When the Waiter Met the Singer | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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When the Waiter Met the Singer

Sleigh Bells on their unlikely status as band du jour


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There's a pretty big difference between musicians in it for themselves and musicians in it for the crowds. House is all about making people move and that's its number one goal.

Miller: Absolutely.

Any artistry on top of that is sort of a bonus.

Miller: Yeah, exactly.

Krauss: And that's very important to us. We want an active engagement with our music. It's no fun for us, especially live, if it's just watched. . . . I look like a dumbass if I'm up there giving the level of energy I'm trying to give and the crowd's just like, "OK."

In a Pitchfork interview you were talking about how you blow things out. You seem to be subverting pop influences by making them noisy and weird, like the guitar tones you use. Is there anything specific you're trying to do with that?

Miller: That's actually really simple. I had two really shitty beat stations, which I made all the demos with. I had an Alesis SR-18 and an Akai XR20. They're $250 apiece. You can get them anywhere. Those were my tools. Basically, we started recording, and those things sound like shit—and not in a cute way where it's part of the aesthetic. It just sounds like garbage. So I started turning up the master and was like, "Oh, that's interesting." That's how simple it is. I didn't think it was challenging to take "Crown on the Ground," which is essentially a pop song with a very traditional pop arrangement, and then blow it out, like roar! That's the only way I could even think about sharing it and showing to anyone else and not being embarrassed.

Krauss: He's so deaf, he needs everything—

Miller: Oh, I can't hear a fucking thing. I never used earplugs in my hardcore band.

Has there been any sort of crossover with Poison the Well fans?

Miller: Actually, you know what's funny? I feel like a lot of kids my age that are listening to Sleigh Bells or following sites like Pitchfork or whatnot were in hardcore. I get a lot of like, "Dude, I got [Poison the Well's] The Opposite of December." And they were my age, they were 18 when it came out, so we were all on the same wave. . . . Then I eventually stopped listening to it. There's still some hardcore records that I love, you know. By and large, it's something you go through. It's like, am I supposed to play muted E until I'm 30?

There's an element of pastiche in what you're doing. Isn't Crown on the Ground" your interpolation—

Miller: It sounds like DMX.

No, it sounds like the Cure's "Close to Me."

Miller: Oh, really? Oh, wow. We always get DMX's "Party Up." "Close to Me"? Oh, wow, it's the same chords. [Laughs.]

I totally wrote my preview like that was on purpose.

Miller: No, no. You're right. I hadn't even thought of that just because the tempos are so different and "Crown" has got swing, you know? But, it really is. Wow.

Well, specifically, I was really amped on—because "Ring Ring" was the first song I heard from you guys, and it samples Funkadelic's "Can You Get to That" . . . for my own curiosity, how did you guys end up keeping that?

Miller: I didn't get Maggot Brain until two, three years ago, and I was like, this shit's amazing. I've never sampled anything in my life, you know? I plug a fucking guitar into an amp. Same with beat production; I just had to teach myself. I just loved it and wanted something like that, that was kind of summery or acoustic, and I always imagined I would do it, but . . . I didn't know how to chop samples. So actually the song drifts. I couldn't quantize any of the beats. I had to do everything manually, which was funny. . . . I couldn't get the perfect edit and I was like, oh well, we'll just settle for this. The new version I truly like. I've added a few things. It's very subtle but it sounds, like, kind of richer and harmonically more interesting, but—

It's definitely, I mean, it's maybe a function of my love for the Funkadelic song, but "Ring Ring" gets stuck in my head a lot.

Miller: I put a doorbell in it now, which sounds even more annoying. The song kicks off with boom, boom, ding. I'm tempted to play it for you because it somehow works.

I'd love to hear. That's one of the funny things about pop music—the really annoying things work so well. Like the baby sample in the Aaliyah song. It's so naggy. Baby's voices are genetically designed to annoy you so you pay attention to them.

Miller: "Crazy Feeling," I'm thinking about. Lou Reed. Those doorbells: ding, ding, ding! I was like, "Doorbells! That's the key!" No, I'm kidding. I love when songs use these odd noises to, like . . .

Krauss: When they work, it's amazing. When they don't work, it's the worst thing in the world. Exactly like you said—that Aaliyah thing.   

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