Sleigh Bells’ Derek Miller On Film, Music, and Sliding Into Alex Ross Perry’s DMs

Sleigh Bells’ Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss

Nate von Zumwalt

It’s kind of fun to envision a band like Sleigh Bells scoring a film: Alexis Krauss’ teasing, silky vocals strewn across Derek Miller’s shattering guitar riffs and a barrage of beats. The duo’s penchant for pitting seductive melodies against hardcore arrangements often conjures its own powerful, albeit chaotic, imagery. With last year’s music video for “I Can Only Stare,” off their LP Jessica Rabbit, we got a feel for what that film and music pairing might look like. After connecting on Instagram – and bringing new meaning to sliding into the DMs – Miller linked up with filmmaker Alex Ross Perry to have him helm their new music video. The result is what we’ve come to love from Perry: a hazy, déjà vu vibe that makes you feel something powerful but elusive. And like Sleigh Bells’ own haunting soundscapes, it’s an experience that is both exhilarating and confounding and full of questions.

On Saturday, August 12, we’ll see Bitch – the filmic equivalent of Sleigh Bells – make its Los Angeles premiere at NEXT FEST, followed by a live performance from the blistering duo themselves. This week we connected with Miller to get his take on festival-style performances, the meaning of “indie,” and his all-time favorite film soundtracks. Get tickets to see Bitch + Sleigh Bells with comedian Kate Micucci.

What’s your thinking going into a unique festival format like NEXT FEST that merges different program elements – in this case music, film, and comedy. Does it inform your performance in any way?

Any opportunity to put a bunch of mediums under the same roof is incredibly exciting to me. I feel that across the board most of us are all trying to do the same thing-ish: inspire people in some way. Have them leave the building happy that they came in the first place. Maybe they are having a shit day or a rough time in general and your film, song, or joke brings them up a notch. So it makes sense to me, combining everything.

How would you describe your relationship to independent film? Do you find that there are permeable ideas or experiences that unite independent artists across different mediums?

Living in New York I have the chance to see a fairly large amount of movies. It’s one of the reasons I love it here. Nitehawk, Angelika, Film Forum, Sunshine, Metrograph, IFC, Cinema Village etc. I still get that sketchy, amazing feeling in my stomach when I’m headed to any of these, like I’m going on a date, though I usually go alone in the afternoon when things are quiet. If anything unites independent artists it’s maybe the limited appeal of the work they/we are doing. But I don’t know. I think most of us feel kind of outsiderish/sans community. I certainly don’t think being “independent” makes something more legit.

You worked with director Alex Ross Perry (whose Golden Exits plays NEXT FEST as well) on last year’s music video for “I Can Only Stare.” What spawned that creative collaboration?

I’m a big fan. I like Listen Up Philip a lot but I really, really love Queen of Earth. I think it’s outstanding. There is a special place in my heart for people who write such amazing, purposefully unlikable characters. It’s a very ugly mirror sure to turn a lot of people off, but for those of us looking for that type of thing it strikes a powerful chord. I think it’s important. I love popcorn movies as well, I just think there’s room for both. I definitely need both.

Alex and I met thanks to Instagram, no shit. I followed him, he followed me back, so I sent him a message. I didn’t know what to expect really. Some people love Sleigh Bells to death and others think it’s a joke. I do know that he found it interesting enough to meet up and get some ideas going. We got along great and went from there. We met [director of photography] Sean Price Williams through Alex, which was exciting as well. Sean is a crazy man. A great DP. I love the video and feel lucky to have worked with such talented people.

What’s your favorite film soundtrack, and if you could write the music for any director’s next film, who would that be?

Oh shit, that’s hard. Mica Levi is my favorite right now. I love her work on Jackie and Under the Skin. I’m really excited for Daniel Lopatin’s score for Good Time. Recent-ish scores I love: Johann Johannsen’s work on Sicario, all of the [Jonny] Greenwood scores for Paul Thomas Anderson, of course, but especially The Master, which kills me. Mike Patton did awesome work on The Place Beyond the Pines. Hans Zimmer brings really weird ideas to a large audience which is exciting. We used to walk on stage to a piece by Georges Delerue from Contempt. Really beautiful stuff, definitely a favorite. As far as collaborating…honestly I think I would work with anyone who is excited and passionate about what they are doing. If the project feels right and there is chemistry, I’m up for it.

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