Derek Miller's Addictive Noise-Pop Assault

Sleigh Bells’ guitarist has a big, fizzy bag of tricks – and plenty of colorful axes

Derek Miller sleigh bells
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Coachella
Derek Miller performs in Indio, California
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WHO: Derek Miller, 32, is the guitar-slinging half of Brooklyn-based noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells. Formerly a member of Florida hardcore outfit Poison the Well, Miller also handles production and songwriting duties for Sleigh Bells, painstakingly crafting and shaping the assaultive-yet-fizzily-addictive sonic aesthetic that powers all the duo's records, including their most recent full-length, 2013's Bitter Rivals.

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TOOLS OF THE TRADE: Though he's been playing the guitar for 22 years, Miller sees the instrument as just one of the colors in his musical paint box, rather than a creative focal point in and of itself. "I don't really get a kick out of sitting around with a guitar in my hands," he explains. "I'm more inclined to just play with drum machines, making beats. For me, what's interesting is the conversation occurring between the guitar, the beat, the synth, and of course Alexis [Krauss'] vocals. For instance, the song 'Bitter Rivals' is really only a two-chord song; but what makes it interesting to me is what's going on between the three or four elements that make up the song."

SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK: Miller's relationship with the guitar has changed considerably since the days when he'd perform one-man lunchtime concerts for his middle school classmates. "I've never told this story in an interview," he laughs, "but I used to have a piece of loose-leaf paper with about 50 songs listed on it that I'd learned to play by ear – Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, all that alternative radio rock. My friends would look at the sheet and call off songs, and I'd play 'em for them. There are these hilarious pictures of me in the yearbook, where I'm like a 90-pound seventh grader with this big acoustic guitar!"

POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME: Miller counts Eighties metal as one of his chief obsessions, and draws a direct line between Sleigh Bells' amped-up pop and the arena-rocking anthems of Def Leppard. "Hysteria is just a monster achievement, creatively," he says. "That record is just so fucking gorgeous and pristine and heavy and incredible, and so much of that has to do with Mutt Lange, who I'm a student of. I just ripped him off to no end as best as I could, especially for [2012's] Reign of Terror. When Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen actually came out to a show on that tour, "we talked a bit afterwards about how they tracked everything for that album."

POINTY HEADSTOCKS: Appropriately given his love for 1980s metal, Miller owns close to 20 Jackson guitars, and revels without irony in their sharp angles and Headbangers Ball-worthy paintjobs. "Those guitars are beautiful," he enthuses. "They look like these strange, freakish, exotic weapons." Miller's current faves are the tiger-striped Jackson Soloist that he wields in the "Bitter Rivals" video, and the hot pink custom model that appears alongside it on the Bitter Rivals cover. "I had them re-paint it twice to get the exact shade of pink that I was looking for, and it is blinding!" Miller laughs. "You open the case, and it's like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction – it just blasts you with light."

Watch "Bitter Rivals":

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