A Place to Bury Strangers’ live shows have been branded as “unpredictable”, “bewildering”, and “dangerously loud”. In frontman Oliver Ackermann’s view, that’s an accurate assessment.
“We definitely work ourselves up into a frenzy,” he tells the Straight, on the line from an Austin tour stop. “You sort of want that to happen. At that point, when you’ve reached your limit and gone beyond what is normal or controllable for yourself, that’s when something magical happens. That’s the point at which, all of a sudden, there are these weird accidents or these moments of pure energy that occur. It’s very exciting.”
Over its 16-year history, the band has built a reputation as one of the most explosive touring groups in North America. Despite boasting five full-length albums’ worth of material, the three-piece doesn’t write set lists, often opens up songs for lengthy improvisation, and has a tendency to make up entire songs on the fly. For Ackermann, a self-described gearhead and sound explorer, that impulsiveness sets A Place to Bury Strangers apart.
“Being a lover of music, you want to hear something new—something that you haven’t heard before, and that you can be excited about,” he says. “When you’re spontaneous, it’s better in many ways than anything you planned to bring to the table. To be open to the environment and the people, and to what is happening with the state of your equipment—that’s stronger than anything you’ve previously set up. Last night, for example, I handed out my guitar to the crowd, and some kids were banging on it. It sounded pretty cool.”
That innovation also informs the group’s records. Releasing the 12-track noise-rock album Pinned in April this year, the group called on new drummer Lia Simone Braswell to punctuate its raw, reverbed sound with haunting backing vocals and thumping rhythms. Anointed as a full-fledged member of the band by Ackermann, Braswell arrived at the perfect time for the group.
“Lia has such great natural rhythm, and her own personal voice and experience of where she comes from is so different and foreign from what [bassist] Dion [Lunadon] and I have grown up with,” Ackermann says. “It just brings up this whole different angle to our music that neither of us would have expected to embrace. She’s so in tune with what’s going on—it’s perfect. When we found her, we were ready to destroy what we’d been doing for so long, and she was there to bring something new out of the whole thing. It’s driven us to a whole new place.
“We do different things all the time,” he continues. “Part of that stuff is just through repetitive playing. You start to strip things down when you’ve been doing something for a really long time, and it becomes almost subconscious. I think that comes from the root of creation, where you suspend your mental capacity, and then you just hear and enjoy the beauty of the sound of feedback, or a vibrating string, or the sound of a beating drum. It can go to all sorts of places.”
A Place to Bury Strangers plays the Fox Cabaret on Wednesday (June 13).
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