For Sleigh Bells vocalist Alexis Krauss, life is best catalogued in moments. Some of these are simple moments, like the time after a certain MTV show came out and she had to change her response about where she’s from.
“I always used to tell people that I grew up at the Jersey Shore, but then the show came out,” remembers Krauss. “Everyone was obsessed with that show, and after that I wouldn’t say Jersey Shore. I didn’t want people to ask if I knew Snooki, and I would say I grew up in Central Coastal Jersey.”
There are also moments of accomplishment—particularly awesome moments if your hobby, like Krauss, is rock climbing. But for all the dopamine that finishing a climb produces in the moment, it’s the ego-shrinking power of nature that keeps Krauss coming back to the rock.
“There’s a feeling about being small in a really big world,” says Krauss. “When you’re on a rock face, you feel so connected to nature and the world. There is this intimacy that exists between you, the rock and all the organisms around you. You just feel really small, and I love that feeling.”
When Krauss was in the studio making Sleigh Bells’ latest album, Texis, she also envisioned the moments of rage and energy that the songs would have in a live performance.
“I love the song ‘SWEET75’ off of Texis,” says Krauss. “I love playing that song live because of the moment it creates in our set. I love where our creative instincts brought us with that piece of music, and that song became an inspiration for other songs we would write on the album.”
The road to writing noise-pop bangers for Krauss began in Manasquan, and like many people who grew up in Jersey, Krauss had moments when she wanted to get out of here, despite an overall pleasant upbringing.
“I had a pretty positive experience growing up in Manasquan,” says Krauss. “I had a lot of love from my parents and friends. The thing that I was most grateful for was the proximity to nature and the outdoors. I loved riding my bike to the beach, going to the woods and being outside. The safety and privilege I had there was formative for me.
“My family was from Brooklyn and I had access to the cultural offerings of New York City, which was also really important because Manasquan can be really small and really small-minded in some ways. Having that connection to NYC was really crucial. Having parents that encouraged getting out of the small town was important. I’m happy that I get to go back to Manasquan, but happy that I don’t live there now.”
Whether it’s Philadelphia or New York, a lot of New Jerseyans identify more with our surrounding cities than the Garden State. Still, we’ve got roots here; as does Krauss. She took musical theater lessons at Count Basie Theater, and was involved with music in high school. When Krauss visits the Shore now, she appreciates the diversity that exists there today.
“Going down to the Shore now feels really different,” says Krauss. “In certain communities, there is more diversity and more culture. There’s things to do, and it feels less small-town, white, Irish, protestant. When I go back down now and play shows in Asbury, I’m like, ‘Oh shit, this is rad,’ there’s art, culture and restaurants that exist now versus when I was growing up.”
The Shore was also the spot where Krauss developed passions for human rights, politics and writing. Behind most creative people, there is usually a teacher that helps foster their creativity. For Krauss, this was Mr. McGowan, an English teacher at Manasquan High School.
“I had a lot of amazing teachers at Manasquan, and I was very grateful for the education I received,” says Krauss. “I had English teachers that exploded my brain in terms of thinking about art, poetry, literature. Mr. McGowan was a teacher at Manasquan High who had a huge impact on me. He took me seriously, and he took my writing and ideas seriously, which is a validating feeling for a teenager. As a teenager, you’re dying to be authentic and dying to create your identity and find your voice. He appreciated me being alternative, and encouraged me to think outside of the box.”
Krauss would pay it forward later by being a fourth grade teacher in the Bronx, and was inspired by the “empowering teachers” she had in her life. She became fascinated in college with education, and studying international relations/political science, she was drawn to education policy.
The Sleigh Bells singer was involved with Teach For America, a program that puts recent college graduates in schools around the country that need teachers. Krauss wanted to stay in education, but then she had a chance encounter with former Poison the Well guitarist and future bandmate Derek Miller at a restaurant he worked at. Miller was looking for someone to be in a band with him, and the two started recording together.
Krauss still carries lessons that she learned from the classroom to the stage.
“With Sleigh Bells, the thing that I love most about being in a band is the reciprocal relationship; the relationship that you have with your fans, and you have with the people who support you,” Krauss says. “I love making music and recording, but most of all I love bringing that experience to a live audience. The same dynamic of reciprocity is what makes a great teacher, and in a way it’s a reach to connect music with being a teacher, but it’s basically treating people with respect, having empathy and making sure people feel safe at your shows. That approach of inclusivity and mutual respect is something that I always wanted to see at our shows, and something that I always wanted to have in the classroom.”
Soon after Krauss joined Sleigh Bells, the band had some success and received praise for their debut album, Treats. Like most artists, Sleigh Bells have evolved beyond what they put on that record, but Krauss says she looks back on it with pride.
“I have always loved that record,” says Krauss about Treats. “Recently we played our 10-year anniversary show for the record and seeing the way that Treats has impacted people and how people have grown with it is really exciting. People connected to that album in different ways, and I love that album more now that we have a larger catalog, now that it’s not the only album that defines us.
“There was a period where we toured so much and played that album so many times, and we were exhausted by it and didn’t want to hear it. Now when we play it in the context of our other work it feels so much more exciting. The moment in the set where we play ‘Crown on the Grounds,’ or ‘Rill Rill,’ or ‘Riot Rhythm’ are really exciting moments. There was a time when we were trying to escape that album and do something different, whereas now we fully embrace it as us. We wouldn’t be the band we are without that album.”
Sleigh Bells envisioned those exciting moments when creating Texis, which was released in September 2021. Similar to other bands and musicians who released an album during the pandemic, there were equal parts frustration and gratefulness for the newfound time.
“In one sense it was really devastating to have an album that is essentially ready to go and then the world shut down,” says Krauss. “But I’m also grateful for the time that we had because Derek and I were able to do more writing and fine-tune the album. Ultimately, the album was better as a result of the extra time.”
One of the more standout songs on Texis is “Justine Go Genesis,” a song that Krauss describes as “confident.”
“That was one of the first songs we wrote for the record and became a template for other songs we would make,” says Krauss. “It hits you over the head, and I remember the first time I heard Derek track it, I was like, ‘What the fuck is this? This is wild.’ It’s a confident piece of music, and ‘Justine’ is the song that is most symbolic of Texis.”
Texis was the first album that Sleigh Bells released since 2017, and in that time Krauss was pretty busy. In 2017, she founded Young Women Who Crush, an organization that promotes rock climbing with young women, and gender expansive youth from the NYC area. Krauss originally got into rock climbing as something to do on her days off from tour.
“I discovered rock climbing from touring,” says Krauss. “I had friends out west who took me climbing for the first time. Had it not been for days off from tour, I wouldn’t have gone climbing. I became obsessed and climbing has changed my life. It’s been this incredible way for me to disconnect and connect with nature. I have been able to build community and work with young people as well. The outdoors has been this amazing way for me to find peace, and to find myself.”
Krauss is now helping to expand that community with Young Women Who Crush, bringing in young people who may not have yet experienced the joy and challenge of climbing.
“Young Women Who Crush was inspired by work I have done at a climbing camp in New York City,” explains Krauss. “We offered programs for women who were new to rock climbing to be mentored by more experienced women rock climbers. We decided that it would be a beautiful thing to bring to young women and young people. We made connections to some New York City public schools and did outreach. We started the program in 2017 thinking it would be a one-off night of climbing and mentorship. It went so well that we decided to invite our students back, and here we are in 2022.
“We work with over 40 young people, and have an amazing team of volunteer mentors. We guide our students outside in New York state and take them on trips. I’m really passionate about making the outdoors accessible and inclusive of all people. Like a lot of things, climbing is expensive. The gear is expensive and there’s a lot of knowledge that is withheld from people because they don’t have access to it, and don’t have access to mentorship or transportation.”
Krauss will be returning to the Garden State by playing a show at the Anchor Rock Club in Atlantic City on August 28. She’s excited to play a show in her home state.
“I’m really excited,” says Krauss. “This new venue seems awesome, and I’m excited to support them. I don’t know what to expect, but we have always had fun playing in New Jersey, and some of our shows at the Stone Pony have been some of our favorite shows we have over played.”
Sleigh Bells along with N3ptune will be performing at Anchor Rock Club in Atlantic City on August 28. Find ticket information here. For more information on Young Women Who Crush, go here: Young Women Who Crush — Catrock Ventures