Oliver Ackermann has what could best be described as a dry sense of humour. In fact, the singer and guitarist for Brooklyn-based noise-rockers A Place to Bury Strangers is so deadpan that it can be hard to tell when he’s kidding and when he’s not. Let’s assume, though, that he’s just joking when he says one of his goals while recording the band’s latest album, Exploding Head, was to stay up all hours working night after night until he fell ill. That’s just his way of saying that, given the trio’s relentless live-performance schedule, making the record entailed using every spare minute of downtime.
“I think the biggest block we had was maybe a month-and-a-half or something,” Ackermann says, reached—you guessed it—on the road, somewhere in Florida. “That’s when we did almost everything at the end of the record, and worked on the mixing and everything. But most of the stuff was recorded in breaks when we were on the road. And some of the songs were even written on the road.”
If Exploding Head was assembled in a somewhat piecemeal way, the finished product doesn’t show it. Blaring with neutron-bomb distortion and skull-grinding feedback, the album is nonetheless spiked with lethally sharp hooks. “Deadbeat” might sound like a surf band caught in a killer wave of white noise, but its propulsive groove (courtesy of bassist Jono MOFO and drummer JSpace) keeps things above water. “Keep Slipping Away” is infectious pop bathed in dizzying delay, while “I Lived My Life to Stand in the Shadow of Your Heart” is a fuzz-blasted salvo of shoegazing bliss.
Production-wise, the new release is a cut above APTBS’s self-titled 2007 debut, which Ackermann says was a compilation of demos that he wasn’t all that keen on releasing. Good as it is, though, the band’s new label, Mute, initially balked when A Place to Bury Strangers delivered the finished album. The issue was the mastering, which had been done by someone outside the band.
“I was really glad that they actually denied the master,” Ackermann says, “because then I just went and spent a week and mastered it myself. I think it came out way better than when we had taken it to the place where it was mastered.”
That experience confirmed Ackermann’s belief in the value of doing things yourself, a philosophy he follows down to the smallest detail of the APTBS sound. The band exclusively uses effects pedals made by Ackermann’s own company, Death by Audio. Other clients include U2, Nine Inch Nails, Spoon, and My Bloody Valentine. With such major players spreading the DBA gospel—not to mention a recent 2,000-word feature in Guitar World—one might think Ackermann would worry about his business overtaking his artistic endeavours.
“I’ve been spending a lot more time on the designs of the operation—how everything works, and managing the whole thing—as opposed to doing more of the mundane work over there,” he says. “I don’t know, maybe it’ll blow up to be much huger than it is, but it’s sort of always been constantly growing. We always try to tell people not to buy the pedals, so I think that, in combination with things getting a higher profile, keeps things growing at just the right pace. It’s been good. I’ve been able to employ a bunch of my friends who have lost their jobs due to the economic crisis, and employ some illegal immigrants. It’s been good to help people out.”
It’s hard to tell, but he’s almost certainly kidding about the illegal immigrants, not to mention discouraging people to purchase his pedals. Whatever the case, it’s nice to see that at least one small, albeit loud, sector of the economy is reporting growth.
A Place to Bury Strangers plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Tuesday (October 20).