Brooklyn's A Place To Bury Strangers released their fourth long player, Transfixiation, earlier this year. As with its predecessors, the band's experimental nuances fuse sonic ambivalence with electronic elements, making it one of 2015's finest records to date.
However, their legacy undoubtedly lies with their live show. A once seen, never forgotten experience where boundaries and sound engineers' nervous systems are pushed to the limit. Currently over in the UK, Drowned In Sound caught their blistering Easter Bank Holiday Monday set at Nottingham's Bodega and watched the trio - Oliver Ackermann (guitars), Dion Lunadon (bass) and Robi Gonzalez (drums/electronics) - put on an exhilarating performance.
Earlier in the evening, we sat down with Ackermann post-soundcheck and discussed the unpredictable nature of playing live, developing new sounds and lazy journalistic comparisons among other things.
DiS: You've been on tour since February and continue through to May. How has it been so far?
Oliver Ackermann: It's been awesome except for all the venue stairs to go up and down!
DiS: What kind of response have the new songs been getting?
Oliver Ackermann: Really good. As far as I can tell, everyone has been incredibly positive and super psyched up for the shows. I haven't heard anyone complaining they suck yet so I guess we must be doing something right.
DiS: Tonight's show will be your first in Nottingham for five-and-a-half years.
Oliver Ackermann: Really? Is it that long? I know we passed through the city a couple of years ago to hang out with The Black Angels but I didn't realise it was so long since we played here.
DiS: Do you still get a buzz from playing provincial shows in intimate venues like this one? How receptive are UK audiences in comparison with those elsewhere?
Oliver Ackermann: It just changes from place to place. They're all different. It would be difficult and unfair to pick out any one place to be honest. I like the unpredictability of it all. Sometimes the show will end up being crazy when we least expected it to. Other times they might suck. It can be like that anywhere in the world.
DiS: Do you ever find yourselves specifically tailoring your set to different audiences?
Oliver Ackermann: We try not to. We usually get a vibe with what we want to do from different areas and change our set around from time to time. Occasionally we'll do different things and most nights we tend to improvise but it's not really based on what we think the audience might appreciate. Hopefully they come to our gigs because they want to hear what we want to do. If not, then I guess I'm sorry but that's just what happens.
DiS: The last time I saw your band was last September at Reverence festival in Valada. Your slot was only half an hour, which was incredibly short by what you're normally allotted for a headline show. How did you manage to condense what you wanted to do into a half hour set?
Oliver Ackermann: I get excited by that kind of thing. When I'm going to see a show or even playing one myself I only want it to last for about twenty, maybe twenty-five minutes. That just seems the right amount of time to be really thrilled by a live show. There isn't enough time for it to slip into a lull or anything, so it's actually quite quick and easy. Whereas we have to come up with other ideas for longer shows. We've actually done shows where we've only played one song which I guess is pretty unusual too.
DiS: September Girls are touring with you on the UK dates. How did they get involved and are you fans of their music?
Oliver Ackermann: We're good friends with the guy who runs their label and he recommended them to us. I listened to a CD he gave us and they sounded awesome, so between us we made it happen. I thought their sound was so cool, the way all their voices come together and stuff like that.
DiS: Your fourth album Transfixiation came out in February after a long time in the making. Were you pleased with how everything turned out in the end?
Oliver Ackermann: Totally. They always seem to take a long time but it wasn't actually that long. We finished the album over a year before it came out. It was pretty much done by February 2014.
DiS: Reviews for Transfixiation have varied from the positive reviews awarded on The Line Of Best Fit and Drowned In Sound to lukewarm ones in Uncut and Pitchfork. Do you pay much attention to what people write about the band?
Oliver Ackermann: I try not to because even if they're favourable, a lot of the time they don't know exactly where we're coming from. I mean, we don't tell anybody either but it's always quite strange reading someone else's interpretation of what our music's about. We spend so much time creating our records, sometimes months where we're working all day and all night. We're quite meticulous in what we do and it isn't unusual for us to slave over it. So when someone else talks about it it's hard to take them seriously because they don't really know what we're talking about or what went into making it. If they're slagging off the record and making weird kinds of comparisons or whatever then they're even further off the mark than someone that likes it. But then at the same time, I don't expect anyone to spend weeks analysing our records either so they can write a perfect review. That just seems ridiculous. So I tend not to read to much about us for those reasons, and sometimes bad reviews can be quite crushing.
DiS: The worst ones are where the writer has made the most obvious, lazy comparisons which would suggest they haven't really listened to the record or in some cases, the band in general.
Oliver Ackermann: I find it strange to see a review dismissing us for supposedly sounding like The Jesus & Mary Chain or whoever, and then see another piece from the same writer praising a band who've blatantly ripped off lots of other artists as the most original thing they've ever heard. It's insane. I just don't understand it why some people are so angry and down on our band yet be excited by something that sounds like everything that's gone before. It sucks that some people still think we rip off other bands, particularly ones that we're not influenced by in any way at all. It does sometimes make us question what we're doing. We'd never change our sound based on what someone wrote but it does make us question our ideas and whether they're coming across in the right way. That's why I prefer to ignore what people are saying and stay true to what I think sounds awesome in the first place. It creates better art. If you pander to what the audience wants or expects you're not necessarily creating what you believe in.
DiS: Have you ever read a piece where your lyrics have been badly misquoted or misinterpreted?
Oliver Ackermann: No, not yet. I guess it's cool that people have made an effort to try and understand what we're saying. They don't have to listen to our album 40 times and contemplate every single phrase we're saying to try and make sense of it.
DiS: Going back to Transfixiation, were there any songs that were demoed during its construction that didn't make the album and if so, will they be revisited in the future?
Oliver Ackermann: Literally tons and tons of songs. I don't know whether we'll go back to any of them or not. We might come back and revisit some of those ideas. Maybe some will end up as b-sides or something, I don't know. Sometimes I listen to something a couple of months or years later and think that could be cool. There's a couple of songs I wrote after the record that I'm more likely to work on. They're like a continuation of the album's direction.
DiS: You're always developing your sound and building new pedals for Death By Audio. Was any new equipment used on the album?
Oliver Ackermann: Yeah, we used lots of new equipment on the record. I'm always building and trying out new pedals and there's one I recently came up with called the Ghost Delay which was used on a couple of songs on the album.
DiS: What inspires you to come up with those sounds?
Oliver Ackermann: All sorts of things. Stuff that you hear. Ideas that you have about the science of sound. Exciting stuff that's made possible by new technology. And then sometimes all of that goes out the window and you just stick with stuff that's always sounded really cool.
DiS: You've always pushed boundaries in terms of how a guitar band should sound. What would you say to someone who described guitar music as being past its sell by date?
Oliver Ackermann: I don't know. That's an opinion for anybody I guess. Maybe it is past its sell by date and we're just a bunch of old fuddy duddies sat around trying to hang on to this dream of ageless rock music or something? I've no idea. I still think it's exciting. We're still coming up with new ideas and trying to move things forward.
DiS: Do you ever hear any bands and think they're obviously influenced by A Place To Bury Strangers?
Oliver Ackermann: I guess I do. I've seen people copy things that we do after we've played a show with them.
DiS: You have a split single with The Telescopes coming out on Fuzz Club Records later this month. How did that come about?
Oliver Ackermann: We were asked if we'd like to record a single with The Telescopes and we were like, "Of course!" It just kind of made sense.
DiS: You're always putting out low key releases on small independent labels. Do you think it's important for bands to support the grassroots part of the industry in any way they can?
Oliver Ackermann: I think so. It's just really fun and exciting to put records out and most of the time, these labels tend to be run by one person that's just trying to make a difference. People that want to make something interesting happen. They're just as excited by it as we are.
DiS: Record Store Day is coming up in a few weeks. Do you still believe it is relevant as when it started or has the concept lost its true meaning nowadays?
Oliver Ackermann: I don't know. I guess if people are buying records then that's cool. I've seen some bad press about Record Store Day and I suppose things like that were always going to happen once the bigger corporations realised they could make money from something that started out as being cool. Major labels are always going to jump in and spoil everything. That's why so many things that start out being great end up being really shit. But I still think there's a lot more positives coming out of it, from the stores' point of view at least. Maybe there's a lot of waste coming out of it with the thousands of special issues being copied? I don't know.
DiS: You've got quite an extensive back catalogue behind you. Given the benefit of hindsight is there anything you'd re-record or do differently?
Oliver Ackermann: I guess if I was going back through the annals of time maybe I would have done some things differently. But there isn't really any sense in going back now. It's like when bands remaster albums yet most of the time they never sound as good as the original recordings. We have talked about maybe re-recording Exploding Head between ourselves because Mute owns the recordings of those songs, then also press it and sell it ourselves.
DiS: Will there be any more singles released off Transfixiation?
Oliver Ackermann: Yeah, I think 'Now It's Over' might be coming out as a single. We're looking at doing a video for that.
DiS: Will you be coming back to the UK this year?
**Oliver Ackermann: I think we will. Probably in the fall, end of the year at some point I imagine.
DiS: What are your plans beyond this year? Is album number five in your thoughts?
Oliver Ackermann: I haven't really thought about the next record but we're going to record a couple of songs with Emil Nikolaisen from Serena Maneesh, who was also on this record. Normally we only like to do things ourselves so it will be a lot of fun to go to another studio, record with some other people and see what happens.
DiS: Finally, what advice would you give to new bands that are just starting out?
Oliver Ackermann: Play, and do whatever you want to do. Don't listen to other people. Worst case scenario, you're at least doing something you enjoy.
For more information on A Place To Bury Strangers including forthcoming shows and releases, check out their official website.
Photo by Shaun Gordon