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Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

April 5, 2012 at 8:01 AM

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Q&A: Alexis Krauss from Sleigh Bells

From the cutting room floor of this Sleigh Bells concert preview — which considers the Brooklyn band's second big Seattle show in roughly one month — rock star front-woman Alexis Krauss speaks about her experience as a fourth grade teacher in the Bronx and the bad treatment Sleigh Bells' February SNL performance got online.

There was a ton of crowd surfing at your last show in Seattle, and you crowd surfed also.

I did, yes! There was a lot of crowd surfing, a lot of people bouncing off the stage. We've only had a few shows erupt into that kind of chaos. But it never feels overwhelming to me. There's something about the kids at our shows that, even though it can be really rambunctious, it never gets aggressive. I feel that kids know their boundaries. Obviously people break the rules and people betray trust. But in a situation like that, it felt like an eruption of positive energy, which was pretty incredible. You could even feel the floor bouncing. That was pretty bizarre, pretty wild.

What you just said about having an out of control situation but trusting that people know their boundaries reminds me that you used to be a teacher.

I did used to be a teacher, which is definitely about controlling chaos. You're often walking a fine line between complete insanity and order. I taught fourth grade for two years in a program called Teach for America. I taught in the South Bronx. It was an incredible experience. I loved my kids to death. I would probably still be teaching if I hadn't met Derek. Not because I would feel like I was stuck in the classroom, but because that's what I genuinely fell in love with. People ask me all the time if there are any parallels between teaching and performing. There's not many. But in an abstract sense, what you mentioned is an element of it.

Yeah. I guess trusting that a student really wants to do the right thing is key.

Absolutely. I think a lot of kids, even at the age of ten, a lot of kids I was working with that came from really tough home lives and economic situations, there's a lot of walls and a lot of baggage that they carry around with them, even though they're children. So breaking through that and trusting that they really do want to learn, and even if they're being stubborn as hell, you can't give up on them. I mean, I know teachers who were giving up on second graders. And if you aren't willing to work hard enough to get a second grader excited about education, you're just not doing your job.

Do you remember the first time you ever crowd surfed?

I do, actually. I grew up going to hardcore shows on the Jersey shore. The first time I ever crowd surfed was at this hardcore show at the Women's Hall of Manasquan, which is where I grew up. I was probably about 14. Now in Sleigh Bells, it's a sign of a good show, that I can jump in the crowd and they'll actually catch me, that they like me enough to hold me up for a few seconds.

Are those Marshall amplifiers on stage with you real?

Um, some of them are. We do have some dummies up there. I'm not going to lie. We like to call it "aesthetic volume."

The placebo effect.

Exactly. We're not shy about it. It's supposed to look semi-ridiculous. Obviously we take everything we do seriously and everything's up there for a reason, but it's supposed to be over the top. To this day, we get pictures of kids tweeting, "Oh my god it's about to get so loud in here!" That's the effect we're hoping for.

I remember when you were on stage, and it seemed like you were having such a good time, I thought, "Oh, it's good that she got over everybody talking trash after the Saturday Night Live performance." Because that really wasn't the most fair venue.

Yeah, man, you know, it's like, look: If you're a band, and you start selling more records, you have more fans and more detractors. Derek and I, when we got the call to do Saturday Night Live, we didn't jump up and down and scream and yell for joy. We looked at each other like, "Should we do this?" It's a risky show, live TV is tough for any band, it's especially hard for us because the way we do our music live, we rely on pre-recorded tracks. And if that's not mixed really loudly, it's just -- the balance is off. The house crew is wonderful and they do their thing, but you don't have too much control over the variables. Not nearly as much as we like to have. I'm proud of us. I think we did well. That's what people do. They go on the Internet and they talk. That's what they did to Lana Del Ray. And that show has always been a hotbed of criticism for bands performing live. People were talking [expletive] about Radiohead and Jack White. You know? You're never going to make everybody happy. And that's OK. Derek and I went into that knowing we had to have thick skins. And now we're moving on.


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