To most people, the arrival of Brooklyn noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells would seem like a sudden smash success (and, obviously, a loud one). But for Derek Miller, it doesn't feel quite so quick.
Sleigh Bells' debut album, Treats, has enjoyed widespread critical acclaim, winning rave reviews and placing on the Billboard Top 200. It would seem as though the notoriety came out of nowhere for guitarist, songwriter and producer Miller and his collaborator, vocalist Alexis Krauss. But Miller, 28, says the project was a long time coming.
"In my mind it took forever," Miller says, noting that the music on Treats has been "evolving for a long time."
"People are like, 'It happened so quickly. How do you feel about that?'" Miller says. "Do the math. It took me all that time to come up with something memorable."
Miller says the music on Treats was influenced by a combination of the pop sounds of Phil Collins that he heard around the house growing up, as well as the hardcore and metal music he got into as he learned guitar in his teens. He spent years writing guitar parts and programming beats for what he describes as "really loud and confrontational music." But then he faced the challenge of finding a vocalist to sing the music.
"I spoke to a lot of people about it," Miller says. He recalls interrogating girls in bars, asking if they could sing on his record. "No one really took me seriously because there was no reason for them to," he says. "They just assume that you're trying to pick them up."
The breakthrough came while Miller was at work, waiting tables at a Brooklyn restaurant in July 2008. He happened to be waiting on Krauss and her mother. When the subject of Miller's musical project and his search for a vocalist came up, Krauss' mother volunteered her talents. Miller says they exchanged contact information and began collaborating on the music he had written.
"It wasn't immediate," Miller says of the musical chemistry between himself and Krauss. "But we get along really well. She's a great person and she's fun to be around. When we play we just end up kind of running around like a couple of freaks."
Sleigh Bells' music began to make the rounds on the Internet, where it caught the ears of a couple of surprising benefactors. Director Spike Jonze heard the tunes and played them for his friend M.I.A., resulting in Sleigh Bells being signed to M.I.A.'s N.E.E.T. Records. Miller says he appreciates the success and attention the band has experienced since.
"There's so much music out there that it's hard to know if anyone's gonna give a shit," he says. "So we're really happy about it."
Miller says he and Krauss have their hands full touring right now, but he's excited about where Sleigh Bells could go next.
"I feel like creatively we set ourselves up to do pretty much whatever we want," he says. "We could make a metal record or a really slick pop record, or we could make both."
For a guy who was waiting tables two years ago, it's a big step forward, and it seems Miller hasn't lost sight of that.
"It's a privilege, and it's really rare that you get to play music and do something you love," he says. "I'm not taking it for granted." | RDW
Sleigh Bells w/ Po Po & Nerve City 7/15, 8 p.m. • The Magic Stick 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit • 313.833.9700 majesticdetroit.com • $12