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Derek Miller's Evolution: From Poison the Well to Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells strikes a nifty balance. The Brooklyn based duo creates experimental cacophonies, yet somehow the music is instantly accessible. New Times caught up with Derek Miller, the band's guitarist and producer. He explained this dichotomy, "It's my way of reconciling all the records I love. I grew up with my mom's influence of Michael and Janet Jackson, George Michael, and Madonna, then I got into the hardcore scene, and then you throw in Alexis (Krauss, Sleigh Bell's singer) who comes from an R&B background -- who did demos for top 40 records -- and I guess this is the sound that spits out."

No stranger to South Florida, Sleigh Bells has played here several times in the past few years, and already plans to return to Miami in the Springtime, after this week's November 2 show at the Culture Room. This is no accident. Locally bred Miller said growing up in South Florida influenced him "in a thousand miniscule ways," noting "its melting pots of culture and the dynamic of the West side of I-95 being completely different from the East."

See also: Q&A: Sleigh Bells Guitarist Derek Miller's Musical Identity Was Forged in the Fires of SoFla

Born in Pahokee, Florida, at the age of five, Miller suffered violent asthma attacks from the raining ashes of burning sugar cane fields. To remedy this, his family moved closer to Jupiter, near the ocean. Miller focused on music and joined the hardcore band, Poison the Well. This band of five guys couldn't be more different than the Sleigh Bells' partnership. "The make up of Sleigh Bells is no accident. When I left Poison the Well, the scene was stifling. We had 7 or 8 hard working guys living in a van together."

In this less divisive environment, Miller and Krauss have been incredibly prolific. Their latest release, titled Bitter Rivals, is their third album in a little over three years. Miller explains the quantity of their output: "I'm a music fanatic, and I lost my father in a motorcycle accident. I don't believe in wasting time, since I know this can all be over in a snap of the fingers."

This attitude has pushed Sleigh Bells to great success. They appeared on Saturday Night Live, their songs are the soundtrack to countless advertisements, movies, and TV shows. "We approve each instance where we license a song. Licensing it to companies pays the bills, but it's not creatively fulfilling the way it was when we were in LA, and Alexis and I got to see an early version of The Bling Ring. Here was a song ("Crown on the Ground") we did on $500 worth of equipment, and it's in a great movie."

See also: Sleigh Bells' Paradise Lost Tour Leads Them Back Home to Florida

After raving about what a great director Sophia Coppola is, especially in her first endeavor, The Virgin Suicides, it became obvious that Miller was a film fanatic, but when asked what movies influenced Sleigh Bells, he stumbled. "I know I'll think of something when I hang up the phone. Can I mention a book?" Sure. "Quincy Jones' autobiography. He's a great music producer, and a wonderful human being who inspires me to no end. When he talks about God's divining rod as anytime the hair on the back of his neck stands up, and he knows he had a hit. Anyone who has worked in music can relate to that."

A second later, he mentioned he also really liked ESPN's 30 on 30 sports documentaries. Which brought up another question. Since Miller's a Florida born sports fan, why in the video for "Bitter Rivals" is he wearing an LSU football jersey? "I'm wearing the Tyrann Mathieu jersey, the Honeybadger, who I can relate to, because I also have a lot of demons. But my family is from Louisiana before they moved to Florida. My parents went to LSU and so did my sister and brother-in-law, so it's me flying the flag for my Dad."

Sleigh Bells. With Doldrums. 8 p.m., on Saturday, November 2, at Culture Room 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $25 plus fees. Call 954-564-1074, or visit

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David Rolland is a freelance writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland

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