"I always wanted to work with a female vocalist; I generally prefer them." -- Sleigh Bells guitarist Derek Miller.
Indeed, Alexis Krauss' tough-as-spikes vocals are preferrable -- be it for amplifying bracing shoulder workouts, or turning an ordinary automobile into a mobile nightclub rivaling Flaunt Thursdays. Rest assured, this punk-edged siren with teen pop and Teach for America in the Bronx in her background gets results that stack up with the likes of Debbie Harry and Karen O. It was technically a seredipitous conversation with Miller in a Brooklyn restaurant in 2008 regarding Florida connections that eventually brought out Krauss' hip-shaking stage persona, but nothing about this frontwoman is manufactured. Anyone this ferocious had that seed inside her all along.
As Krauss and Miller bring the Treats -- a half hour of scorched hardcore riffs, charred beats, flotsam, and jetsam set to tape -- of their labor to West Palm Beach for a show at Respectable Street Thursday, it's a relief to find out that her nurturing, classroom manner comes out in this brief interview with New Times. Pardon a few f-bombs, but spoiler alert, there's a trip to Chuck E. Cheese ahead!
New Times: It's well-documented that you -- albeit more your mother -- and Derek bonded over the Florida experience?
Alexis Krauss: She grew up half
of her life in Florida and then in Brooklyn and then when she met my
dad, she moved to New Jersey. I grew up on the Jersey Shore. It was kind
of the connection that brought Derek and me together in a weird way.
She sort of got that information out of him when he was our waiter. Then
they started talking about Florida, why he had left Florida for
Brooklyn. She was from a small town right outside of Tampa,
How much of your teaching background figures into the artistic direction of this project?
I taught for two years and it was a very important part of my life.
There are some parallels. Not necessarily all of them intentional. I
think a lot of the aesthetic was already defined and something that
Derek had been thinking about for a long time. It's partly
coincidential, and me being a teacher was something that was ironic,
but worked. It was great. I was able to bring in a couple of my
students to record the talking parts on that track "Kids" on the
record. There's definitely ways that it's influenced us. It's not as
direct and intentional as it seems to be.
Lines like "Did you do your best today" are easy to attach to a school setting.
Derek has similar feelings about some of the superficial obsessions
of youth culture today. I obviously saw a lot of that firsthand. I
worked with a lot of low income students in the South Bronx. I had kids
who knew much more about Top 40 rap songs and were more obsessed with
what people were wearing and showing off things that kids shouldn't be
showing off at the age of 10, and they were barely able to read or
write their names. Kinda fucked up what priorities are. Something that
Derek and I are hyper aware of. Unfortunately, it's not pop music's job
to promote those things, but I think the values of mainstream culture
are so fucking pathetic at times.
How did you get through to the kids?
As a teacher, I did a lot of investment-oriented programs in my
classroom. My kids were bi-lingual, so they were transitioning from
Spanish to English. As a result, they had really low reading levels in
English. One of my big incentives was to help them raise their reading
level. One of the ways I would do that was I would say, if you grow a
certain amount of levels by the end of the year, we're going to go on a
trip. It can be of your choosing. You can go wherever you want within
And where do fourth graders want to go these days?
A couple of my girls wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese and
the trip never really worked out until that point of the year when we
happened to be recording the album. One of the girls who wanted to go
on that trip was musical and she was involved in a violin program, and
she knew that I was in the studio at the time. She was like "oh, can we
go to the studio and stop by," and I was like "absolutely." Derek and I
talked about it, and we had always talked about having some kids be on
the album for tracking certain parts. So it was perfect, we'll leave
Chuck E. Cheese and we'll go to the studio. so that's how it happened.
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It was part of their reward for being such great readers.
Sleigh Bells, with Po Po and Nerve City. 9 p.m. Thursday, July 8, at
Respectable Street, 518 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $10
in advance, $12 at the door. Call 800-594-8499, or click here.