Ed. note — Regarding our “Auburn only” guidelines, TWER’s music content, for a variety of reasons, has been less than strict. We regularly make room for stories on bands playing in Birmingham (but most of them are playing the Bottle Tree, which is run by Auburn folk, so hey). And I figured that the Royal Bangs story was alright since we were playing Tennessee in Knoxville that weekend. Sleigh Bells skipped Birmingham. But they’re kind of big right now. And they’re good. And they have no problem with football (songwriter / guitarist Derek Miller is more of an NFL guy and pulls for the Saints: “I don’t get to watch a lot of college football. I went to FSU for a little while, but I’m more of a Gators fan.”) And I interviewed them. And there you go.
For inspiration, Derek Miller goes on the Internet and watches videos of cheerleaders shouting, stomping, and rocking out for the team (he’s also got a thing for Lil Mama’s “Lip Gloss”).
“I mean, honestly dude, if you go on YouTube and type in ‘stomp and clap’ and watch some of these girls doing their routines in the gym, for whatever reason that s— just… floors me,” says Miller, the driving force behind Sleigh Bells, the new blog-buzz champions of Brooklyn’s indie-scene. “It’s so… skeletal and heavy. It’s not necessarily sophisticated, but it’s super percussive and super intense.”
And it’s apparently exactly what Miller (former guitarist for pioneering metalcore act Poison The Well) and partner Alexis Krauss (a former school teacher who once sang in B-list girl group Ruby Blue) were going for: one online review describes the band as “cheerleading music for punks” or “punk music for cheerleaders.”
(A review of that review: “Having been both a punk and a cheerleader-y type, I wholeheartedly concur.”)
Yet Miller shrugs off criticism that Sleigh Bells is intended as a novelty act built around ironic appropriation of jock culture.
“There’s something really bold and unpretentious about the guts it takes to be that straightforward and that’s something that’s just naturally made it’s way into our music because those are the qualities I admire in music,” Miller says of the energy and meter of cheerleading. “Like our song ‘Riot Rhythm’ – that’s nothing. It’s kick and clap and one guitar riff. There’s just nothing to it, but I really like that.”
The cover art for the band’s debut album Treats is a photo of 1970s high school cheerleaders in green mega-phone sweater vests, pompoms at full-attention, their faces scratched, like lottery tickets, as if to the bone; that’s exactly what you would expect on a dance record that at its core – and despite glowing hipster endorsement – is metal (thank you, Matt Lane Harris).
“That description makes perfect sense to me,” Miller laughs. “I don’t actually listen to that much heavy music any more, but I love metal, I grew up on it and it’s a huge part of my life, but I’m also obsessed with pop music. I’m kind of torn in half.”
When he comes together, Miller has the ability take the energy of the breakdown – the part of a hardcore song that even those who roll their eyes at the genre wait for – and stretch it across three minutes of Kraus’ sex-kitten vocals, Tony Basil’s rah-rah, and window-rattling hip-hop beats that summon the stomps and claps of everyone within earshot.
He even gauges the success of every Sleigh Bells show by how quickly it becomes, essentially, a pep-rally.
“I can always tell the second it happens,” Miller says. “I can just tell when they’re on our side.”