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A Place To Bury Strangers

A Place To Bury Strangers

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Wednesday 23rd January, 2013 9:44AM

Brooklyn-based rock band A Place To Bury Strangers are constantly referred to as "the loudest band in New York". They released their latest record - Worship - last year, and if not "the loudest" record out there it certainly upheld the raucous, aggressive attitude APTBS are also synonymous with. UTR caught up with front man Oliver Ackermann, - who is also the founder of pedal manufacturing company and D.I.Y performance space Death by Audio - to discuss the recording process of Worship, the difference time and line-up changes have made to the band and the success story behind Death by Audio.

Hey Oliver, what are you guys up to at the moment?

Well right now we’re just hanging out at a hostel, waking up and getting ready to continue on our trip.

You’ve already played a few shows in Australia right?

Yeah we’ve played a few shows.

How have they gone?

They went really well.

How do you find Australian crowds?

They’ve been great. They’re a lot like the US or something. There might be difference landscapes and different scenery but it’s still the same: some kids go crazy, some kids don’t, all that stuff.

I wanted to start by talking about your 2012 release Worship. You guys change up the writing and recording process for each release: what was your process for this one?

Well it started out with Dion (Lunadon) and I getting together writing one song every day for about a month-and-a-half. We wanted this record to capture a youthful excitement that we had when we were first recording music so we tried to put ourselves in dangerous situations while recording to capture that kind of excitement. So we would do things like light the amplifiers on fire or record some drums in a van and different things like that to keep it fresh and new.
As things go on you get to know too much about what’s going on and you get too comfortable with the tools, so we tried to keep it entertaining for ourselves while we recorded the album, and I think it worked out.

How do you think recording in those random places affected the sound?

We were also going for a more dynamic sound compared to the last record, which we recorded in a really straight-forward manner. With this record we were trying to go back to experimenting and I think it goes to a lot of different places as the album goes on. It just seems a little bit more interesting to me to have something that really traveled to different places. The methods we used to record everything keeps it fresh as the album goes on and lets it go to a lot of different places musically.

And what was the catalyst for wanting to explore this nostalgic idea of danger and the beginning of your career?

It was just something we were just talking about. Dion’s a pretty new member of the band – this is the first time we wrote together – and we’re really similar in age. He grew up in New Zealand and I grew up in the US and we went through the same things growing up - it was this bond we shared. We were talking about the first bands we were in and all the stuff we did, and it became almost like we were old friends who had never met before. That connection brought us to that point of nostalgia.

You guys have had a couple of line-up changes over the last couple of years. How have those affected the sound or the direction of A Place to Bury Strangers?

Each of the people bring something completely different to the band and take it to a different place.
The band that we have now is really cool because the drummer is the fastest and hardest hitting drummer we’ve ever had and Dion is an amazing bass player and really puts his all into it. It's really good to have someone else going crazy on-stage and potentially getting us into a bad situation - that keeps it exciting.

I’ve been reading a few interviews with you and you constantly get referred to as “the loudest band in Brooklyn” and you always dismiss that description as unhelpful. If you were to describe the APTBS sound or at least what you are trying to go for, what would you say?

Oh man, I probably wouldn’t say anything. It’s kind of something which is subject to each person’s interpretation. We create music which is really open that you have to listen to really intently to be sure what's going on, and sometimes even then you're not sure. That’s what excites me about music: when you can’t tell what it is that’s making that sound or you can’t tell how somebody made that sound because it’s unbelievable. That unknowing creates this element where the listener has to put something into the music that’s personal to themselves, and that is a crucial part of the sound - that a person's imagination is part of the sound.

You mentioned that when you were recording you put yourselves in these quote-unquote dangerous circumstances and you also have a really aggressive live show. What is that you find so attractive about that danger?

I guess it’s that thing that reminds you that you’re alive and gives you a purpose for what you’re doing. If there wasn’t that element of the fact that we’re actually bringing something new and exciting to people then it would seem kind of banal. I don’t know if we could justify doing the act.
I don’t want to be an entertainer for enteratinments sake, but when you’re putting all of it on the line and you’re creating sounds that are really exciting and no-one has ever heard before it gives it purpose. Even if there’s something that happens that’s miserable at least you can be justified in what you’re doing, and I think that’s important.

You have a lot of other stuff going on, particularly Death By Audio. It really seems like the search for new sounds drives what you do. Is this why you started making pedals under Death by Audio?

Yeah totally it was the same kind of things - I wanted to create something that I couldn’t buy. We'd create a particular kind of sound and would discover that it wasn't available for purchase and those things excited me and made me realise that there was a real market for these other instruments of sound making.
Also in the Us they have these – I don’t know if they have them in New Zealand – manufacturing restrictions, and when you build it yourself and release it yourself you don’t have to follow those guidelines. So we build things that are essentially illegal interfaces for sound because I guess we’re a small enough company so we don’t have to follow the same rules as the bigger guys.

Death by Audio has grown really successfully and I was reading an interview where you stated that the major reason for that was moving the business to New York City. Why do you think New York affected the business so dramatically?

Initially it was this huge struggle because New York is expensive and tough and I used to live in the ghetto and all that. But it makes you really have to improve and work on what you’re working on really hard and do it really well because if you don’t then you’re going to fail and have to either leave the city or do something else.
Also there’s so much really great inspiration all over the place and there are people who are doing really cool things everywhere you go. It’s like every single night there a heaps of shows you can go to and museums and galleries and all of that inspirational stuff is happening all around you all the time.
It all makes you want to do something really great and it’s also good because there’s so much out there that you never feel comfortably significant. No matter how big you grow it doesn't matter and that’s a good feeling. There’s never that small-town vibe where you’re the big fish - you constantly feel a little bit insignificant and I think that’s a nice humbling thing. It’s like looking up at the stars in the sky you’re just a little speck and that’s kind of a cool feeling.

On top of making the pedals you also have a live D.I.Y space called Death by Audio. What made you start that up?

We were trying to build an art warehouse in which we could live, so we started holding shows to make money to even have the materials to build the space. We also knew a lot of bands and it’s one of the things we knew we could do. As time went on some of my roommates who had been promoting thing around in places started doing it in ours and it just went from there.
You always want to give as much as you can to the community and the area around you, so if you have the opportunity to create a really cool and straight-up music venue for bands to play you should I think, so we did.

Are there any bands that are mainstays of the venue that we should listen to?

Yeah totally there’s a bunch of bands. Natural Child or The Ex Models are both really good. And then lots of other bands like Metz are playing there, too.

You guys have been a band in New York for a number of years now: how have you noticed the creative community change over the years you’ve been doing stuff over there?

It just keeps moving around really. The neighbourhood we live in has just become more and more gentrified and now a ridiculously different kind of people live here. People in New York are like “what’s the next exciting area where all the artists live" and move in, and then you get pushed around the city to worse and worse neighbourhoods. But everybody wants to live in New York so there’s this really interesting dichotomy of all sorts of people.
I guess you just become more comfortable and get to know more and more people. It gets a bit overwhelming with the amount of people who are doing things who you’re in touch with, but that's a great thing at the same time.
Basically it’s always changing so it’s really exciting, there are always different things that I never knew were going on and new things that are starting up all the time which keep it completely fresh and it’s great.

Have you noticed the sound of the city change over the years, or is it more diverse than that?

I think you can pull sounds out but New York is one of those places where you’re almost in touch with the whole world because people come from all over the place all the time. I think we’re in a weird place for music now in general because there’s not as much of an identity as there was in other decades. It’s all over the place and you definitely see that in New York and that’s really exciting. There's always little trends like 'electronic metal' or whatever, and that changes and adapts and when there's a really good band in a particular genre that genre tends to take over for a bit.

What are A Place to Bury Strangers working on this year?

We’re going to work on yet another record and we’re going to some other places. We’re going to Norway and Canada and perhaps another European tour but we’re going to try to do as much recording as we possibly. Robi (Gonzalez) joined the band right after the album Worship came out and he’s just amazing so we’re really excited to write a lot of stuff with him while the band is doing really well.
I also re-built our recording studio and have it set up so we can do a whole lot of stuff that sounds good live and so we’re going to focus on that.