2012 has been another hectic year in the whirlwind world of Brooklyn-based electro-core duo Sleigh Bells. Releasing their more polished but thematically grim sophomore album, Reign of Terror, back in February, the band spent the rest of the year touring the world, with stops at major festivals such as Reading in England and the FYF Fest in Los Angeles.
Things took a turn for the painful recently when Sleigh Bells guitarist Derek Miller broke his arm while skateboarding in his native Florida, causing the band to cancel a couple of American festival dates (Midpoint in Cincinnati, OH and Pygmalion in Urbana, IL) and postpone a fall tour with the hotly-tipped beat-maker and producer, AraabMuzik.
“There’s a skatepark in Tequesta, Florida like two blocks from where my sister lives with my niece and nephew and her husband,” Miller explained by phone while recuperating in Brooklyn. “I don’t skate a ton anymore, but I still have my legs. I was holding my own, mostly just hanging with my nephew, who’s eight years old and just learning how to skate. They have a totally decent little four or five foot half-pipe there, and I just kind of went up and my truck hit the coping in a strange way and got caught. I came straight down, and it was either my right arm or my face. I had to make a judgment call.
“Yeah, maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do,” he laughed. “I hadn’t been on a ramp in a minute. It was a typical case of me getting a little too cocky. It’s the radial head bone in my right forearm, right where it goes into the joint. The cast has been off for a minute and I’ve been working my elbow. It’s healing nicely, so I should be good to go by our first show back on the road.”
As for how Sleigh Bells have been spending this unexpected downtime, Miller explained that the band is already hard at work on their next album, which is shaping up to be very different from Reign of Terror.
“I just haven’t been playing guitar. I’ve been working on beats and more sample-based stuff,” Miller said. “It’s interesting, because we already had this studio time booked. After I broke my arm, I figured I could still go in and make beats with one hand. It kind of dictated the direction of some of the new material, at least on the two new songs we’ve been working on for the past few weeks.”
“It’s a lot less heavy. It’s not as dense,” he continued regarding the new Sleigh Bells music. “Reign of Terror was very much a guitar record. I was listening to a lot of Slayer and (Def) Leppard at the time. I was kind of sick of that sound anyway, since all I’ve been doing since February is playing those songs live. Actually, breaking my arm couldn’t have happened at a better time. I wasn’t really planning on playing much guitar anyway. The music is still energetic, it’s just less of a hard rock record.”
“Now I’m just focused on making better beats and stepping up my production game,” Miller added. “There are a lot of new dudes making really great music who are inspiring to me. We’re about to go on tour with one of them, AraabMuzik. He’s killing it right now.”
Miller also name-checked production sensation Clams Casino as a current inspiration then explained how the band’s new direction is beneficial for lead singer and fashion plate Alexis Krauss.
“It really works for her voice,” Miller surmised. “She sings very quietly, and having to sing on top of all those guitars is like whispering in the middle of a f***ing hurricane, you know? Now there’s a little more space for her. We’re really psyched, that’s all there is to it.
“There’s definitely more of a Peter Buck/Johnny Marr thing going on with the guitars,” he added, respectfully name-checking the guitarists for alt-rock legends R.E.M. and the Smiths. “Believe it or not, the new record will have more of those jangly guitar sounds. But the beats are still pretty tough.”
Miller also offered how the still-unnamed new record will differ thematically from the lyrically grim Reign of Terror.
“I wasn’t in a very good place when I wrote that album. A lot of terrible stuff had gone down,” Miller explained, referencing the death of his father in a motorcycle crash and his mother being diagnosed with cancer. “I don’t mean to dramatize it, but it was a very difficult time in my family. That inevitably made its way into the record. When that stuff is in your head and eating you alive, it’s going to come out in the creative process. Not to sound corny, but Reign of Terror was cathartic. I got a lot of that off my chest, and now I’m free to think about other things. That’s another main difference of the new music. It’s not quite as dark.”
–Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local