In 2010, Sleigh Bells rode a gargantuan wave of hype to a day-ending set at the Pitchfork Music Fest. And delivered a performance that singer Alexis Krauss calls “mediocre.”
“What I heard is that people were really frustrated because it was pretty quiet,” says Krauss, who performs with Sleigh Bells on a bigger stage Saturday night, July 14 at Pitchfork 2012. “I think we were plagued by the usual complications that can plague a new band ... Unfortunately, you have to make those mistakes in front of 5,000 people to learn that you really can’t make those mistakes again. I’m really looking forward to being back there this time around and kind of redeeming ourselves and obviously playing a more cohesive, longer, better set.
I see it as kind of a gift that we’re getting a second chance.”
Of course, plenty of buzz bands (insert obligatory Clap Your Hands Say Yeah reference) fall into the here-today, gone-tomorrow trap. Sleigh Bells, however, which blends jagged guitars, electronic/hip-hop beats and Krauss’ sugar-sweet vocals into knife-stuffed sonic cotton candy, maintained its relevance by not only delivering a terrific debut (2010’s “Treats”) but following it up with a record nearly as exciting, this year’s “Reign of Terror.”
By phone from New York, Krauss, 26, talked about performing as if it were a “competitive sport,” discovering new music and how new bands can thrive at Pitchfork.
You say that you and guitarist/producer Derek Miller are now more confident on stage. How do you think that’s evident from the audience’s perspective?
When we go on stage now, we’re going onstage with a lot more intentions than we ever have. When I go on stage I almost see it as me playing a competitive sport. I don’t want that to sound obnoxious, but I go out thinking, “It’s my job to win over this audience. It’s my job to give them the best possible show, that they’ve paid to come see.” I feel this really intense, self-imposed pressure that I have the power to make it be the best show it can be. Whereas before I thought of my role as being much more passive, kind of like, “Well, we’ll see how this goes, and hopefully it’ll go well.” Whereas now I feel much more in control and Derek feels the same. We go out there with much more confidence. Obviously we’re fortunate to have more fans. We have more people coming out to see our shows now because they enjoy our music and not so much because they’ve heard about this buzz band and they want to go see what’s up with them. We had a lot of that in the beginning, which was great, because that’s how people decide whether or not they like you, but I think now people come to see us because they really want to and they’re really looking forward to it … we’re really fortunate to have people that are devoted to us and interested in us.
Speaking of which, how do you look back on those early days of buzz—it seems silly to call two or three years ago the “early days”—as far as something you’ve learned and something you look back on now and laugh?
[Laughs] I feel like we weathered the storm pretty well. We chose not to really engage our negative press. We always chose to rise above it and say, “keep our focus on the music and keep our focus on whatever creative output we were putting out there.” Obviously I think when you’re a young band and things go well for you you’re forced to make your mistakes in public. You don’t really have a chance to become really great performers while performing in front of 10 people. You’re suddenly opening up for LCD Soundsystem for example and you may not be deserving of opening for LCD Soundsystem at all. [Laughs] But suddenly you’re there and you’re doing it and you have to go through the embarrassment of feeling unprepared. So we had moments like that where I think we had some growing pains, but overall Derek and I, we both had a lot of prior experience in the music industry, and we didn’t say yes to every opportunity that came our way just because somebody told us it was a good opportunity. We were very discriminating. I think we saved ourselves a lot of the … frustrations that I know a lot of people go through. I guess my overall point is that I don’t really have many regrets. I think we’ve developed relatively gracefully considering the circumstances and we’ve always stayed focused on just improving and getting better.