Sleigh Bells is a Serendipitous Pop-Rock Story

Sleigh Bells brings its hard-to-classify sound to White Oak Music Hall on February 7.
Sleigh Bells brings its hard-to-classify sound to White Oak Music Hall on February 7. Photo courtesy of Grandstand Media
Every relationship, no matter how mundane, has an origin story. Some professional types begin with the simple apply-interview-accept progression. Others of a more personal nature may range from a chance meeting at the park to a prearranged date via any number of online dating sites.

Some of these relationships succeed, and others flame out. A number of these pairings, meanwhile, simply run their course. Point being, all relationships begin somewhere, no matter how random. Enter Sleigh Bells, which easily boasts one of the most serendipitous origin stories in the annals of rock music.

Sleigh Bells is a two-piece noise-pop outfit from Brooklyn comprised of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss; Miller is more the musical mastermind, Krauss the brilliant vocalist. The two met by chance nearly a decade ago at a Brazilian restaurant in New York. Krauss was dining with her mother, and Miller was their server.

Turns out, Miller – once the guitarist for hardcore punk band Poison the Well – was looking to start a rock band with pop undertones and a female voice. In Krauss, he found that voice.

“I just laid the pitch on her, that it was hardcore mixed with pop and abstract lyrics,” Miller said of the pair’s first encounter. "I told her, ‘you can walk out of here and throw this in the gutter, but I will follow through on this.’ As a testament to Alexis’ lack of cynicism, she knew I was dead serious.”

Nearly a decade later, Sleigh Bells not only remains a musical entity but a successful one to boot. The pair, which plays White Oak Music Hall’s Downstairs Room on Wednesday, has released four proper studio albums during its 10-year run; all have charted on the Billboard Top 200, and three peaked inside the top 50.

All these years later, Miller still finds the entire situation somewhat surreal.

“I was driving the other day looking at the skyline, and I still can’t believe I’m up here,” Miller said in a recent phone interview. “For so many years, I wanted to save up, move to New York and find someone to write songs and record with. I look back at the records we’ve made, and more than anything, I’m extremely grateful. This was my dream, and even now, it still feels like it all just happened.”

Sleigh Bells’ sound is difficult to classify, which probably speaks to the band’s devoted fanbase, coupled with its relative obscurity. “Noise pop” is the genre that gets thrown around quite a bit, and Miller understands this. In short, Miller rocks in the background with a metal-tinged slant, while Krauss sings in a more traditional pop sound. Essentially, Krauss’ vocals would fit in on Top 40 radio, while Miller’s guitar riffs would be right at home with the hardcore punk bands of his youth.

Sleigh Bells is also a DIY effort of sorts. Miller and Krauss independently write and record their own material, and Miller directs the band’s music videos. Coming off his days in a band – where royalties and credit are divided by five, and in-fighting often does a band in – Miller far prefers his current musical situation.

“I found my creative soulmate,” said Miller, who does point out that he and Krauss’ relationship is purely professional and platonic. “Her voice, the second I heard it, I knew that was it.”

Call it noise pop. Call it rock. Call Sleigh Bells whatever you like. No matter the genre, Miller makes no secret of the fact that his origins in punk wore on him after a while.

“We’re pretty much a Frankenstein mashup of all sorts of stuff, but there’s an intensity and a volume there,” he said. “But I hated and was sick of young white dudes taking themselves so seriously and writing about angst. I was tired of angst. When we started Sleigh Bells, angst was not on the menu. It’s a ‘fuck art, let’s dance’ band. Forget staying home and crying yourself to sleep; go out and meet people”

Miller’s perspective on music is refreshing. He came up in a hardcore punk scene but learned of pop music from his mother. He’s also a fan of everything from Motown to Justin Timberlake to more traditional and contemporary rock bands like Radiohead.

Hell, Sleigh Bells’ blueprint came from Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl!”

“That song is the blueprint for Sleigh Bells,” Miller said. “I wanna write ‘Hollaback Girl’ with loud ass guitars and big ass riffs.”
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale