Healing Through Sound: An interview with Oliver Ackermann of A Place To Bury Strangers
Being the loudest band in the world is a recognition most have strived to achieve in the rock and metal scenes over the years. And while loudness does not necessarily mean greatness, there a few exceptions to that rule. One of these is A Place To Bury Strangers. Regarded as the “loudest band in New York”, APTBS are well-known for combining elements of noise rock, shoegaze, post-punk, space rock and experimental rock and creating a massive, ear-splitting wall of sound that sends bodies against the wall. Their reputation for being insanely thundering comes from even before the band released their first record and it’s a mindset that persists to this very day. As you will read further below, making music as intense as what APTBS offers became an obsession to founder Oliver Ackermann, but also a healing mechanism, a way to surpass trauma and depression.
Last year, A Place To Bury Strangers released their sixth opus with a renewed lineup, the absolutely killer See Through You. As the band is closer to making their return to Portugal, we spoke with Oliver Ackermann about the founding of the band, the creative and recording process behind See Through You, and the band’s upcoming performance at SonicBlast.
What was your first contact with music?
For sure it was my parents. They always had a stereo system and we would play records all the time. It was really cool flipping through the records and entering an imaginary world in where the artist existed based on the music and album cover.
When did you start becoming interested in playing music?
My friend Paul had a guitar and we would hang out a lot. We were getting in to a lot of bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, The Cure, and it just seemed possible to maybe make some sort of atmospheric music like that without really knowing something like scales. The music seemed to be more about imagination and mood than traditional skill, and that excited me.
“We were getting in to a lot of bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, The Cure, and it just seemed possible to maybe make some sort of atmospheric music like that without really knowing something like scales. The music seemed to be more about imagination and mood than traditional skill, and that excited me.”
Did you have any musical training growing up?
Not really, I always resisted. I took piano lessons and was in a school band for a couple of years, but I really didn’t want to be there any of the time, so I barely learned anything. I would be way more interested now to go back to middle school and try again.
Were you in any bands before joining A Place To Bury Strangers?
I think this is one of the things that gets misrepresented about A Place To Bury Strangers. I was the one who made the band happen. Before me, it wasn’t a band but just some people who liked to get together and play music together. It also wasn’t called A Place To Bury Strangers until after I was in the band and there had never really been any songs until we wrote them together. I was in a few bands before APTBS, the main one [being] Skywave, other ones briefly, Coin Under Tongue, Suck, and Cobra Spa.
What were some of the initial ideas and goals you had for the band?
I think initially we wanted to be a band that sounded dreamy like Slowdive or something, but I am just too obsessed with making the most over the top, intense music of all time, so it became a mix of dreams and nightmares.
What are some of the major influences that have driven the creativity of the band over the years, both inside and outside of music?
Living in different places. Art shows. Travel. People. Film. Movies. Things we think are cool.
After the release of both the self-titled debut and Exploding Head, the band signed with Dead Oceans, which has been the band’s home since then. What prompted this move to Dead Oceans and how has it been working with the label since then?
It was great working with them. They are a great label. Our contract with them had come to an end a couple of years ago and the last record we released on our own label, Dedstrange. That has been going amazing. So many sick bands have signed onto our label like Data Animal, Plattenbau, GIFT, Lunacy and others.
Last year, A Place To Bury Strangers released the incredible See Through You. How was the creative and recording process like for this record and what were some ideas and sounds the band wanted to explore this time around?
The creative process was dismal, [it was] the most painful record I have recorded. Every step was like a knife in my heart. I had just been betrayed by some of my closest friends and this had happened to me before, so it was doubly painful. I think it made for a great record when I really had something I wanted to say and the sounds really became the therapy. Sound at extremely loud volumes is like a warm blanket.
In many ways, the songs on this record feel very personal. Was the record inspired by the troubling times the band was going through before and during the pandemic?
It was. The band was breaking apart. It was so intense at the time, but it is so much better now, it was all worth it. I think sometimes it’s hard to see how toxic a relationship is until you are out of it.
Do you feel that writing and releasing this record has helped you heal and move forward from those times?
For sure. Music is the greatest motivator for anything really. Feeling bored, put on some music. Feeling depressed, put on some music. I guess it helps if it is music that does something for you.
See Through You also brought Sandra and John Fedowitz into the band’s fold. Did this bring a change in the way the band writes music?
It has. We have only written a few songs together at this point but they are some of the bands absolute best. Really thrilling music coming on the horizon.
Next June, A Place To Bury Strangers will release a remix album for Record Store Day, which features See Through You being deconstructed and reconstructed by such renowned artists as Trentmøller, Andy Bell, Xiu Xiu, Annie Hart and Sonic Boom. How did the idea of doing a remix album of See Through You come about?
Artists are always hitting us up to do some remixes and once that happens, we started asking some friends and artists we look up to to make the project really diverse. It ended up being so many people involved it’s a double album. The remixes came out incredible. So many interesting ways to reinterpret the tracks and nobody made a boring remix. It’s incredible. These songs mean so much to me, sometimes I don’t know what they could mean to someone else and this gives me a peak.
This August, A Place To Bury Strangers will be returning to Portugal to perform for the very first time at SonicBlast. What are your expectations regarding the festival and what are you most excited about?
We are going to go nuts. We’ve had such great times in Portugal in the past, I can’t wait to be back. There are so many people in Portugal who [we] are down [with] and so, we can’t wait to get wild with them. I also can’t believe what an incredible line-up this is. Getting to play with all of these sick bands is a dream come true.
“We’ve had such great times in Portugal in the past, I can’t wait to be back. There are so many people in Portugal who [we] are down [with] and so, we can’t wait to get wild with them. I also can’t believe what an incredible line-up this is. Getting to play with all of these sick bands is a dream come true.”
Interview by Filipe Silva
Photo courtesy of A Place To Bury Strangers