Sleigh Bells’ first three records feel like an escape. Hyperactive, neon-soaked and desperately bounding forward before they could get caught, Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller covered a lot of ground and they covered it fast. Album four however, the disorientating and somewhat madcap ‘Jessica Rabbit’ feels like an embrace. Glittering with mini epiphanies and more still, more sure of itself, the record sees Sleigh Bells ringing out with renewed confidence. They’ve never popped so damn hard.
Sure, ‘Jessica Rabbit’ might have taken longer to create than the first three Sleigh Bells albums combined but it never sounds like a band struggling for direction. In fact from the opening snarl of ‘It’s Just Us Now’ to the closing bratty gambit of ‘As If’, Alexis and Derek make the brash and daring declaration of anything being possible. The really exciting thing about ‘Jessica Rabbit’ isn’t where Sleigh Bells have been. It’s where they’re going now.
“It was unexpected how long it took to make this record but ultimately, it ended up being really beneficial,” explains Alexis. “There was never any space carved out for an intention break. We came off touring ‘Bitter Rivals’ and we went straight into ‘Jessica Rabbit’,” and that was that. “We spent more time on this record than we had on our past three and I think that shows. It’s a very strange, disorienting album but as a lover of music, and when I try and imagine myself in the shoes of a Sleigh Bells fan, I think it has a lot to offer them. It’s super creative and we explore a lot of new territory. It’s a stubborn album, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want a lot of people to listen to it.”
With the vocals breaking away on their own and ideas given room to breath, ‘Jessica Rabbit’ hops freely without restraint. “It’s a more confident album,” admits Alexis, but it wasn’t always that way. There’s a battle in the lyrics and a near-constant tug-of-war happening amidst the shape-shifting sonic backdrop. “There was a lot of doubt and insecurity in the creative process, this idea that there’s this struggle, right? It’s never easy. I think that’s what makes interesting music though,” Alexis ventures. Walking away from two record labels (both on good terms) during the creation of ‘Jessica Rabbit’ meant that for the first time, Sleigh Bells had to consider how their vision was going to be released. They decided to go it alone. “Derek has described this album as being self-indulgent. It’s not necessarily the smart record but it’s a record that we really love and care passionately about. That’s why we’re putting it out on our own because it gives us the same autonomy that went into the creation of it.”
The doubt has left its mark though. “The penalty for failure is death” flickers the very real warning on ‘It’s Just Us Now’. “For Derek, I say that because that’s a really personal statement for him, he’s pretty open about not being the lightest person on earth. He’s got demons, he has struggles and I think there was a period where it was feeling like this album was going to get lost, not because of our own failures but because of how crazy the music industry can be and really just trying to come to terms with how to release this music. The idea that something you poured your heart and soul into could possibly be taken away from you was really terrifying for both of us. This band is his life. It is for me as well but these things do have serious consequences for him.” At the core of ‘Jessica Rabbit’ is “the idea that you have to push through no matter what, because if you don’t then… yeah, the consequences could potentially be that serious.“
But despite all the struggle, the back and forth and the confrontation, ‘Jessica Rabbit’ has victory at every turn. “We’re pushing ourselves on this album and initially may have felt a little insecure with some of the decisions, but we lived with them. Ultimately we decided that we wanted to be bold on this album and not have any respect for genre or any respect for what we’d done in the past.” The vision for the record shifted heavily. “Going into it, we were playing by the rules. By the time we finished, we were breaking all of them.”
‘Jessica Rabbit’ is an album that “hopefully allows people to go to that deep, dark place and emerge out of it a better person,” offers Alexis. “One of my favourite things about Derek’s lyrics and working with them is being able to develop these characters around them. There’s a lot of strangeness, absurdity and detachment. It’s abstract. I want people to go from feeling like it’s this otherworldly machine to something that’s very intimate and personal.
“Through a lot of pain and melancholy and torment on this album, there’s also euphoria and positivity. I was trying to find that balance between songs that really make you feel and bring out that intense emotional quality but at the same time, make you really want to just forget about the world and get totally lost in them. I love the juxtaposition of that pain and that triumph. It’s what my favourite songs do, like ‘What Becomes of The Broken Hearted’. That’s a devastating song yet if you close your eyes and just sing it, you want to throw your arms up and spin around in a circle. I like that idea. I hear that on songs like ‘I Can Only Stare’. It’s got a lot of pain, but hopefully it feels really good to people.”
For all the sugar-charged adrenaline and gritted teeth aggression, there’s a peace to ‘Jessica Rabbit’. “Are you proud of yourself?”, asks ‘Rule Number One’. “Are you doubting yourself? Are you proud of yourself,” it repeats, begging the question that you can’t have one without the other. “It was a completely uninhibited album and really was about tackling head on everything that we were both experiencing. It’s giving a middle finger to people’s expectations of us. That’s what independent music is supposed to do, right? It’s supposed to challenge and push and make people uncomfortable.”
As hard as it was to get here, and despite all the space explored since the release of their debut in 2010, Sleigh Bells aren’t running out of places to go. “It’s more about opening doors than feeling like we are in any way trapped. Derek and I have never, knock on wood, finished an album and felt depleted or exhausted in the sense that we don’t want to continue making music. There have been times when we’ve needed a break but as far as feeling creatively like we’ve hit a wall? No.”
Instead, it seems like the band could do absolutely anything and it would make perfect sense. “Speaking as someone who knows all the other songs we recorded for this album and didn’t use, I feel even more like that. There are at least ten-twelve songs that we didn’t use and, at one point, we loved those songs dearly. Even jumping of off where we left off in terms of the music we didn’t include, that in itself gives us a lot of different options. Maybe a couple of those songs will make the fifth record but I have a feeling most of it will be brand new. That’s not to say we have a vision for the next album but we have already started working on music. We just really enjoy it, that’s why we do it. I think we’ll do it until we don’t enjoy it anymore.”
Sleigh Bells’ album ‘Jessica Rabbit’ is out 11th November.