Alexis Krauss has been many things in her life — from a child performer in the teen pop group RubyBlue to a Spanish teacher in the Bronx. It may be that flux that keeps her and the electro-noise pop duo Sleigh Bells relentlessly searching for something new. Their first album, “Treats,” brought together a stripped-down and grating but totally listenable mix of sawing guitars, lo-fi bombastic beats from Derek Miller and dreamy vocals from Krauss. It was certainly novel. On their follow-ups, “Reign of Terror” and “Bitter Rivals,” they’ve taken a similar formula in a much more polished direction, but one that retains a jagged edge and explosive core. Krauss talked with The Tribune about the new album in advance of their appearance in Salt Lake City on Oct. 22 in support of their third album.
What would you say is the main message of “Bitter Rivals”? What were you trying to convey musically and lyrically?
It’s hard to talk about our music in terms of messages because, from a lyrical standpoint, our lyrics aren’t very narrative and our records aren’t really thematic. But I think, in terms of our goals for this record, we wanted to create a record that took a lot of chances and that went in a lot of different musical directions, that were inspiring to us at the time. This record felt very uninhibited and it was a real joy to make it. So I think if anything, when people listen to this record, I would like them to hear that spontaneity and that excitement and that energy that went into the creative process. For me this record feels like a product of both “Treats” and “Reign of Terror.” It sounds like something new and different for us, but it feels like a pretty accurate reflection of where we’ve come from and where we are now.
You’re going at a very fast pace. Three albums in three years, plus touring. Are you getting worn out or amped up?
It’s a pace that we set for ourselves. Nobody’s telling us to get into the studio or go on tour. It’s really something that comes out of our own initiative. We really enjoy making records. We are constantly working on new material. After a long touring cycle, when we get home, instead of just sitting around, we enjoy being productive and we enjoy getting into the studio and creating music. With regards to touring, we’ve learned a lot about how to tour in a way that is healthy and fun for everybody. Even though we spend a lot of time on the road, we do it the way that keeps everyone sane. The crew that we tour with has been with us for three or four years and we’re all really close. So doing that together is, for the most part, a lot of fun. On a day-to-day basis it doesn’t feel like work. ... You have to approach each show as something that’s fresh and exciting. Once you get to a point where you’re feeling jaded and tired, you have to give yourself a break. But that’s the great thing about introducing new music — every time we put out a new record, everything feels completely rejuvenated. Seeing the kids reaction to playing new songs is always really re-energizing.
What provides the inspiration for your new songs? Is it your experiences on the road, in your life or something more personal?
It comes from so many different things. Most of our songs start with an idea that Derek has, a riff or a beat or a synth line — something small. And from there we’ll develop it into a full-blown track. And then [he] and I will sit down ... and I’ll take lyrics and arrange them and put melodies to them. The creative process is a confusing thing because you sort of think that you find a formula for things and then it goes ahead and surprises you and morphs into something completely new and unexpected. A lot of Derek’s writing happens on the road, but for the most part I don’t really sit down and do the bulk of my writing until we’re in the studio because I really require his tracks and his ideas to then add the vocals to everything. But, you know, we’re definitely inspired by day to day life and encounters on the road. But we’ve never been a band that’s been dependent on geography as a source of inspiration. We could essentially write or record anywhere. It’s just a matter of us having the ideas.
Just a few years ago you were a schoolteacher in the Bronx, and now you’re playing music all over the world. What’s the biggest way your life has changed in that time?
I don’t have to wake up at 5 a.m. every morning! It’s a totally different world. It’s two very different forms of hard work. When you are teaching, you are so incredibly devoted and committed to your students. I absolutely loved what I did. So in that sense it’s just like I’m doing something different that I love equally and I try to put the same type of commitment and focus and discipline into what I do musically as what I was doing when I was teaching. It’s a very different lifestyle, obviously. Most of the time when I was teaching I would be in bed by like 9:30 at night. And now I’m clearly about to start my day a bit later and playing shows at 10:30 at night. It’s quite different. But my favorite part about teaching was being able to see that spark and that understanding that kids have when they’re learning something new. And my favorite part of performing is getting to see that sort of excitement and awe and enthusiasm that fans have for our music, especially when we’re performing it live. So in a way they are similar.
People seem to love using your music in movies, on TV and in commercials. Why do you think that is? What is it that makes your music so desirable in other media?
I’m not sure. People seem to really like it for the purpose of selling products and movies and things like that. I think especially the songs off of “Treats” are very dynamic and they’re very bombastic and when you’re listening and when you’re at the theater and you’re watching a trailer for an action film, a song like “Riot Rhythm” or “Infinity Guitars” is definitely conducive to the emotional mood of that type of film. Our music is just really energetic and fun and abrasive at times. There’s a lot of tension to our music, so I think for a lot of directors and advertisers it just creates a certain feel and mood to whatever it is they are trying to market. I don’t know. It’s been a really interesting thing to watch and see how much interest there is in that area. And for Derek and I, we’re not very precious about licensing our music. For us, it’s a great way to make a living and the idea that somebody may discover our music from an iPhone commercial or a movie trailer is exciting. We’re not a band that sees ourselves as having a ceiling and I certainly don’t feel uncomfortable about a 15-year-old girl watching an episode of “The Vampire Diaries” hearing our songs and then buying our record. I think that’s great. It is an interesting phenomenon, but something that we’re happy about.
Sleigh Bells with guests Doldrums
When • Tuesday, Oct. 22
Where • The Grand at The Complex, 536 W. 100 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $20 advance, $25 day of, at Smith’s Tix
Read more • For the full interview, check out the story at www.sltrib.com/entertainment.