Sleigh Bells songwriter Derek Miller talks about the band’s new album and frat parties

David Sackllah

Sleigh Bells has been one of the most innovative bands of the past four years. At shows, their noisy pop music is emphasized with a high-energy set drawing on their entire discography. The band returns to Austin this Sunday night for a show at Stubb’s. In anticipation of the show, The Daily Texan spoke with Derek Miller, who is responsible for writing all of the group’s music, about the new album, the band’s plans for this tour and UT
frat parties.


The Daily Texan: How are you doing today?

Derek Miller: I’m doing pretty well. I’m in Santa Ana. They’re about to sound check us in an hour or two. You said UT, man! I immediately thought of Manziel walking into your frat party. I don’t know if you’re a football fan. 


DT: On the new album, was there an effort to push away from some of the heavier stuff on Reign of Terror, or did it just sort of happen?

DM: Really, I was in a different headspace man. Reign of Terror is a very dark, almost depressed record. I was just dealing with a lot of painful experiences lyrically, and then sonically it was reflective of that as well. Going into this record, I just had a much better outlook. Without getting too dramatic about it, I was just in a much better place, and the record reflects that. There’s still plenty of conflict in the new one, but I think it also has a sense of humor. I’m not afraid to laugh at how ridiculous the band can be sometimes. 


DT: I know that Alexis took on a bigger role in the songwriting this time around (previously Miller wrote all of the songs and lyrics).

DM: That came about naturally. Melody work is not my strength and it’s definitely an area where she excels. That girl has melodies for days. This time around, I basically just gave her instrumentals and a sheet of lyrics and let her go for it, and just kind of got out of her way. It freshened things up. Actually, there’s more for me to like about the band now. Before, when I was doing everything, I was hypercritical, so I heard flaws everywhere, and it was driving me insane. Now that it’s a collaboration and it’s ours, not mine, and I can sort of reclaim it again and feel good about it. 


DT: For the live shows, what’s your favorite song to play off of the new record?

DM: We’ve been sound checking “Love Sick,” the last song of the record, and I think we’re going to start playing it next week. I think that’s going to be my favorite. As a strictly live experience, right now it’s the first song, “Bitter Rivals.” That one is just two chords, and not to be a hippie about it, but you can really sort of disappear. When we’re playing it, I just go somewhere else, and that’s usually the mark of a good show for me. If I’m noticing things, it’s a bad sign. If I’m noticing someone in the front just standing around, it can take you out of the moment, so the less I notice the better. With that song, from the moment it starts to the moment it ends, I don’t know where my head goes. Wherever it is, it’s a good place. 


DT: Do you really like to have that variety of people you tour with?

DM: Yeah, it’s part of what we love about this band is that we really don’t have a home. Genre is a non-factor for us. It works for us and against us in a lot of ways. It’s probably frustrating for our label because it’s tough to market us. We don’t really fit any single format, but that’s also part of our strength. As a music fan, coming out of a hardcore band where you can only play with other hardcore bands that sound exactly like you, this is the dream. Just because we can play a couple shows with Danny Brown who is an amazing MC and then turn around and go on tour with Diplo or LCD Soundsystem, or bring a band like Doldrums on tour. 


DT: Your music has been used a lot in commercials, films like “The Bling Ring” and TV shows like “Girls.” Is it weird to be hearing your old songs all the time while you’re putting out new albums?

DM: Yeah, it’s great. That’s how I make my living. We do alright from touring, but it’s mainly from syncs and from licensing. That’s how Alexis and I continue to make records, so I’m thankful. It’s always exciting, and that’s how people get into your records. It takes a few years, so we’ve been getting sync offers for “Bitter Rivals,” and it’s always fun to see that trickle down. Those placements are worth 10 music videos. As long as we make the records on our own terms, I’m not super picky on how it’s heard.


DT: What do you think was the coolest use of one of your songs in the media?

DM: It was definitely the one in Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring.” I thought it was great, and sad and very funny. I was a very big fan of hers, and really I was just honored that she chose to use one of our songs, and that it fit so perfectly with the ransacking of the house. There was a lot of chemistry between the song and what was happening on the screen.