Since their formation in 2008, Brooklyn-based indie electronic duo Sleigh Bells have been bringing their own flavor to the music industry with a collision of genres that the band defines as “other.” Singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist, songwriter and beat creator Derek Miller comprise the one-of-a-kind duo, and their constantly evolving sounds has led to the production of four albums, including latest release Jessica Rabbit.
Miller took a break from their North American tour to talk to Jackson about their unique sound, writing process, how Jackson fits their music and aesthetic, and the many influences (from rap to pop to hard rock) that inspire him to create music to the beat of his own drum.
Q: Given the electronic vibe of your music, do you strive to make the guitar stand out or do you want it to fade into the background as another element of your sound?
A: It’s not any more or any less important than any other element in the mix. I don’t think that my guitar playing on its own is that special. I’m not being self-deprecating. What I think is if there is something unique about us, it’s my beat making mixed with the guitars and the synths together. How I arrange those things is what makes us Sleigh Bells. On my own, I don’t think I’m a particularly capital “G” great guitar player. I’ve played for 20 years and certainly I can write and that’s the main focus for me —writing, composition. I’m not much of a shredder. I don’t play much lead. I can appreciate other artists who do, but that’s never been my thing. When I was 13 and got into heavy music for the first time, Deftones’ Adrenaline was the record that got me into aggressive stuff. And Steph never shreds. He’s almost purely a rhythm player and it’s really melodic and I love that about that band. I loved his playing and he’s been a huge influence on me.
Q: What software and effects do you use to achieve the guitar tone you are after?
A: I use Guitar Rig for all of our records, but on the first record I used the Korg Toneworks Pandora. I use those. All the kind of low-budget models. The settings on there are not warm or tonal or rich and I really like that about it. I want it to be sort of plastic-y and really overdriven and hyper-processed. I use a lot of chorus, a lot of slap on the sound and it just sounds more industrial and less rock and roll. I think those are more of my references when it comes to heavy music. I’ll listen to the Stones all day but for my own sound I like something that sounds a little more processed, ya know? I don’t want it to be warm. I don’t want warmth. For lack of a better way to describe it, I’m being very reductive but more metal and less rock and roll.
Q: How to do you translate your sound from the studio to the stage?
A: All the electronics run out of Ableton. That’s our playback unit. Essentially instead of having a DJ, we just trigger the songs ourselves. Otherwise, that’s what it would be. I saw Public Enemy recently and they had a live drummer but they also had a DJ and a guitar player and that worked really well. We played with a live drummer for a while, but it felt more like a band. I didn’t want this to be a band, like a traditional four-piece rock band. I wanted it to be “other.” If I had to describe it, I would describe it as “other.” Electronic music with loud guitars and melodic vocals. So yeah, basically I take the tracks, mute the guitars and vocals and we play over them and hype the crowd as much as possible.
Q: What led you to choosing Jackson guitars?
A: Initially, I just loved the way that they felt, the way that they played and the way that they looked. They make me want to pick them up. I think that’s huge. That’s a huge part of your initial reaction to an instrument, and when you’re a kid, well, that never really left me. I played Teles for a couple of years but the necks were, actually, I still love them, but the necks are a little more like baseball bats. They’re a little harder to play. But yeah, Jackson’s are lightweight and I think they are beautiful. When they are sitting around, I just want to pick them up. They make me want to play more.