Sleigh Bells bring ‘Jessica Rabbit’ tour to Belly Up Aspen
If You Go …
What: Sleigh Bells
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Saturday, March 25, 9 p.m.
How much: $28-$40
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
The juxtaposition of Alexis Krauss’ sweet vocals against harsh, gritty beats, synths and guitar from Derek Miller has been Sleigh Bells’ signature since the band formed eight years ago.
The duo established its novel noise-pop formula early on in songs like “Crown on the Ground,” “Tell ‘Em” and “Rill Rill,” where the clash between the tender and the aggressive was a revelation to listeners. Through the six years and three albums since their brilliant breakout debut album “Treats,” Sleigh Bells has dug deeper into the clash of styles.
“It remains a study in contrasts,” Miller said from the Sleigh Bells tour bus before a recent Lawrence, Kansas, show, where he was working on new tracks in his mobile studio. “I don’t want it to be just sweet — I want the sweet and the sour. I want to cram as much as possible in there. That’s what gets me excited, when two things that don’t go together are suddenly co-existing in a peaceful way that’s inspiring.”
That idea also was what brought Miller and Krauss together. Miller had grown up in the hardcore scene and cut his creative teeth playing guitar in the metalcore band Poison the Well. He adored the music — and still does — but got fed up with the bloodthirsty culture that surrounded it.
“I love the heaviness and intensity and energy and conviction, but I hated the violence and I hated the testosterone-driven macho environment,” he said. “It made me sick.”
He quit Poison the Well in 2004 and started waiting tables. Four years later, when he connected with Krauss — who as a teenager sang in the pop group RubyBlue — and founded Sleigh Bells, they embarked on a new musical mission together: marrying bright pop melodies with some of the ugly sneer of punk.
“I didn’t want it to be just another rock band or another pop group — I wanted it to be firmly other,” he said. “And I feel we exist in that space.”
The duo is now touring in support of its fourth album, “Jessica Rabbit,” which brings Sleigh Bells to Belly Up tonight. They played the club early in the life of Sleigh Bells, during the 2010 “Treats” tour.
Released in November, “Jessica Rabbit” is an eclectic group of songs on which the duo explores a wide scope of sounds and styles. There are softer, slower and more acoustic elements than ever, but also some tracks — the soaring “Rule Number One,” for instance — that are more anthemic and arena-ready than we’ve heard from Sleigh Bells before.
“The guy who made ‘Treats’ would have hated ‘Rule Number One,’” Miller said with a laugh.
He and Krauss put no limitations on themselves and on the Sleigh Bells sound as they were making the new songs over a three-year period, allowing themselves the freedom to roam beyond what listeners might expect from them.
“It’s one of the things I like about it, that it’s so eclectic,” Miller said. “But it also lacks cohesion a little bit. My life was all over the place and I was OK with the record mirroring my life.”
The set lists on the current tour, which features the duo with touring guitarist Ryan Primack, have included material from all four Sleigh Bells records.
On the first three Sleigh Bells albums, Miller did the songwriting, made tracks of instrumentals and then handed them over to Krauss to add her vocals. That changed on “Jessica Rabbit,” where she shared songwriting duties and he built the music around her voice, which is front-and-center in most of the songs.
“For this record, I did everything I could to flatter her voice,” he said.
In their up-tempo shows, where Krauss’ formidable voice and stage charisma rule the night, Sleigh Bells aims to do more than entertain.
“I hope that people are energized and that they leave the show inspired,” Miller said.
His ideal for Sleigh Bells fans, he added, is the feeling he had after seeing Kanye West’s theatrical and epic “Yeezus” tour in Long Island: “I left that arena believing in myself completely — nobody was going to tell me I wasn’t going to live my dream. I believed so completely that I was going to be able to make the records that I wanted to make. That’s the belief that dude gave me.”
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