A Place to Bury Strangers’ whirring noises and euphoric shrieking are hard to forget and best to experience live
There are plenty of alternative rock bands that we’re big fans of, such as Wolf Alice, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Snail Mail. But if you’re seeking something a bit more extreme, challenging and satisfying: A Place to Bury Strangers.
An interview with Oliver Ackermann from A Place to Bury Strangers
Heavily influenced by the holy trinity of 80s and 90s shoegaze and post-punk – The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and Joy Division – American noise rock band A Place to Bury Strangers is known for their intense guitar riffs, incessant drumming, and most notably, the depths of despair that permeate through their albums. We chatted with Oliver Ackermann, the frontman of A Place to Bury Strangers, about his enthusiasm for distortion and how music helps draw focus on the injustices around us.
Hi, Oliver. Thanks for making such good music! What made you discover your love for heavy distortion and all the wondrous shrieking?
I had an electric guitar when I first started learning and my brother had an amp. One day, when my parents left the house, I turned the amp up all the way. The super messed up sound and power had me hooked. It was like getting jump started by a car battery.
I eventually got up to having this huge Ampeg SVT cabinet that I bought from a friend – in which I couldn’t even close the doors on the car to get home, somehow it was bigger than an 8×10! I used to plug that up to a Traynor super bass head and crank that up, it would shake the whole house. The sound of feedback that loud makes people either run in fear or fall in love.
The overwhelming sound and effects are cathartic for me as a listener, like blood is running in high speed through my veins; as the performers, what do you guys feel when on stage?
That is the same feeling. I am always trying to push that feeling to see just how deep I can get. As you start to develop the skills to go deeper and deeper into the dream state, you get to points at which your whole night disappears. The world disappears and you are completely in touch with the moment that is going on. You aren’t playing any preconceived music choices but living with the room; the noise; the chaos; and a purity of music that can’t be played by humans, but the sound of the universe breathing.
Can you tell me more about the rather old track Everything Always Goes Wrong? It’s one of my favourites.
It is an old one which I really like. It was written even before that record was being written and recorded. There was definitely some influence from my warehouse mate Joe Kelly, who at the time always wrote really cool angular guitar parts. And as most songs I write, it is about heartbreak.
A lot of your songs are fueled by angst, death and the misery of life, where did that come from?
When I was younger I would get picked on for being different or not being into what other kids were into. I got to see things from the outside and developed a lot of compassion for the troubles that one would have in life. So when I see people who are hurting, I feel very deeply and I want to help them. This draws your focus on the injustices around you and turns this into some of the most inspirational ideas.
Are there running themes throughout your albums?
A lot changes as time goes on, but the music always reflects what is going on in our lives. This most recent record Transfixiation traces the journey of leaving spaces, and working in a lot of small spaces piecing together a world space, and building different places to live in the city. We built a few different places to live in the time the record was recorded, and those spaces morphed for the types of songs and music I was into at the time. It’s interesting how different feelings really come through depending on how you do something.
It has been ten years since your debut self-titled album, in what way was the songwriting and recording process different from then?
It always changes. On this record, a lot of the songs were written by myself and then we recorded them together as a band live at the legendary studio Spaceman Sound. It was really cool and different because as a band we worked these songs to incorporate our new drummer Lia Braswell who also sang a lot of the songs on the record. It was sort of like getting to revisit a lot of work I had done and dissecting it and getting the chance to rebuild it with different tools. It was really inspiring to get to work on all of these songs with such a talented team. As the band gets better and changes, the music can go to places in which I had never imagined.
Are you guys working anything new at the moment?
We are always working on new projects and songs and recording as much as we can really. I feel like I’ve been writing so many songs as of late it has been an absolute whirlwind of production. I love writing new music because every time I write a song, I feel like I’m turning a page on what I can possibly do with a song. I can’t repeat myself so the next song that I write has to go someplace else. It is a journey through my personal musical discovery and transformation of recording techniques and changes in my life. It all still is that similar aesthetic to what the band has always been – the soundscapes of destroying the world.
Being crowned ‘the loudest band in New York’, and heavily influenced by The Jesus and Mary Chain, I’m interested in what you guys listen to in private.
I listen to a lot of different things. I love WFMU, a local radio station which is also a no format station, so I always hear things that I have never heard before. I love the sound of something new. The four last tapes I listened to are Lunacy, Chromesthetic, Tall Juan and the Black Angels.
Your live debut in HK back in 2015 was pretty crazy. I remember you guys jumped off the stage and were playing (and breaking a guitar) in the middle of the crowd. What can we expect this time?
We’ll just have to see. I have been building and planning for the past few months and I can’t let anyone know beforehand or that would kind of ruin the surprise.
Describe the best place or scenario to bury strangers.
Wherever we are it will happen.
A Place to Bury Strangers Asia Tour 2017, MOM Livehouse, B39, Seven Seas Shopping Centre, 117-121 Kings Road, North Point, Hong Kong, p. 2578 9077, 炮台山七海商業中心地庫B39號鋪
Like A Place to Bury Strangers and want to discover more about music and art? Check out the hip and indie Beach Fossils, see why Alvvays name their album Antisocialites or go and see live productions by these Hong Kong arts groups.