With their needles-in-the-red 2010 debut, Treats, Sleigh Bells proved themselves capable of making a terrific noise. On their upcoming new album, Reign of Terror, due February 14 on Mom + Pop, the crunchingly melodic duo wanted to show they were capable of more. "[Reign of Terror] is me growing as a songwriter," says guitarist-producer Derek Miller, a few days after the album was finished being mixed. "With Treats it was less clear to me whether Sleigh Bells was going to be a guitar band or if we were going to do more sample-heavy stuff. With this record I had to pick sides. The beats are still important to me, but the guitar won."
So did collaboration. The bulk of Treats was written by Miller before he began working with singer Alexis Krauss. This time around, she was able to help shape the songs. The result is the catchier, more melody-driven Reign. "My interest in writing is dominantly informed by pop," explains Krauss. "I love bridges, counter-melodies, pre-choruses — that was definitely something I was interested in bringing to the record." She also notes how Miller's new instrumental emphasis affected the songwriting. "A lot of the chord progressions that Derek was writing lent themselves to having more interesting melodies on top of them. You can really hear that in a song like [the new] 'Comeback Kid.' It's almost an R&B melody. That's my style coming through."
The band recorded the album this summer at SMT Studios in Manhattan with engineer Shane Stoneback, who also worked on Treats. There, Miller had access to a giant reverb chamber, which became a crucial aspect of his massive Def Leppard-influenced guitar sound. Tracks like the new "Crush" also feature bleacher-rattling percussion — literally. The band gathered a bunch of friends at a high school in Brooklyn to clap their hands and stomp their feet while sitting in the stands of the gymnasium. "It was a lot cheaper than sampling 'We Will Rock You,' " jokes Miller.
Sleigh Bells will air the new tunes on a February tour in Miller's home state of Florida, where they'll share stages with superstar producer-DJ Diplo and black-metal bliss-makers Liturgy. The band is pumped for the opportunity to bring some sonic balance to its set. "We're going to have a more dynamic show than we did before," says Krauss. "Bludgeoning audiences for 35 minutes is wonderful, but it's nice to now have some song that are really beautiful to break up the cacophonous moments."