Oliver Ackermann is a musician, first and foremost, but he may also be an entrepreneurial
Consider this business model: Wherever his band, A Place to Bury Strangers,
sets up and plays, Ackermann stages what are essentially effects-pedal exhibitions,
sharing with those listeners not completely deafened by his music the myriad
of ways an electric guitar can be made to shriek, buzz, scream, terrify, and
Days later, when inspired fans regain their hearing and head to the Internet
to purchase their own fuzz-making devices, there’s a good chance they’ll
land at the website of Death by Audio, a popular Brooklyn custom guitar-pedal
shop owned by—you guessed it—Ackermann.
It’s a perfect setup, particularly as A Place to Bury Strangers continues
to gain notoriety. On the strength of its self-titled debut, released last November
on Killer Pimp, the group has toured across North America and emerged as one
of Brooklyn’s latest and greatest musical exports. MTV recently took notice,
interviewing the band for a story about the local scene, and even Pitchfork
has deemed the trio worthy, bestowing a lofty 8.4 rating.
Ackermann is thrilled by the success, though not, one suspects, because it
means he’ll sell more of his Fuzz War and Total Sonic Annihilation guitar
pedals. After all, it’s by luck, not design, that his twin passions overlap,
and whether he’s tinkering with amplifiers or writing songs, he’s
chasing sounds, not profits.
“It's all really exciting,” Ackermann said by phone on the day
before Valentine’s Day, less than 24 hours before he and band mates Jono
Mofo (bass) and Jay Space (drums) were scheduled to drive to Cleveland and start
their largest-ever tour. “I'm still living on the excitement. I've always
just lived to go out on the road and do music. For me, so far, it's a dream
That dream began in a small Virginia town, where Ackermann discovered the wonders
"I definitely fell in love with effects and just kind of wanting to see
how they worked and creating my own, just messing around with different effects
and turning them into something and trying to get sounds I couldn't get,”
he said. “It was lots of breaking effects [pedals] and breaking amplifiers
before the sound clicked.”
Ackermann’s experimentation paid off. A Place to Bury Strangers is as
pretty as it is punishing, and its ten songs whisper sweetly as they bludgeon
the eardrums. Even when the instruments seem to collide and crumple into heaps
of busted glass and twisted steel, the musicians find beauty in the brutality,
fashioning sculptures from the wreckage.
The album is often compared the Jesus & Mary Chain’s debut, Psychocandy,
and while Ackermann has probably worn out a few copies of that record, his is
a different approach. Whereas the Reid brothers brought a violent edge to 1960s
pop, deconstructing Phil Spector songs and rebuilding them with power-tool instrumentation,
A Place to Bury Strangers never cuffs itself to one specific era. The s
certainly factor in, but so do decades the band members actually lived through.
With some serious scrubbing, for instance, “To Fix the Gash in Your Head”
could be a New Order jam, and many of the other songs bring newfound ferocity
to s shoegaze.
Given Ackermann’s electronic expertise, it’s no surprise that he
and his cohorts sometimes use textures as the starting points for their cacophonous
“Some of the songs are written around those effects,” Ackermann
said. “You'll hear some feedback and think of a song and it will grow
from that. Some you try out, and some don't work.” He added, “Some
songs are even written while walking down the street. You're just walking down
the street and you can imagine all the different parts.”
With all the attention that’s paid to the group’s arsenal of effects,
it’s easy to forget that there are honest-to-god songs buried in the muck.
Even so, Ackermann doesn’t mind if listeners are too fixated on the fuzz
to fully appreciate the intricacies of his work.
"I don't really care what other people are necessarily going to think,”
he said. “The songs are written so I can hear more songs I want to hear.
We play shows where we barrage ourselves with noise and lights and stuff, and
that's kind of even for our benefit, so we can lose our shit and go nuts and
have a good time. I think other people are into it, so that means that it's
sort of justified. If it wasn't, I think I'd still be doing the same kind of
thing. I’d been playing for my own amusement.”
Indeed, Ackermann prides himself on following his own muse, and unlike many
of his trend-hopping peers, he found his musical voice long before he ever set
foot on Bedford Avenue. Back in Virginia, he fronted Skywave, a band that, by
all accounts, also drew inspiration from the Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody
Valentine. When Skywave broke up, Ackermann moved to New York, and after an
early incarnation of A Place to Bury Strangers fell apart (one member defected
to LA, while another got his girlfriend pregnant and moved to Wisconsin), he
decided to carry on, eventually finding the wrecking-ball rhythm section of
Space and Mofo.
“I sort of have always played the music that true to me,” Ackermann
said. “It's almost a different background than a lot of people who first
moved to Brooklyn and then build their playing abilities once you get there.
I have different background, more reclusive or something, being from a small
town in Virginia. At least the first seven or eight years I was playing music,
it was a very small scene of two or three kids who had similar ideas.”
Ackermann insists that his background is one reason for the band’s success.
In addition to critical raves and plenty of blog hype, A Place to Bury Strangers
has shared stages with the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Black Rebel Motorcycle
Club, and Ackermann’s beloved Jesus & Mary Chain. It’s also
earned a reputation for being “the loudest band in New York City,”
and when asked if he ever worries about recreating studio sounds onstage, Ackermann
responds with a laugh.
“I just think of a live show s completely different from a record,”
he says. “Of course, there's certain things you're trying to go for in
a song, but those things are portrayed different in a live setting than on record.
When you're doing something live, you have that direct experience the audience
can have, while something on a record, someone will be listening at home, or
out with friends. It's a whole different medium. It's almost like a whole different
art form. In some ways it's interesting they're even tied together.”
“A lot of bands will make a record that's almost an exact representation
of the live show,” he added. “I think we're doing kind of something
Presumably, he doesn’t just mean selling pedals.