Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Born to Be Wild: Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss Fights for Our Land

On February 4, Alexis Krauss was scaling a limestone crag at Reimers Ranch just outside of Austin, Texas. The night before, she’d played an ear-splitting sold-out show at the Mohawk. This is all a fairly typical routine for the tattoo-clad, raven-haired singer: Krauss is an avid rock climber, a registered hiking guide, and — along with guitarist Derek Miller — one half of the noise pop duo Sleigh Bells, currently on tour to promote their recent politically charged album, Kid Kruschev. “I wasn’t at my strongest,” says Krauss about this particular climb. “But it felt amazing to be out in the sunshine and to be moving and feeling rock again. I get the same type of high from performing as I get from climbing.”

Before Sleigh Bells burst onto the scene in 2010, with the sugary hooks and pulverizing riffs of their hard-hitting debut album, Treats, Krauss participated in the Teach for America program in the South Bronx, where she taught fourth grade in both English and Spanish. Sleigh Bells were something of a fluke — in 2008 Krauss was eating with her mom at Miss Favela in Williamsburg, where Miller was waiting tables. When Mrs. Krauss learned about Miller’s quest to find a female vocalist for a spot on his demos, she promptly volunteered her daughter. It was a classic rock ’n’ roll meet-cute.

But while Sleigh Bells would go on to release six albums and play for millions of fans around the world, Krauss never lost her passion for teaching, or the love for the outdoors she developed growing up in Manasquan, New Jersey. Recently, however, Krauss had managed to connect her various passions. She leads multi-day hiking trips in the New Hampshire’s White Mountains with Discover Outdoors. She spearheaded a program called Young Women Who Crush at the Cliffs climbing gym in Long Island City. And last month she released the protest song “Our Land” to raise awareness of our federal land, and to benefit Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument. Krauss may look like the archetype of a 21st-century indie rock singer — more Bushwick dive bar than 5.8 rock-face in the Gunks — but she recently moved upstate to the Catskills, and she has a new appreciation for bringing the outdoors to New York City public school kids.  

“I do a lot of work with kids and especially girls — empowering girls to learn how to rock climb and learn how to be brave,” she says. “I’ve seen firsthand how transformative nature can be for people, not just as a healing source, but as a source of tremendous empowerment and confidence.”

As an environmentalist and lover of national parks, Krauss was deeply upset when President Trump signed an unprecedented proclamation on December 4, 2017, that would reduce the size of two of Utah’s largest national monuments — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — by nearly 2 million acres. Krauss spends a lot of time in the southwest. It’s where she first learned to climb. Two days after the news broke, Krauss took to her bedroom and penned her aching sadness into “Our Land,” inspired by the federal government’s assault on national parks and a book she’d been reading — the idyllic Desert Solitaire by Edward Abby. The song is folksy and raw and filled with heart in Krauss’s lyrical call to action: “With the desert dust we rise/Keep this land alive.” 

Krauss began to ask herself if there might be space for this song to motivate and inspire others, or raise money to support the cause, like an indie “We Are the World” aimed a little closer home. In mid December, she reached out to friends she calls “do-ers and change-makers” and her protest song turned into a full-fledged campaign. Krauss created the Our Land Collective with friend and collaborator Chris Vultaggio to bring awareness to the issue. “Suddenly we were on a plane going to Utah meeting with members of the Navajo Nation, the Ute Nation, and working with this organization called Utah Diné Bikéyah,” says Krauss. “They are really at the front lines of their preservation and conservation, especially through the lens of protecting sacred Native American land.”

Alexis Krauss in her other element

She calls it “the most transformative week” of her life. Bears Ears National Monument is home to sprawling deserts, gorgeous mesas, and over 100,000 archaeological sites including cave dwellings of the ancient Puebloan people that date back at least 2,500 years. Krauss and Vultaggio spent time touring the vast, diverse landscape, while shooting the music video. “We got to see everything from sacred petroglyphs, and learn the stories of the pre-Columbian people who knew that land,” she says.

The struggle is about much more than protecting wild outdoor spaces and breathtaking views, although Bears Ears has many. “These lands are sacred not just because they are rich in archaeological heritage, but because they are a living, breathing landscape actively relied upon as a source for sustaining a way of life: food harvesting, medicine gathering, grazing, wood hauling, spiritual healing, and communing with ancestry,” Krauss said in a statement.

Proceeds from “Our Land” go to Utah Diné Bikéyah’s legal fight to reinstate protection for Bears Ears in its entirety, by means of suing the government for violating the Antiquities Act of 1906. “The irony of the situation is that Trump is all about taking the issues out of the government and returning them to the hands of the people,” says Krauss. “This is about the federal government and the interior department’s completely overstepping its bounds and undoing the work of these presidents that governed public land management [like] Theodore Roosevelt.”

Krauss’s powerful video for “Our Land” amplifies voices of protest, including the Native American peoples who are all too familiar with systematic abuse and exploitation, holding signs that say “Our Land.” All the while, Krauss sings: “We said no/What don’t you understand/Tried to dig so deep to find the heart of the man/But there’s no love there/And you’re not gonna steal our land.” It also features contributions from Karen O, Maggie Rogers, Edward Sharpe, Sunflower Bean, Josh Fox, Renan Ozturk, Hey Flash Foxy, and Robbie Bond of Kids Speak for Parks.

While the deep canyons and towering mesas of Bears Ears are at the forefront of the fight for public lands, Krauss hopes to use her music to save the wild spaces she’s felt calm and at home in since childhood. “People just aren’t aware of these issues. It’s not just about Bears Ears, it’s about the 27 other national monuments that are under threat,” Krauss says.

Alexis Krauss at Bears Ear National Monument
Categories
Living NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Riot Rhythms

Yes, we have seen less than half of 1 percent of all Sleigh Bells shows, but we still feel
confident in claiming that their 2010 Treats album release gig at Ridgewood Masonic Temple was among the duo’s all-time best. And last year’s Reign of Terror–supporting Terminal 5 affair? Nearly as good, with Alexis Krauss’s strolling vocals and high-energy stage presence translating to the midtown warehouse just as seamlessly as Derek Miller’s hardcore-style
guitar licks and hip-hop-influenced
programmed drums. Expect tonight’s show to fall somewhere in the middle: Krauss and Miller’s third album, Bitter Rivals, doesn’t match their debut, but Detroit’s Danny Brown is set to provide the best opening act the band has ever played with. At 8, also
Saturday, Terminal 5, 610 West 56th Street, terminal5nyc.com, $25

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events Listings Living MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

RIOT RHYTHMS

Yes, we have seen less than half of 1 percent of all Sleigh Bells shows, but we still feel confident in claiming that their 2010 Treats album release gig at Ridgewood Masonic Temple was among the duo’s all-time best. And last year’s Reign of Terror–supporting Terminal 5 affair? Nearly as good, with Alexis Krauss’s strolling vocals and high-energy stage presence translating to the midtown warehouse just as seamlessly as Derek Miller’s hardcore-influenced guitar licks and hip-hop-influenced programmed drums. Expect tonight’s show to fall somewhere in the middle: Krauss and Miller’s third album, Bitter Rivals, doesn’t match their debut, but Detroit’s Danny Brown is set to provide the best opening act the band has ever played with.

Fri., Nov. 22, 9 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 23, 9 p.m., 2013

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events Listings MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Cyndi Lauper and Friends

To cap off an eventful and likely “fun” year, which has included the release of her memoir and an appearance as the Grand Marshal of the city’s Gay Pride Parade, Cyndi Lauper is now making last year’s successful Home for the Holidays benefit concert an annual event. Tonight’s program, which benefits Lauper’s True Colors Fund—which raises awareness about homeless gay, bisexual, and transgender youth—features a star-studded lineup that includes Lauper, Sarah McLachlan, Adam Lambert, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, Roberta Flack, St. Vincent, Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells, members of Counting Crows, and more.

Sat., Dec. 8, 8 p.m., 2012

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES Neighborhoods NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

The Planet-Obliterating Joys of Sleigh Bells

Alexis Krauss customarily sheds several spandex-based layers while onstage with her pulverizingly loud Brooklyn electro-rock duo, Sleigh Bells, but the effect is not remotely erotic; instead, it’s like a professional killer trying not to get any of your blood on her clothing. The violently effervescent crowd this particular Tuesday evening is too riled up to be titillated, packed into Ridgewood Masonic Temple, a new Todd P. spot out in Bushwick that, despite the intensity of tonight’s entertainment, is miraculously still standing. Allow me to type the words “pulverizingly loud” again. Krauss used to be a schoolteacher; her cohort, guitarist and producer Derek Miller, used to be in Floridian post-hardcore band Poison the Well. Together, they sound exactly how you’d expect a former schoolteacher and a former hardcore dude to sound together. Like the sweetest, cheeriest, most inspiring apocalypse imaginable. Like an army of cheerleaders with grenade launchers instead of pompoms.

Tonight’s extra-musical props, tossed down from the wraparound balcony as the cacophony begins and batted around gleefully throughout, include several beach balls and a large inflatable shark, which ordinarily you’d peg as somewhat ironic, but, well, this time, probably not. Consider “Kids,” an exhilarating highlight off the band’s debut, Treats, that used to be called “Beach Girls,” and indeed consists—over a concussive riot of thunderous drums, blaring synth wallops, industrial guitar shrieks, and generally sparkly sonic mayhem—of Krauss blithely rapping her way through a lovely day at the shore: “The breeze is nice now/I tell you right now/I sip my Kool-Aid/I’m feelin’ better now.” Occasionally, the mayhem eases up for a couple measures so the track can catch its breath, and a pack of giggling girls—former students, perhaps?—chip in diabolical-sounding pitch-shifted dialogue: “Wait, did I forget my sunglasses? Nope! Got ’em!

Live, Krauss does this one solo, Miller and his black hoodie lurking offstage as she pogoes delightedly about to the planet-demolishing backing track like the world’s deadliest aerobics instructor, but he’ll be back soon to provide the stabbing one-string riffs and titanic power chords that carve up all that racket. Treats‘ leadoff hitter, “Tell ‘Em,” is simply enormous, perfectly combining their former gigs: He thrashes about with exhilarating furor and she breathily sing-songs her way through a rousing pep talk (“All the girls, all the girls these days/All the girls, all the girls these days/Did you do your best today?/Did you do your best today?”). “Straight A’s,” a 90-second hard-core rant that all but caves your head in through headphones, is even more inspiring, though what Krauss is screaming over and over is anyone’s guess. Put it on repeat until you figure it out.

Given such exuberant sonic terrorism, it will probably not surprise you to learn that M.I.A. loves these guys. Treats is out (only digitally, at the moment) on her N.E.E.T. imprint; she crashed a Sleigh Bells gig at Williamsburg spot Coco66 a couple weeks back, just to rile up the Internet. Their approach to audio/visual warfare is certainly compatible—the band’s official website, InfinityBells.com, will melt your computer. But it’s a relief, in contrast to M.I.A.’s increasingly outrageous and incoherent Twitter-bombing and redhead-genocide video antics, that there’s no stab at a sociopolitical agenda to decipher here, that Sleigh Bells’ most well-known song, “Crown on the Ground,” is so raucous and distorted and obliterating that lyrically, only the titular chorus is decipherable.

Only slightly more decipherable is Treats‘ soft, gooey centerpiece, “Rill Rill.” Most of the album (a breakneck 30 minutes, just like their live shows) employs monolithic, skeletal boom-clap beats that sound vaguely familiar—two friends at the Temple spend the calamitous “Riot Rhythm” trying to decide whether it’s more reminiscent of Clipse’s “Grindin’ ” or J-Kwon’s “Tipsy”—but “Rill Rill” far more explicitly samples the lithe piano-and-acoustic-guitar lope of Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That”—not a timid move. Over top, Krauss, in as close to ballad mode as she gets, coos more beach-girl ephemera: “Keep thinkin’ ’bout every straight face, yes/Wonder what your boyfriend thinks about your braces/What about them?/I’m all about them.” And then something that ends with “cut ’em in the bathroom.” I am afraid to find out what, exactly.

The stage banter tonight happily provides few answers. Sample:

“What’s up, Brooklyn?”

[Heavy breathing.]

“WHAT’S UP, BROOKLYN???!!!!!”

[Heavier breathing.]

And soon Krauss is back to full-on screaming, an extended wail that drops slowly in pitch like a falling bomb, broken up by the occasional giggle as the beat abruptly drops out and roars back in. Sometimes she picks up and bangs a tambourine, which has to be a joke, because there’s no possible way that thing can be audible. The amps and PA system involved here are at death’s door. As “Crown on the Ground” climaxes, she leaps onto the outstretched hands of the crowd, surfing along, just like that inflatable shark—another killer. It took months of Internet hype to get us here, which is an exhausting and deeply suspicious universe, sure, but whether or not Sleigh Bells get huge now is irrelevant. They already sound like it.