so the long journey in the studio began, made somewhat easier thanks to input from producer Mike Elizondo.
“There was a lot of material we came in with and about half of it just didn’t make the cut,” Krauss reveals. “I think it was mostly because of perfectionism. There were also times when I just felt like maybe Derek thought this record wasn’t going to happen at all. He was going through a lot of personal turmoil and it was a very hard time for him emotionally and personally. So he was really working overtime in every sense. I think you can really hear that because, I guess for both of us with the songwriting, it was really a time of searching and trying to figure out where the band was going to go and what our future was. We tried different melodies, different time signatures, different arrangements, and we got Mike to help us get perspective. In the grand scheme of things, I guess it seems like we only worked with him on a small percentage of the record, but he made such an invaluable mark on the music because he pushed us to think critically about all our ideas and encouraged us to not get too stubborn and competitive over an idea. We were heading that way for a while. Sometimes when you think something is great, it can sting when another person disagrees, but Mike was great at saying: ‘It’s not as great as you think’! He was so diplomatic and helpful without pissing us off! With your fourth record you just gain a lot more perspective that you didn’t have the first or second time.”
All in all, according to Krauss, [Jessica Rabbit] is a mission statement – Sleigh Bells is back but also here to stay. In 2016 the pair have resurfaced much less boxed in by other people’s ideas of what kind of music they should be making. In other words, [Jessica Rabbit] is the band’s biggest and best effort to reveal itself for what it truly is – genre-less, experimental and fiercer than ever before.
“It’s true,” Krauss laughs. “We’re over worrying what other people might think of us. That goes for the music and personally too. A bunch of the songs that came out of the writing process we ended up just not liking, but instead of throwing them away we poured in the effort and really worked on them and tweaked them until we did like them. Kind of like giving it another chance instead of just turning your back on it because you don’t like it the first time around. They were submitted to a lot of scrutiny and criticism, which is fine, and the ones you get on the album are the survivors! There are so many twists and turns in the songs, it’s a lot to wrap your head around. We’ve always been pretty polarising.”
And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Although the original two-person show expands into a larger five-piece band when the time comes to hit the road and tour, the singer insists she and Miller are happiest in their tight-knit bubble as a duo. While outside input is always welcome as far as talented producers are concerned, the main reason the creative juices seem to flow is because Krauss and Miller get each other on such a unique level in the first place. And that’s the way they’re keeping it. In fact, it’s worked so well so far that Sleigh Bells have recently announced the beginnings of a joint business venture in the form of their own independent record label, on which [Jessica Rabbit] will mark its first ever release. And talk about a learning curve in balancing the creative with the financial...
“Oh yeah, of course it’s scary,” Krauss admits. “It’s the first time we’ve truly been on our own. We’re going out there knowing that there is no one with deep pockets funding us now, every move is completely up to us and we have to take responsibility for everything. Our last album was our last record on our old label (Mom+Pop) before our contract was up so we thought it would be a cool idea to just start our own (Torn Clean) and take control of everything to do with this band. We had to teach ourselves about marketing and business and all that stuff that has nothing to do with music! I mean we still have a manager and a team we’re working with, but it’s definitely a lot more pressure on the band now than in the past. It’s pretty high stakes. Eventually, I would love to be able to sign other artists to our label if it’s viable for us to support them. I think that will come with time, but at this point we’re just trying to make it work for [Jessica Rabbit]. It’s just amazing that so much has changed for us in the last few years.”
Fans shouldn’t fret about waiting another three years for the next album to come out either, Krauss reveals. In fact, hot on the heels of [Jessica Rabbit] , a whole new batch of music is almost ready for release in the very near future, as soon as the band’s touring duties are behind them. Oh, and that includes a big UK tour, too.
“It’s such an exciting time for us right now to be able to play new music and have the kids still come out to see us. Right now we’re just completely immersed in [Jessica Rabbit] and we’re thinking about what to do for our next music videos. There is some more new music that we’re interested in releasing soon, we’re keen on getting things out a lot quicker now than in the past. We’re also still planning the rest of our tour. We recently did a few London shows – one of them was The Dome in Tufnell Park, which was my favourite London show that we’ve ever played. I also really loved the Jools Holland show we did as well; I was so, so happy with that performance! It’s been such a whirlwind so far, it’s stressful but exciting. The plan is to definitely come back soon so we are looking into some spring/summer dates hopefully. We’re doing shows here in the US and there has been so much enthusiasm from the fans, they’re already calling out the songs and singing the new stuff back to us. The shows are very fast pace and very loud and really about bludgeoning the audience with noise for about an hour. So if you’re into that, come along.”
Sleigh Bells’ Jessica Rabbit is out now on Torn Clean Records. For more information, visit the band’s official website.