Soundtrack of My Life: Sleigh Bells on the songs that shaped them

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Image Credit: Petra Collins

In the wake of Sleigh Bells’ excellent new album Bitter Rivals, we sat down with singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller and asked them about the music they grew up with. Read on to find out how Sinead makes them cry, Ghostface helps them rage, and Alanis teaches them about sex.

The first album I ever bought

Alexis Krauss: Weezer, Blue album. I remember walking into town and going to [the record store]. There was this girl working there, this total grunge chick behind the counter. That was when MTV was still playing videos, and the video for “Buddy Holly” blew my f—ing mind! And then I heard “Say It Ain’t So,” and if literally ruptured my brain. So I went in and bought it, and we’d always blast it in my house and dance. One day, the creepy old woman who lived across the street came to the house and knocked on the door. We were terrified! So we just pretended we weren’t home.

Derek Miller: My first CD was TLC’s Oooh… On the TLC Tip. I was obsessed with “What About Your Friends.” It’s still a badass record, too.

The first song or album I obsessed with

DM: I saw La Bamba when it came out, and that movie opens with Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk.” At the time, I thought it was Ritchie Valens. But I’m still obsessed with that piece of music — I’ve never met a music fan who doesn’t worship that. It’s incredible.

AK: Honestly, it’s probably Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill. Dude, like so obsessed with it. I remember, I used to sing, like, Disney songs, and Alanis Morissette was like the transition record for me. I remember listening to “You Oughtta Know,” and there’s that line “Would she go down on you in a theater/Does she speak eloquently?” So there were two really big learning lessons: the word “eloquently.” And then I literally asked my mom, “What does going down on you in a theater mean?” My mom explained it in a very good, mom way.

The first song or album that changed my life

DM: When I was a senior getting [Radiohead's] OK Computer, I was a hardcore fan, and then I turned into a music fan. I was just listening to only hardcore, but when that record came out, it was like a bomb going off. Once that clicked, everything else came. It totally opened my ears.

AK: My dad was a musician, and he used to play “Crying” by Roy Orbison all the time. And then I remember specifically one time watching him play it — I was like 7 — and I remember really paying attention to the song, and I think that was one of the first times in my life I realized the pure rock power of a song. I heard that and was like, I don’t know what this is, I don’t know how it makes me feel quite yet, but I know that this is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced. It just gave me chills. To this day, that song still has the power to completely overwhelm me.

My first real concert experience

DM: The To the Extreme Tour, Vanilla Ice, at the West Palm Auditorium, which is gone now. I was in middle school, and I was so obsessed with Vanilla Ice. We were all wearing Z. Cavariccis back then, because Hammer and Ice were both wearing pants like that.

AK: Mine was Counting Crows and Live at the Garden State Arts Center, which is now the PNC Bank Arts Center. That was around the time of “Long December,” which was my jam. But it was also around the time that Cruel Intentions came out, and “Colorblind” was in the soundtrack, and I was just like, [mock sobbing] “This is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.” And I remember being super-bummed, because I’m pretty sure Adam Durwitz was, like, wasted. I think at one point, he, like, fell over. And I remember being really frustrated because they kept, like, riffing on different songs, and I was like, [angrily] Just play the songs like they are on the record! But overall we had a blast. And Live opened, and I was really obsessed with “Lightning Crashes.”

The song that reminds me of home

DM: I’m gonna go with “Father Figure” from Faith. It was a huge radio show, and I think I probably heard it more than any other. Just the smells — it smells very specific down there, the much and everything– and this song brings that back. It’s still one of my favorite songs of all time.

AK: This is home in a different way, but Mariah Carey, “Always Be My Baby.” Less my actual home than just my hometown and the kids in my middle school. The video of that song, where she’s on the tire swing — I always used to imagine, that always reminded me of summers in my little town, and this little swing area that we had, and slow-dancing awkwardly with boys at school dances where you don’t quite touch and you’re looking at your friend the whole time like, Can this stop please?

The song that reminds me of my first crush

DM: It’s “Unchained Melody,” the Righteous Brothers, because my first date was when Ghost was in theaters. My older sister and her friend took me, and they took me and the friend’s younger sister — that was like my first date. We were super young, we weren’t like boyfriend-girlfriend, but we liked each other. I just remember, that’s the song from the pottery scene! But we were kids. She slept over that night, and I think we watched The Land Before Time.

AK: The soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. I was old enough at that point to start thinking about boys and romance, and the first time i saw that movie was the first time i remember crying from a movie because I was able to empathize with heartbreak. That was a great soundtrack — the Cardigans’ “Lovefool” was on it.” It’s the coyness and the playfulness in that song — and i thought she was like the f—ing hottest.

My go-to karaoke song

AK: I don’t do karaoke.

DM: You know why? Because you’re too good. She gets up there and kills it, and everyone’s like, “Ugh, this is so stupid. We were having fun, and now you’re all good.”

AK: If I were to do karaoke, though, it would be “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

The song or album that gets us pumped up before going out

AK: Ghostface, for sure.

DM: Every night [on tour], we would listen to the first five to six songs off of Pretty Toney. I can’t listen to it now without feeling like I’m about to go on stage. We’re both huge Ghostface fans.

AK: That’s the time in the dressing room, where we’re screaming and, like, punching each other. [laughs] Jumping up and down and doing push-ups.

DM: Lots of whiskey and Ghostface.

The song I wish I’d written

AK: Sam Cooke, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” I think it’s a perfect song. A couple summers ago I was living out in Bushwick, and I was walking to the J train. It was a beautiful summer day — it was one of those, like, classic New York days where everything is hectic and bustling, and the sun was coming through the slats. And this old guy in a Cadillac convertible was just blasting the song, and the song was just filling up the entire neighborhood. And I was like, this song is too good! It’s not even real!

DM: I would say George Michael, “Faith.” It’s extremely odd instrumentally, it’s very strange. And it’s tough as nails. He was so intense. Just to show everyone up like that and then take over the world? He just killed it — he did the damn thing.

The song that always makes me cry

AK: Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U.” That’s the first time I saw my mom cry to a song. I remember driving with her and it came on on the radio, and she just like instantly welled up, and I think that that just passed on to me. Now every time I hear that song I think of her crying.

The song people might not expect me to love

DM: I will say that I’m an unironic fan of artists like Celine Dion. Like, “All By Myself”—that’s an incredible song. Any of her big hits, they move me in a way that’s very real and unironic. I’ve heard them my whole life, and I can appreciate them on many different levels.

My favorite jukebox jam

DM: Fleetwood Mac, “Gypsy.” For me, this is going home in Florida, just hanging in Florida bars all night, playing lots of pool, drinking lots of whiskey, doing a lot of everything. Fleetwood Mac would inevitably come on, and the night was always so great then.

AK: Probably “Like a Prayer” by Madonna. I associate that with — my great group of girls in high school, we had a choreographed dance to it. So when you’ve had a certain number of drinks and that song comes on, or if you put it on when one of those girls is around, that dance inevitably happens.

The music I want played at my funeral

DM: Abba, “Dancing Queen.” There will be no violins — I will make it a party. People will think I’m just being an ironic s—, but who wants people to show up their funeral and just sit around, like, soaking the grass in tears?

AK: I’m a big Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions fan, and that song “Never Let Me Go”? It’s just like, I feel like if anybody that I was closed to passed away and I heard that, I’d be like, Yeah, well, what else can you f—ing say? And then followed by “Dancing Queen.” [laughs]

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