After Derek worked with MIA on /\/\ /\ Y /\ two years ago, Sleigh Bells' debut Treats followed soon after. Now, they're back with follow-up Reign of Terror, and we sat down to talk to them all about it.
Where did the title Reign of Terror come from?
Derek: "I went through some really difficult stuff with my family - nothing that I'm really interested in getting into. It came out of a really, really, really hard time, a really difficult time in my life. It's probably a little more literal than people think. It's not just something that we thought sounded cool. It felt that like that was actually occurring on a personal level. I'm not going to call it my own Reign of Terror, but..."
Alexis: "You were also listening to pretty heavy music too. Was that an influence at all?"
Derek: "Not at all, no - that's just how I was feeling. This one's a little more autobiographical than Treats."
The singles sound a lot fuller and more full-on than your first album - was that an intentional change?
Derek: "I wouldn't call it intentional but I think it's something that we missed with Treats.
Alexis: "We weren't there yet."
Derek: "I started using different guitars, different amps, so the guitar sounds a lot fatter, a lot fuller. I learned more. I know a lot more about production now. It's a direct result of messing around."
Alexis: "We're also a lot more comfortable together. Vocally I understand what I'm doing a lot more than I did."
Derek: "A lot of Treats was done separately. This record, we were together every day for 16 months. Any time I was working on something, she'd be present. Even if I was in my hotel room recording something, I'd knock on her door and play it for her and she'd be like, 'That's really dope' or 'Try this'. In that respect it was much more of a collaborative effort."
Did that change your relationship as friends?
Derek: "It didn't change our friendship - I think our friendship changed the creative process. We just know each other much better now. We're much closer friends. The exchange of ideas is much more fluid and comfortable."
Alexis: "It's really vulnerable. You have to really trust someone. You have an idea in your head you may think one thing about it, but to bring it to another person is really embarrassing. They don't know how to handle you!"
Derek: "Even though I've done it so many times now, before she puts her headphones on to hear an idea for the first time, I'm still really nervous. What if it's s**t? Or she's like, 'Sorry, I'm not really feeling this'?"
Alexis: "No! I remember with 'Comeback Kid' specifically, one melody, I was doing that in my head and I was just, 'This is terrible, I hate this'. I almost didn't share it with you, because you get really self-conscious. We've been able to cross over that."
You've said that you don't have a name for what you do - has that changed? Are you happy with the 'noisepop' label?
Derek: "To be honest, I'm not too offended by anything. You could call it f**king prog rock and I wouldn't give a s**t. It's anything but prog rock, but I don't lose a lot of sleep over it."
Alexis: "I kind of like seeing what people come up with too. Oh, today we're that, cool!"
Derek: "The NME in their review of our Heaven show called us 'The world's first heavy metal R&B group'. I really liked that! I thought that was aweseome. I was like, you go dudes!"
Duos are a bit different compared to bands and solo artists. Even though you've got stuff as diverse as Simon & Garfunkel, Johnny Boy...
Derek: "Did you say Johnny Boy? 'You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve' - that is so good!"
I love that record! But were you ever tempted to add a few band members to make yourselves more accepted?
Derek: "No.. That would make a lot of sense because mainstream audiences understand bands a lot more than they understand two people. 'Where is all this sound coming from - oooh, it's electronic'. DJ audiences, if they see a band it's a turn-off. But if somebody goes to see a band and they're under the impression that we're a band and there's all of this sound, but the only thing live are the vocals and the guitars..."
Alexis: "They think we're cheating."
Derek: "They don't understand. It's a tough sell. We've tried playing with drummers and sonically it's way too much of a compromise. You can't replace a lot of the samples I use with a rock snare. It just sounds like s**t. I quit a band. I was in a band for a very long time and I quit and I don't wanna go back. I like our setup. We are going to add another guitar player just because there are more harmonies on Reign of Terror and it's so much busier. But it'll just be a touring guitar player. It's still just going to stay the two of us."
Some of your tracks have been used on trailers and commercials - was that something you both sat down and discussed?
Derek: "We definitely talked about it... We're not super-picky. But we do do it on a case-by-case basis. It's not like we're gonna whore it out to anything and everything. We did a cider ad. When we're over here I drink a s**t tonne of cider. I love it! I love cider, so why wouldn't I licence my music to them and get a little bit of my money back from them?"
Alexis: "We're not going to say that we're not interested in paying rent. That's how you can make some money in this business, 'cos you don't make it from selling records."
Derek: "Depending on where we're touring, we'll usually lose money or break even maybe just because we really like to invest what we're making back into the production. We'll bring a tonne of lights. We'll beef up sound systems if we have to in certain rooms... It's expensive to go to shows. We just want it to be special so they walk out and feel good about it."
You've got a Twitter account but you guys don't use it...
Derek: "We really don't have anything against Twitter, it's just not very interesting to me."
Alexis: "We'd rather be spending our time doing something else... I think bands say really smart things on Twitter, but I also think unfortunately people say stuff and you can't take it back, and it becomes this way to talk s**t and really you should be keeping your mouth closed and focusing on the music."
Derek: "Exactly. We just try to shut up and work hard."
How big can Sleigh Bells get?
Derek: "I wouldn't want to say cos I don't wanna jinx it, but we're ambitious. I'm down to take it as far as we can."
Alexis: "We'll take it as far as people want us to take it."
Derek: "As long as no-one asks to compromise, which we wouldn't do anyway, then I don't necessarily see a ceiling in the immediate future. If we can do things on our own terms. Then sure. Success just means more resources. More lights and more volume."
Sleigh Bells' second album Reign of Terror is released on February 21.