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Sleigh Bells playing St. Petersburg, taking on ‘demons’

Tribune correspondent
Published: October 31, 2013
Sleigh Bells will perform at State Theatre on Nov. 1. MUSHROOM PRODUCTIONS

“Bitter Rivals,” the title of Sleigh Bells latest album, has nothing to do with vocalist Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller’s relationship.

“It’s not about us,” Krauss said while calling from Tulsa. “It’s about confronting your own demons and dealing with things that motivate you to do better and push harder, like competitive sports. We’re fine together. We just want to make every album better than the one before it.”

Sleigh Bells, which will perform Friday at the State Theatre, is taking it to another level with “Bitter Rivals.” Prior releases, such as 2012’s “Reign of Terror,” have been inconsistent sonic amalgams of noise and pop. Miller’s love of the abrasive has sometimes gotten in the way but that has been remedied on “Bitter Rivals.”

It’s more confection than cacophony this time out. The sweeter has won out on more than one occasion and perhaps that has to do with Krauss’ increasing influence.

“In the past it was as if Derek was our lone visionary,” Krauss said “He wasn’t as comfortable with my contributions but that’s changed. He’s given me more room on this album. But we’re also closer as friends and I think that’s helped us musically.”

The title track, “Sugarcane,” and “Young Legends” have big hooks and Miller’s love of noise doesn’t get in the way. The edge and the pop happily coexist for much of the album.

“We’re growing up musically,” Krauss said. “But we still have that excitement in us that we always had with this band.”

That’s evident. “Bitter Rivals,” which dropped last month (Oct. 7), was released only a year and half after “Reign of Terror” saw the light of day. That’s uncommon unless a recording artist is out of Disney’s hit factory.

“Derek and I just became hyper-creative,” Krauss said. “We worked at a really quick pace and finished the album off.”

Part of what makes Sleigh Bells work is that it’s not overly precious with its material. They’re old school since they just crank it out and roll with it. Sure, a couple songs from “Bitter Rivals” feel a bit half-baked but three-quarters of the album are the finest songs the duo has yet to craft.

“We believe we can step it up from here,” Krauss said. “We’re still getting there.”

Sleigh Bells, which is adept at combining the melodic with the metallic, has taken strides with each of its three albums.

“I feel like that’s what it’s about,” Krauss said. “We just want to get better each time out. We learned a lot during our last tour.”

Sleigh Bells opened for the Red Hot Chili Peppers during the spring of 2012. “They were so nice and accommodating,” Krauss said. “I can’t say enough about them. We played arenas. It was a challenge playing in buildings that were a quarter filled. But we’re done with arena rock. We get a lot of crap for citing Queen and arena rock acts for having an impact on us. But Derek loves the production job Mutt Lange has done.”

Lange, who has produced AC/DC, Bryan Adams and the aforementioned Def Leppard, has made big-sounding albums filled with arena rock sheen.

“That’s part of the world Derek comes from,” Krauss said. “He also loves the heavy side.”

Krauss, who lives in Brooklyn but grew up in New Jersey, wasn’t looking to be part of something like Sleigh Bells. She met Miller in 2008 while she was teaching in New York.

“It was just one of those really fortunate things,” Krauss said.

The soft-spoken Krauss, who sounds like a sultry cheerleader behind the microphone, grew up obsessed with musical theater. “I was so into music and performance as a teenager,” Krauss said. “It was my world.”

Krauss, who appeared in a Nickelodeon commercial as a tween, was part of RubyBlue, a sugary sweet pop act, when she was 16. The manufactured act, which smacked of Christina Aguilera meets Britney Spears, didn’t appeal to Krauss.

“I could never be part of something like that,” Krauss said. “If I’m going to make music, it has to be something I’m genuinely into and I have that with Sleigh Bells. We do what we want to do. We’re not looking to see what others are doing. That’s just how it is with us. We don’t pay attention to trends or anything like that. That’s not something that motivates us. What motivates us is making the kind of music we like to make. It’s different. It’s us.”