Interview: Oliver Ackermann of A Place to Bury Strangers
A Place to Bury Strangers provide something of a full body listening experience if you get a chance to see them live: pulsating strobes, amazing projections, guitars running in and out of fog, and intense walls of sound that fill your insides to the brim with static feedback. Both the the observers and the band are lost for a moment in chaos. You have to stand still after there’s nothing on stage but overheated electronics and receding fog for the sound to return your body back to you. Your hearing? Well, that’s a different story. Give it a business week or so, but it’ll return eventually. Guitar abuser, killer vocalist, and pedal mastermind Oliver Ackermann sat down and answered some questions while in the middle of a 14 show run through Texas, which included 12 at SXSW music festival.
Since APTBS comes from the DIY scene in Brooklyn,What do you think of that scene right now?
OA: I think its awesome, I mean I don’t know if I maybe just haven’t discovered all the DIY people who are doing stuff, but you know, I think it’s really thriving, and it’s really great, and there’s a lot of people helping each other out and doing some really cool stuff. I think you have to, especially at this time in music and where everyone’s at, kind of do it yourself so it’s cool that there’s a lot of people working on it.
What are you listening to right now?
OA: Lots of stuff! I like Das Racist, and megaphonic drift – they’re a really wicked, Ringo Deathstarr’s really sweet, Natural child, and Jeff The Brotherhood, Grooms – they’re a wicked band, lots of good stuff.
How was this last tour in Europe you guys went on?
OA: That was awesome, it was really cool. We had some really crazy up’s and downs, we got our van stolen in Rome, and that was pretty nuts. A couple of us kinda went crazy because of that, and so there were some really high tensions, but I think it made the shows really nuts, and really awesome. We did a lot of the tour through France, and played to all these small towns there ,and that was really awesome. I love being in tons of different places in Europe, and the chance to go and do that was great.
When your van got stolen, you guys released a remix of Holy Fuck’s “Red Lights” as a download for chipping in and helping you guys out. It was really cool to see this whole community come together to do that.
OA: Ya, that was really sweet. It was really nice of them to let us use that to do that, they’re really great guys.
When did Dion’s stage presence get cooler than your stage presence? Kidding of course, but he made some awesome modern art with those amps tonight.
OA: Uh oh! Whoa, my goodness! No, I think it’s always been cooler, Dion is quite a rocker. He definitely knows what he’s doing. He definitely made all that stuff happen straight from the get go, I’d say.
You guys work with such unstable elements on stage, manipulating feedback, and loops, and so much more. How important is improvisation to you guys up there?
OA: Super important. I think that’s kinda when we sorta really shine the most is when we’re doing that. That’s when things become beautiful. When you can’t predict what’s going to happen, and you kinda throw something, and it’s random, it’s way better than you know, playing some set direction, because I think that nature, and things which are random, are much more beautiful than something that’s like you’ve trapped yourself ,and you’re trying to grasp something. Even though that’s natural in a way, it’s still so awesome the way things just accidentally happen. You know, like the colors of the sky or whatever. Or even when you silk screen something; when you take it and the paint goes through the screen, and you’re using those chemicals which kinda fuck things up in a way that’s really awesome, that’s just sort of the way things happen when you’re improving. When you’re playing off of each other, and not knowing what’s about to happen, it’s cool.
When you are in the studio recording, are you thinking about how it’s going to translate in a live setting, or is it more the albums, and the live show each stand on their own as separate entities?
OA: They definitely just stand on their own, it’s a completely different thing I think. When you’re there in the studio recording, you may as well sorta use that to your advantage, and not try to fool yourself into thinking it’s something different. Some people definitely record something like their live energy, and we kinda did that a little bit on the last record, and tried to do as much as we could kind of live. In reality though, you’re actually recording something, so why kind of say that you’re not?
Do you guys ever use improv in the studio when you’re going to lay down a track?
OA: All the time, yeah definitely. A lot of that is sort of improving, your sort of working with the sound that you have, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but I think the first time you record something is always the best because you’re kind of improving and experimenting. You just sort of create something, and at that moment you come up with the best stuff, and a lot of the time you record demos, and it just ends up being where you’re kind of rehashing what was exciting about the first time you discovered some new song.
Dion being in the band has changed APTBS’ sound a lot. He has a very strong presence, and definitely plays the bass equally as aggressive as you play the guitar, how do you think it’s changed?
OA: Yeah, definitely, I think so. It kinda makes things more focused in more of a over the top rock n’ roll sort of way, which is really good, and I think it even brings more of an element of something exciting to the music where there’s more things going on. It’s like we’re a three piece, so there’s not much kinda going on, and we just try to do things with what we can. I think having that be a really strong element helps the band drive the songs into much more awesome areas. It’s more dynamic, I think, it’s really cool.
How did Jay(drums) end up with an injured collarbone and shoulder recently? Looks like it hurts, not that he’s any less hardcore on stage.
OA: This one show we had this huge stack of amps, and we were kinda messing around, and I think, I’m not sure it was either him or me pulling on some chords. and the amps fell on him while we were playing the show. It was so sad, he was totally bummed, but he’s doing well, he’ll be alright. I think. Well, Maybe. He still sounds good though.
From the first album to Exploding Head, it’s a lot more hi-fi, and the melody is very forward and on top of the songs. In which direction do you think your sound is heading now? Where do you think you are trying to focus?
OA: Well, we definitely had a very specific goal for Exploding Head. It was sort of something that was very clear, and had more of a live feel. We tried to do as much as we could in a short amount of time. I think with this record, it’s getting a lot more experimental, even almost back to what the first record was to some degree, but with the new sound and everything, there’s definitely going to be a lot more stuff over the top. This third record is going to be more of where we always wanted the sound to go. We’re just kind of spending the time to do everything right.
Since APTBS is such an organic band, how do you react to the constant criticism that you’re trying to sound like this band, or doing what this band did, or going in a direction that this band was trying to go in? It seems irrelevant now that you’re putting together a 3rd album, clearly, you have your own signature sound, and yet these labels and constant comparisons hang around.
OA: I don’t really give a shit about what people say. I mean, I don’t think we sound like any of those bands to some degree. So, whatever, if people want to just point and say that stuff, than that’s fine. People do those comparisons all the time when they maybe don’t understand, or hear something with feedback or noise, and so they just make these assumptions that it’s that kind of thing. I think that is more of talking to someone is who is just either uninterested, or uneducated with that kind of music. Most people draw those kind of conclusions because they want to entice someone, and tell them a rough idea of what something sounds like by putting a genre on it, and some of those bands don’t necessarily fit in the genre they’re trying to say it fits in anyways, so they name off some other band as a comparison to say it belongs there in the same place.
Are you going to keep touring for all of eternity?
OA: Yes. I think so.
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