Sleigh Bells on Returning to Form with “Texis”

Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller talk hitting the right balance of melody and bombast, joy and melancholy, on their latest LP.

While the release of Sleigh Bells’ seminal debut album Treats solidified their status as stalwarts of the New York indie rock scene just over a decade ago, the band spent years trying to shy away from the sound that garnered them a fanbase. “I think we had maybe become a little self-conscious about some of those sounds,” says vocalist Alexis Krauss. In straying from the signature Sleigh Bells sound, they tried to keep their approach fresh, striving to be less formulaic. “In the past, I quite literally made a list of everything recognizable in Sleigh Bells and removed those options from the menu,” recalls guitarist and producer Derek Miller. But when they stopped trying as hard to be “different” they actually found the sound of their fifth studio album, Texis.

For Sleigh Bells, Texis is a return to form, uniting the bombast of their 2010 breakout debut and the work they’ve done to shape their singular sound since. While the band’s 2017 mini-album Kid Kruschev saw Miller quelling his creativity, Texis lets them roam free in bold, bright kaleidoscopic colors. The record is liberating for the New York duo—a genre-bending canvas featuring the blistering guitar-based melodies that fueled the basis of so much of their music over the years. “I wanted to find a balance between a variety of different vocal styles, and some of that was, in a way, a return to some of the vocal stylings of Treats, where there were a lot of layered textured vocals,” notes Krauss. But she believes Texis couldn’t have existed without the four albums that came after Treats. “It’s so hard to see it in a box and without the context of those other albums,” she adds.

“We’ve always been a band that was very in control of our process of writing and releasing. So we’ve been fortunate in that we haven’t necessarily had a team of people or a label pressuring us in one direction.” — Alexis Krauss

For the past decade, the band had veered toward experimentation, pushing themselves creatively to keep themselves from “getting bored.” “We’ve always been a band that was very in control of our process of writing and releasing,” says Krauss. “So we’ve been fortunate in that we haven’t necessarily had a team of people or a label pressuring us in one direction.” It’s made Sleigh Bells more exciting for them to take sonic risks. However, they’ve admittedly returned to their original sound and acknowledged what hasn’t necessarily worked out for them. While Miller likes some of the tracks on Kid Kruschev and their 2016 album Jessica Rabbit, he doesn’t think it’s what they do best. But they’ve been grateful for those lessons—with this album, it helped the duo be more discerning when it came to structure. Krauss says they paid attention to “what was actually good versus what felt self-indulgent.” “This time around, if I was working on something, and it sounded like something [Sleigh Bells] would do, then I tried to make it sound even more like us,” notes Miller. “For me that was relieving.”

What initiated the latest Sleigh Bells era happened in 2018 when Miller sent a demo of what would become the bombastic “Justine Go Genesis” to Krauss, who instantly connected with it. Just a few hours later, the song came to life. But it wasn’t just a song, it was a catalyst for what would become Texis. While the band doesn’t replicate the sound of Treats, the hallmarks of the album—its anxiety-inducing bangers and brash guitar melodies—are elevated by the band’s emotional growth and refined pop songwriting. “I think there was a recognition on our part that we were just going to let ourselves sound like Sleigh Bells,” notes Krauss. 

“This time around, if I was working on something, and it sounded like something Sleigh Bells would do, then I tried to make it sound even more like us. For me that was relieving.” — Derek Miller

Ultimately, the duo decided to share “Locust Laced” as the album’s first single. Truthfully, though, it could have been “Justine Go Genesis” or “SWEET75.” “It just comes down to instinct for us,” says Krauss. The fact that they aren’t beholden to the creative control of another team helped ease the process. 

Despite the friction of Texis’s melodies, the band wanted to create tracks that magnified both melancholy and joy for their fans, and hopefully let them lean into the optimistic aspects of the songs. Sleigh Bells was looking for “a light in the dark.” When it came to the music, what the band found inspiration in was Motown, everything from the Four Tops to The Supremes. “They’re really brief songs, usually around two minutes and 47 seconds, and they’re just jam-packed full of drama and imagination.” What these types of artists have accomplished, Sleigh Bells aspires to emulate in their work.

But at the end of the day, Sleigh Bells have the same goals they always had. “We’re a pop band trying to craft melodies that are both empowering and hopeful,” says Krauss. “But are also just a punch in the gut.” FL

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