Beams of red and yel­low light cut through a smoky 2,000per­son theatre, of­fer­ing glimpses of a pe­tite fig­ure on stage spin­ning to an elec­tronic beat over­laid with heavy gui­tar riffs while her long black hair whips back and forth. Stud­ded leather bracelets go half­way up her left arm, and she wears a white tank top that reads “Parental Ad­vi­sory: Ex­plicit Con­tent.” As a singer, song­writer, and front­woman of the in­die rock band Sleigh Bells—known for hard-driv­ing hits like “Crown on the Ground” and “Rill Rill”—the New Yorker Alexis Krauss, 33, is fully in the mo­ment, mak­ing in­stinc­tive de­ci­sions on how to move and sing.

Fast-for­ward a few days and Krauss’s hair whips through the air again, this time as she leads the last pitch of Stolen Chim­ney (5.10) on the Fisher Tow­ers’ An­cient Art for­ma­tion. When she reaches an im­passe below the corkscrew sum­mit, her mind fills with un­cer­tainty and she wants to re­treat to the be­lay, 20 feet away. “I went into full-blown panic mode,” she re­calls. “Both per­form­ing and climb­ing take a tremen­dous amount of con­fi­dence, and with ei­ther, it’s all too easy to slip into a space of self-doubt.” Fi­nally, she sum­mons some try-hard, does the move, and stands atop the

pre­car­i­ous spire.

The cre­ativ­ity Krauss used to fig­ure out the beta is a trait that spans both her climb­ing and mu­si­cal lives. “Like song­writ­ing, climb­ing forces you to step out­side your com­fort zone, be vul­ner­a­ble, try, fail, and over­come,” she says. “Per­form­ing forces you to be so present. Ev­ery mo­ment counts, and you’re con­stantly mak­ing split-sec­ond de­ci­sions. Climb­ing is ex­actly the same.”

Krauss has been per­form­ing since she was a kid grow­ing up on the Jer­sey Shore. Liv­ing a few blocks from the beach, she spent much of her child­hood swim­ming, snor­kel­ing, and body­board­ing in the At­lantic. “The ocean ruled my world,” Krauss says. “I spent most of my time bare­foot and out­side, and go­ing on kayak­ing and white­wa­ter-raft­ing ad­ven­tures with my par­ents.” Her mom and dad—who is also a mu­si­cian—sup­ported her mu­si­cal abil­i­ties. “There was never a day grow­ing up when mu­sic wasn’t be­ing lis­tened to, played, or per­formed,” she says.

While her band­mate, Derek Miller, writes the ma­jor­ity of the lyrics for Sleigh Bells, Krauss writes the melodies, aiming to cre­ate songs that are si­mul­ta­ne­ously happy and sad. “While some of the lyri­cal con­tent can be quite bleak, there is al­ways a hope­ful­ness and de­ter­mi­na­tion to our songs,” she says. The band to date has cut five records, with a sixth cur­rently in the works. On av­er­age, they spend sev­eral months a year tour­ing, more if they’ve just re­leased an al­bum and less if they’re work­ing on a new al­bum. Sleigh Bells play a range of shows from in­ti­mate theatres to huge out­door fes­ti­vals with tens of thou­sands of con­cert-go­ers; in 2012, they ap­peared on Satur­day Night Live.

Krauss first climbed four years ago dur­ing a West Coast tour, when her best friend and her best friend’s hus­band took her climb­ing at Mount Di­ablo State Park near San Fran­cisco. When Krauss reached the top of her first-ever climb, Chouinard’s Crack (5.9), she burst into tears. “I knew im­me­di­ately that there was no turn­ing back, and that climb­ing would be­come an es­sen­tial part of my life,” she says of her pow­er­ful con­nec­tion to the sport. Back in New York, she turned to climb­ing books, on­line tu­to­ri­als, and more ex­pe­ri­enced friends in an ef­fort to im­prove.

Krauss spent ev­ery free mo­ment at her lo­cal gym, The Cliffs at LIC, be­fore ven­tur­ing out­side to Rum­ney and the Gunks. Af­ter lead­ing sport routes in City of Rocks and at Red Rock, she started fol­low­ing a group of “badass lady Gunks clim­bers” up as many clas­sic Gunks routes as she could. Krauss as­sem­bled her own trad rack, and re­turned to Red Rock in Novem­ber 2017 to lead her first multi-pitch,

Bird­land (II 5.8). While she’s on tour, each new stop brings new crags, new gyms, and new com­mu­ni­ties. Krauss also has two reg­u­lar climb­ing part­ners with her: the Sleigh Bells’ tour man­ager and their front-of-house en­gi­neer. Still, even though Krauss gets to climb all over the coun­try, her fa­vorite crag re­mains the Gunks. “I love the di­ver­sity of move­ment, and how varied a sin­gle route can be,” she says.


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