Interview and Photos: Lyz Olko
“Is this the end of Sleigh Bells? Both band members are pronounced dead at the ending of the video for “Favorite Transgressions.”
However, like every good horror movie, the ending still leaves enough mystery for a sequel, and the band rises back from the “dead” to answer a few questions from Lyz Olko who also took photos of Alexis.
Read on to find out what Derek and Alexis bring on tour with them for snacks, favorite tall tales and urban legends, and finding inspiration within the NBA.
Lyz Olko: Are there any urban legends surrounding your home place of Jupiter Florida?
Derek Miller: Unfortunately yes except this actually happened…I think it was 90 or 91, a girl named Rachel Hurley was raped and murdered in the sea grapes right by the beach. The case is still unsolved. Jupiter has developed since but at the time it was a very small beach community so it was a massive deal, very tragic. It haunted all of us. Everybody grew up surfing and skating right where she was killed. We wrote a song for her called Rachel, it’s one of my favorite songs on Treats.
Lyz Olko: Were horror films like Paranormal Activity, The Ring / Ringu or Blair Witch Project an influence on the making of this video?
Derek Miller: It looks that way but no not really. I’m not a huge horror fan. We had just come off an expensive video where things tend to be inflexible. You spend all this money renting lights, arranging/flying them only to find it’s not working for you but by then it’s too late if time is limited. Repositioning might take 4 hours which is not an option on a single day shoot. For Favorite Transgressions I wanted to do something on an older format that looked and felt cheap, dark, funny and sad. I love being outside, using available light and winging it.
Lyz Olko: Did you guys catch the Refused band sticker in the guys locker in The Ring? (as fans of punk and hardcore music)
Derek Miller: Of course! My old band worked with Pelle Henricsson and Eskil Lovstrom, the badass dudes who produced The Shape of Punk to Come. We lived in Umea, Sweden for a few months, the whole 9. Incredible experience. Big fan. I saw Refused in Vero Beach, FL when I was in high school, days before they broke up in the late 90’s. I was really into tough guy hardcore at the time, had never seen anything remotely close to what they were doing. I hated it. A year or two later they were my favorite band.
Lyz Olko: Do you both collaborate on art direction and concept for all the videos? Are there photographers and films that you are both fans of and or influenced by , or are your artistic tastes different ? But complimentary obviously either way.
Derek Miller: I write the treatments and fine tune them with Alexis and our friend/manager, Will Hubbard. I have directed or co-directed all but two over the past 9 years if I’m remembering correctly. My DP/lighting ref is usually Robert Richardson…I love bright, blown out top lighting…the halo effect. I feel like we really nailed it on the video for I Can Only Stare…proud of that one. I do not consider myself a cinephile or film nerd/scholar, just a really big fan, the difference being most cinephile’s seem to have seen just about everything ever, no reference is lost on them etc. which is not the case with me. I’m partial to American cinema from whatever decade. I love popcorn movies, left field weirdness, whatever’s good.
Lyz Olko: Do you love your home states as much as I love mine (NJ)?
Derek Miller: As fucked up as Florida is I do love it, yeah. It will always be home. My mom, sister, niece and nephew, all of whom I love very much, are there plus a bunch of friends
I have a ton of obsessions, film is way up there, but making and listening to records is easily the thing I love most, takes up a lot of time. I will spend the rest of my life trying to make killer, beautiful records and I won’t even scratch the surface of what I want to do. - Derek Miller
Lyz Olko: A Michele Roberts quote seems unexpected to appear in a Sleigh Bells song.
Michele Roberts rose from a childhood in a Bronx public-housing development to attend the UC Berkeley School of Law. She began her legal career as a public defender, eventually becoming a litigation partner for several top firms. In 2014, Roberts became the first female union leader in major North American professional sports when she was elected executive director of the NBA Players Association.
“I don’t live my life saying, ‘What ceiling am I going to crack tomorrow?’ What I have done, and what I tell my nieces to do, is not to worry about whether you’re the only one, but worry about whether you’re the best one.” – Michele Roberts
Derek Miller: First woman to be the head of a men’s major pro sports union in the united states. Previously she was an attorney with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
What do you think Roberts meant by that quote and how did you interpret it for yourselves to make sense? In the context of your song how did you re-appropriate that quote?
My interpretation is that she was consistently underestimated by her male superiors, big surprise! Sounds like she just gobbled them up and spit out their bones. It’s such a tough quote. I picture an underdog on the come up, crushing greedy, ruthless clowns along the way. While it’s not about her specifically, people like that deserve a song.
Lyz Olko: I love Alexis in the colored wigs and throwing dishes out the window. What is this representational of?
Derek Miller: I usually just go for mood, tone, vibe whatever you wanna call it. I like strange, dark shit. Sometimes it’s as simple as “be kinda rad if you put on a wig, dishwashing gloves and smashed plates while yelling at the camera…?” I think it’s amazing, could mean a million things or nothing at all depending on your perspective. Leave it open. I love life as much as I hate it, but mostly I love it. Kurt always said he’d drop something super sincere and vulnerable and then crack a joke immediately after. I’m not comparing myself or Sleigh Bells to Kurt, who I love very much, but that makes a lot of sense to me. I hope our videos reflect that. My favorite shot is of her standing in front of the McDonald’s golden arches. I tried to frame it so they look like angel wings.
Lyz Olko: What is your creative songwriting process ? Is this something done together or each of you alone then joining together?
Derek Miller: Both really. I write/record a little bit or a lot everyday depending on what’s going on. I guess I usually start alone. When I have something that isn’t totally embarrassing I play it for her. Based on her enthusiasm I ditch it or keep going.
Lyz Olko: You mention Depeche Mode and James Brown being inspirations for this song. What other bands/musicians influence any other tracks on this record?
Derek Miller: Recently Motown, Burial, Frank Ocean, Public Enemy, Mica Levi, Mount Eerie, INXS, Allman Brothers, Deftones, Grimes, Korn, Acme, Shai Hulud, Radiohead, Dr. Dre, Kuedo, George Michael, I Hate Myself, Nirvana, lots more.
Lyz Olko: Favorite snacks to bring on tour with you?
Derek Miller: When the band started touring I was in a bad way. I ate garbage, drank every night and did a lot of drugs, bad news. Salt, sugar and fat…bacon, ice cream, anything sour and gummy, french fries, chocolate, chicken wings, just anything and everything that will put you in the grave early. So that was 2010 to about 2013. Since then I’ve just tried to follow Alexis’ example: lots of water…fresh, healthy ingredients, as little alcohol as possible, no drugs etc. I’m better at taking care of myself these days. I’m happy right now.
Lyz Olko: Directing and writing is a passion of yours Derek, would you want to write / direct a feature length film?
Derek Miller: Probably not. I have a ton of obsessions, film is way up there, but making and listening to records is easily the thing I love most, takes up a lot of time. I will spend the rest of my life trying to make killer, beautiful records and I won’t even scratch the surface of what I want to do.
Lyz Olko: Both of you lead extraordinary lives outside of the extraordinary music you create together as a band. Can you tell our readers a bit about what else you do? I personally am inspired by both of you and am always excited to hear what else you are doing and hang out whenever we can.
Derek Miller: Thank you, Lyz! You inspire Alexis and I, too. I’m usually doing something band related. Going to a movie is band related. Boxing is band related. I don’t have much of a life outside of Bells and I like it that way.
Lyz Olko: Favorite books?
Derek Miller: Infinite Jest put a massive dent in me 6 or 7 years ago. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. It was terrifying as well…I saw myself in a few of those characters which is not a good thing. It was a brutal mirror. It gave me a fever. I was and am blown away by DFW’s range. Also really enjoyed/enjoy Maggie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen’s book, Sebastian Smee “The Art of Rivalry”, George Saunders, Slash’s book, Flannery O’Connor, William Styron…