The Woodies shine light on lesser-known acts

by Andrew Scoggins

Sleigh Bells is a dirty mesh of noise pop and is nominated for the Breaking Woodie, Courtesy of Sharon Liveten

MTV is putting on a different kind of awards show called the Woodie Awards to showcase lesser-known artists who have yet to reach a global audience, but are still releasing great music. The artists are nominated and voted for by college students. The Daily Aztec was able to chat with a few nominees of the upcoming show: Matt and Kim and Sleigh Bells.

Matt and Kim

Matt and Kim’s Matt Johnson: I’d like to say something to begin with. Last year when we played and we had won our categories it was one of the most fun things we had done the entire year, so I’m really looking forward to this year in Austin.

The Daily Aztec: Why are these award shows so important for lesser known acts to get the word out?

MJ: It’s just a different platform for bands that are operating below the mainstream radio system so they can have an opportunity to be recognized for all the cool stuff they are doing. They can have these performances that don’t get to happen on these really giant award shows. But in the past year the Woodies have had creative, really cool bands and performances that really don’t happen anywhere else.

DA:
Do you think this will get your band’s name out there more and introduce you to a broader audience?

MJ: Well, everything helps and works and I know last year when we performed we were pretty well-noticed because we had eight people stripping our clothes off on stage. A lot of people saw it afterward in a variety of contexts, but now it’s streaming, which is really opening it up to a ton of people to see. But I’m really looking forward to it.

DA: Where do you come up with the inspiration for your music videos and how important are they to your music?

MJ: Well, I come from a film background, but now I’m only really involved with the film and video world these days when we make our music videos. But that platform is really important to me. The latest ideas I’ve come up with are like the “Cameras” music video where Kim and I are just beating the crap out of each other, or the “Yea Yeah” music video where we get food thrown at us for three and a half minutes, or the “Lessons Learned” music video where we just take our clothes off in the middle of Times Square. Kim just thinks the ideas come from me trying to torture her, but I don’t know. I just think of the most simple idea that will be the most effective. I just keep a notepad in my phone of anything that comes up. We have some plans for our next one that may involve some jail time afterward.

DA: Why do you think music is so important to college students, and why, at this point in their lives, do they relate to the bands that they do?

MJ:
I think a lot of it has to do with the open-mindedness that really happens in college. I know for sure that one of Kim and I’s biggest demographics is the 18 to 24 range, which happens to be the range of college, and while I think music is this commercially successful art platform, it’s still like dance. It’s something that people have to interpret and like, it’s not tangible like you can grab it. Our manager explains that, of the world, there is maybe 10 percent that are music lovers and really want to know what music is about and another 90 percent that buys one or two albums a year. And so much of that interest is in college, just when your mind is really open and you can feel all the meaning.

Sleigh Bells

The Daily Aztec: How did your band originally form?

Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss: It’s kind of a long story, but we met in a restaurant. Derek was my server. I was out to dinner with my mom, and we all just started a conversation, which ultimately led to us talking about music. Derek was obviously a musician and he had moved to New York with the sole intention of finding someone to work on music with. Being that I was a singer, we started talking about what we were doing musically and shortly thereafter we listened to each other’s material and then started recording. It was a pretty serendipitous meeting and it resulted in a lot of really good things.

DA: What are some of your musical influences?

AK: Derek and I have really diverse musical influences. We’re both huge fans of pop music from the many decades. Female vocalists are a big influence like Cyndi Lauper and Madonna. We love soul singers, Motown. But in Sleigh Bells’ music there is a huge influence by a bunch of producers, hip-hop producers. And then there is  a large metal rock influence, anything from hard core punk like The Clash to bands like Slayer and Def Leppard.

DA: Derek came from Poison the Well, which is a hard core band. What’s it like working with someone who has such heavy metal influences in a noise pop band?

AK: I have a background as a singer, singing more pop and R & B. I definitely have a history of listening to heavier music — whether that’s hard core or punk, not so much metal, that’s more of Derek’s forte. But any good singer needs to know how to adapt his or her voice to different genres of music. It’s been challenging but it’s been fun. Sleigh Bells is my identity, so it’s something I’ve been really comfortable with. I don’t even think about it anymore.

DA: How did you create the band’s sound?

AK: After Derek left Poison the Well, he was really interested in creating music that captured the energy and intensity of hard core that wasn’t so macho. We think of that as castrating the machismo out of that music and punching it with a more feminine pop presence. We just went out to combine the melody and sweetness of pop music with a lot of the same energy and chaos that you get from harder music. At a hard core show, it’s much less about watching a band in a calm manner and much more about reacting to the music and getting involved physically. So our music is trying to bridge those two worlds together and I like to think we’ve done a pretty good job of that. Obviously we’re still working on it, but that’s really what we’re going for.

DA: What are some of the main themes and topics for the songs?

AK: Well, from the first record, the majority of the songwriting was done by Derek. He had been working on a lot of material prior to us meeting. A lot of the later songs were more true collaborations. Most of the songwriting process starts with rhythm and guitar, with melody and lyrics coming after. As far as themes, the songs are very different and touch on different things. In terms of imagery, a lot of it is focused on youth and classic American images, but there’s a juxtaposition of darkness that we play with. It’s all just playing about with the light and the dark.