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A Place to Bury Strangers
death by guitar pedals
by: By Kenneth Partridge - March 24, 2008

Oliver Ackermann is a musician, first and foremost, but he may also be an entrepreneurial genius.

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 exhilarate.

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 come true.”

That dream began in a small Virginia town, where Ackermann discovered the wonders of distortion.

"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 compositions.

“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 different.”

Presumably, he doesn’t just mean selling pedals.


"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,

A Place to Bury Strangers

listen to "

what it is

a thick layer of distortion, dark and unintelligible vocals