For her first year teaching bilingual fourth grade in the south Bronx, Alexis Krauss’ students had no clue about her secret identity. But by year two of her Teach for America program, they’d seen her elaborate punk sleeve tattoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe and begun to catch on.
“We had no air conditioning in the classroom, so it was sweltering hot in the spring and summer, and I had no choice but to wear sleeveless shirts,” says the singer, who had quietly started moonlighting in a squealing noise-rock duo called Sleigh Bells on the side.
“So my kids loved it, but it was our little secret — the cardigan would go right back on when we were walking in the halls.”
Eventually, Krauss, who plays with Sleigh Bells in San Francisco on Sunday, dropped her cover, and even invited a couple of her favorite pupils into the studio to track voiceovers for a stomper called “Kids,” featured on the band’s brilliant “Treats” debut.
A few weeks ago, she and her guitarist-producer partner Derek Miller were featured on an MTV segment, after which, she says, “I’ve been getting calls from my former students, going ‘Miss Krauss! You’re actually on MTV!’ It was pretty funny.”
Krauss possesses a light, airy vocal style that’s the perfect counterpoint to ex-Poison the Well mainstay Miller’s often brutal soundscapes on “Treats.”
She had been singing for years in the teen-pop outfit Rubyblue, featured on the Nickelodeon program “Gunk Girls.”
“As a 13-year-old, it was great, because we were writing songs about being young and boy-crazy,” she says. “But by 15, I was so disillusioned with music that I went in a different, more academic direction. I continued working as a singer, but I blew off doing anything full-time.”
Yet one fateful night she met Miller, waiting her table in Brooklyn. He had moved to New York from Florida, and was looking for the perfect singer to sweeten his squealing riffs. After a couple of meetings, the Sleigh Bells concept clicked, and they’ve been blowing out concert-hall monitors ever since. Literally.
“We just played Brandeis University, and midway through our second song, the PA shut down,” Krauss says. “But luckily, we have a really good engineer working for us now!”
Krauss says her class wasn’t an easy A: “I was a hardass as a teacher. You’ve got to start from the first day, because they can never sense any weakness in you. So if you lay down the law on the first day, you’ll probably have a pretty good year.”
IF YOU GO
Sleigh Bells, opening for Hot Chip
Where: The Warfield, 982 Market St., San Francisco
When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (800) 745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com