By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
"I was a good session singer," Krauss says the day after the Atlanta show. We're all in a Nashville pub just down the street from the night's venue. "But I wasn't writing music. I wasn't dedicated to music in any way. I had no delusions of anything happening, nor did I want anything to happen. I was perfectly fine being behind the scenes."
Krauss agreed to meet Miller for a session. She figured it'd be fun to try, and then she'd go back to teaching in the fall. Will Hubbard, a boyhood friend of Miller's who went on to become Sleigh Bells' manager, lent his apartment for the occasion. Accommodations were rustic. A noisy air conditioner had to be shut off, so the room was sweltering.
Miller had recorded the tracks onto his computer, which meant Krauss had to sing into the face of an open laptop, capturing her voice on an internal microphone. She sang standing up, with the laptop resting at eye level on a pile of books stacked on a bar stool atop a coffee table. "We didn't even know each other," Miller says, turning to Krauss. "And you were so responsive. I remember we were kind of feeling it out because I knew how I wanted it to sound. I had very specific ideas, but doing something percussive as far as delivery's concerned was new to you. I could tell you were uncomfortable, but you were totally up for it and you were never intimidated."
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By January 2009, Miller had enough Sleigh Bells material to post some songs on MySpace. After the school year ended that summer, Krauss committed to the band.
Blog hype began almost instantaneously, with mainstream press attention soon to follow. "I definitely had an inkling that they were special," says Miller's friend Molly Young, one of the first online writers to champion the band. "I mean, I hadn't heard anything like those songs. And when I played them on my computer, I thought, 'Oh, shit, my computer speakers are broken. This sucks. I need to get a new Mac,' 'cause it's so fuzzed out. But they're just songs that are made to be played really loud."
"The quietest moments on this record are almost as loud as the loudest moments on almost every other record," says Shane Stoneback, who engineered Treats with Miller. The two broke every rule in the book, almost literally: "I was doing some things where it says outright in the manual, 'Don't do this.' "
Just as T-Pain's infamous robot voice bastardizes the Auto-Tune software (which was designed to correct pitch, not make R&B singers sound like droids), Miller and Stoneback manipulated technology to create Treats' pixilated sonic overload. They pushed Miller's thumping beats and squalling guitars so far past normal recording levels that the audio quality began to deteriorate. Then they ran the deteriorated sound through a compressor "to make the loudest thing quieter and the quietest thing louder, thereby compressing the whole dynamic," Stoneback says. "Once you've squished the whole thing down, you can make everything louder."
"I still feel like a 5-year-old discovering a fucking Slinky or something," Miller says, "when I stand in front of a subwoofer and low end drops, and wind hits your face. I'm just, like, 'How?' I understand music. You can describe the process scientifically, but it's just like your whole body. I know that if it's loud enough that I would be destroyed — like, my atoms would split."
By 6:30 p.m., a line has already formed outside the End, the sold-out 200-capacity Nashville dive where Sleigh Bells will perform at 11:15. It's a drizzly evening, so the club lets fans in early. Krauss hangs at the bar, drinking a Bud Light and reading the Nashville Scene, which has published a story about her and Miller called "The Slayer and the Belle."
Every so often, fans approach. The bartender wants a picture. A bald guy wants a picture. "Alexis, can I talk to you?" It's a 19-year-old fan named Tess Little. "At the Valarium you kissed me and gave me your glove." In concert, Krauss sometimes invites a fan to sing a song with her — just as she did in Atlanta — and back in March at the Valarium in Knoxville, Tennessee, Little had been the lucky fan. "You made my life," Little goes on. "You're like my role model. I'm fucking obsessed with you." Krauss hugs her admirer, and then slips backstage.
A few hours later, Sleigh Bells' set begins with a tolling church bell, a sound Miller found on YouTube. This intro music, along with every beat fans hear throughout the show, originates from Miller's iPod — the house lights go down, someone presses play and the music begins. The band does not hide this. Indeed, at two points every night, Miller sets down his guitar, steps offstage and leaves Krauss alone with the backing track. This is not like lip-synching, which pretends to be something it's not. Sleigh Bells songs have always been made and played cheaply, so that's what you get in concert.