Since several influential tastemaking blogs anointed A Place to Bury Strangers as "New York City's loudest band" last year, the buzz around its self-titled debut album has continued to grow. But singer/guitarist Oliver Ackermann hasn't exactly been sitting around waiting for his rock band to take over the world. He owns Death By Audio, a company that runs several ventures — including a concert venue and a music collective — and designs and manufactures hand-wired guitar-effects pedals. (Bands such as Wilco and TV on the Radio are fans.)
One has to wonder whether A Place to Bury Strangers' current five-week tour is just a clever ploy to capitalize on the fact that its gigs are basically free advertising for Ackermann's noisy little creations, whose names (Total Sonic Annihilation, Supersonic Fuzz Gun and Interstellar Overdriver) paint a fairly spot-on picture of his band's sound.
Strangers' ear-splitting, echo-drenched offerings — especially "Missing You" and "My Weakness" — reside on the darker end of the shoegaze/noise-pop spectrum, drawing easy comparisons to Ministry and early Jesus and Mary Chain. Dense blasts of supersonic effects (à la the fury of My Bloody Valentine or a grittier Cocteau Twins) abound, although slithering bass lines and brain-rattling reverberations can't bury Strangers' catchy melodies. Moreover, Ackermann's morose guitar melodies and shadowy baritone vocal chants strike a perfectly dreary counterbalance to these frenzied barrages and help create vivid musical landscapes.
As for the trio's vicious live show? Well, it's not recommended for the faint of heart or the earplug-less. But the album alludes to what you might expect in concert. Picture yourself leaning firmly against a cinder-block wall in a damp echo chamber of a basement venue while being enveloped with an onslaught of sound. At times, the noise becomes so powerful and constant that it loses its abrasiveness and becomes a fluttering blanket of richly textured harmonic overtones.
The RFT caught up with Ackermann via phone just before the band left New York for its current tour with Holy Fuck.
Shae Moseley: When did you form the band?
Oliver Ackermann: The band started around 2004 when I moved to New York and met some other kids and tried to do a continuation of the kind of music I'd been playing for a while.
You were in [Virginia dream-pop band] Skywave before, right?
Yeah, that kind of broke up the band when I left, which was kind of a bummer, but I just kind of had to move on. So I formed up with some other guys and started the same kind of thing.
It is similar in some ways, but it seems like you moved in a darker direction. Was that a conscious decision or a product of who you were playing with?
It maybe expressed a little bit more of what was going on in my life at that time or something. You know, moving to New York is tough and having to deal with that can be hard. So maybe that brings out a darker side.
Why did you decide to move to New York?
Well, I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, which is a really small town and there wasn't really room to grow and do good stuff that you want to do. I knew a lot of people in New York so it was fun to be in a bigger community with more things going on.
Were you into designing effects pedals yet?
That started in 1999, and I started the company in 2001, so having my own business gave me the freedom to move wherever I wanted to go.
It seems like you're the kind of person who likes to take your destiny into your own hands on a lot of fronts. You have a venue as well, right?
Yeah, definitely, there's a venue here. We just looked around as much as we could until we found a big warehouse space and just built a community of a bunch of good people and like-minded musicians all coming together to have something going on. It's really good to have people to bounce ideas [off of].
It seems like it would take a lot of motivation and lack of sleep to do all of the things you're doing.
Maybe I'm a little crazy for trying to do all of the things I'm trying to do. But whatever, it's kind of cool. We're even trying to start a record label now to release seven-inch records of live recordings of bands that play at the space. Just trying to give back to the community, I guess.
A Place to Bury Strangers is touted as the loudest band in New York. Is that something that you're consciously trying to do?
We're not really trying to be the loudest band per se. I've been playing really loud music since probably 1994 and what was loud to me then isn't loud to me now, so we're probably a bit louder.
Is that a product of hearing loss or just becoming immune to your own onslaught?
I'd say all of those things, definitely.
Do you feel a part of the recent resurgence of shoegaze? Your take on the genre seems unique for its darker, more abrasive qualities.
I don't think people are really doing that sort of thing so it's really fun to be writing those kind of songs and going in that direction and creating the songs that I wish people were coming up with.
What do you think is a common misconception about your band?
I'm not sure. Our bass player would say that we're not a shoegaze band. But I don't know, I think we definitely go along those sort of lines. But I don't really listen to exactly what everyone says. I just like to go about whatever we're doing.
You guys have really interesting videos floating around the Web. Is that something the band is involved with as well?
Really, that's all been other people who have been doing those videos. I wish I really had more time because I really want to make some videos myself. Hopefully we'll have some time coming up to do that.
Is your live show a multimedia experience?
Definitely. We've created videos for that kind of thing like projections. Our friend Spencer has collected all of these sixteen-millimeter loops and has patched it all together and then mixed live in time with two projectors. He constantly changes the loops so they melt into other things.
Will you be able to make that happen on the tour?
Spencer isn't coming with us, but I've just been taking as much video as I can and we did that on the last tour as well and projected our own stuff that I think has to do with parts of the music, and we edit for particular songs.
What are your plans for the future? The record out now is a collection of songs from over a few years. Are you writing now and planning another release?
We definitely saved a bunch of songs that we didn't want to put on that record, because we really wanted to save them for when we had the time to make a proper record. I don't know how proper it is, *CK but we're going to be recording a bunch while we're on the road. We laid down most of the drum parts here at our studio and then plan to add more stuff as we have time on the road on our computer and whatever gear we have with us.
Were the songs on your current record recorded on your own as well?
Yeah, at our studio or just wherever I happened to live at the time. A lot of that stuff is even just me playing all of the instruments. I think the next record is going to be little more collaboration in writing and performance.
Did you start this band as a place to showcase all of the cool effects pedals that you design for your company Death By Audio?
It's more maybe the other way around. I make effects to continue what I love to do in music. It's all based around the music that I want to hear, and being able to create my own effects is one of the things that I've always been interested in. At this point I think both of them feed off of each other.
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