Proclaimed by Time Out as the loudest band in New York, A Place to Bury Strangers (APTBS) have been abusing instruments and ear drums since 2003.Two albums — 2007’s self titled debut and last year’s appropriately named Exploding Head along with a formidable volume of touring has enabled their brand of psychedelic space rock, replete with abrasive guitars and a great affection for effects pedals, leading to an appreciative audience across the globe. Static’s Chris Berkley, earplugs at the ready, talks to APTBS — Oliver Ackermann (vocals and guitars), Jason “Jay Space” Weilmeister (drums) and Jonathan “Jono MOFO” Smith (bass) — on their recent ‘blink and miss it’ two city visit to Australian shores.
Welcome to Sydney, gentleman. You guys are looking like first time Australian tourists, all burnt.
Jay: Total amateurs, yes.
Jono: It’s not like we don’t have summer in New York. We just went out into the sun and neglected to use sunblock and ended up looking like lobsters.
How did you guys in A Place To Bury Strangers find each other? I’m guessing it wasn’t on a beach that the band was formed?
Jay: No, actually me and Jono were in another band called Mofo and we had the pleasure of playing some of the first shows that A Place To Bury Strangers had played and by the second time I’d seen them I was like ‘this is the band I would love to be in’.
And out of all of those times that happens this actually came true, it’s like a reality TV show.
Jay: It’s like that movie Rock Star but on a much more minor level. The drummer ended up quitting and they asked me to play with them and then the bass-player ended up moving to Los Angeles.
Because you were all in other bands — Oliver, you were in a group called Skywave?
Oliver: Yeah that was even before I moved to New York. I left that when I moved to New York, and actually A Place To Bury Strangers was these guys who were looking for a drummer for their band and they seemed like they were into cool music, and so I was like: I’ll play drums for your band! Then after the first practice they were like: we don’t want you to play drums, you should play guitar.
Jono: Didn’t they fire all those other people as well?
Oliver: Yeah they did, I was trying to memorise seven dude’s names – there was Mike, Jimmy, John…
So it took a while I guess to knock A Place To Bury Strangers into shape then did it? Did it form out of not wanting to do the stuff you’d done in the other bands?
Jono: I think it just all naturally almost fell into place.
Oliver: We were all just creating music that we wanted to hear, I didn’t even think anything was going to come of it. The old band I was in — Skywave — I tried so hard to book these crazy tours and they would fail miserably, and it just didn’t seem like anybody would like crazy loud rock’n’roll music and so we were just doing it for our own fun. What we wanted to do.
Jay: The whole point of Mofo was to get as drunk as possible and see how many people we could annoy with loud droney guitars.
Jono: It worked out pretty well.
All three of you had that in mind and it was off and running, was it? Because for you, Oliver, around the same time you had this – well you still have got this – job where you design pedals (Death by Audio Effects Pedals). So was A Place To Bury Strangers a good way to test out what you were making? Was that part of the reason for heading out at night as well?
Olivier: I don’t know, I would always create effects pedals basically because I wanted to create music. It was just something that would come out of wanting to create your own music and do all that kind of stuff. I would just want to have my hands on every aspect of what’s going on: from recording the band to building the effects that we would be using and everything you want to shape a sound in particular ways and experiment and find new sounds and go different places with music. People for some reason buy the effects pedals like crazy so I don’t have to worry about that at all, and I don’t care if people use the same kinds of sounds, I always think we’re creating something that I’ve never heard before, because who would want to make music that you think you’ve heard before? We always feel on the forefront of what exactly we’re doing, but someone could just as easily come by and do the same thing and take away whatever. It doesn’t really matter to me.
Jay, because you guys had the pedals a lot of people initially wanted to pigeonhole APTBS as shoegaze, which you’re not at all, I mean you’re a lot more abrasive.
Jay: Yeah thanks for saying that, because I don’t consider us a shoegaze band at all.
Oliver: When I was younger and in high school there were tons of bands that I guess were supposedly shoegaze — bands like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine that I was fans of — but there’s this whole huge shoegaze movement now which I just don’t feel that we relate to at all, really.
It’s almost too reverential as well.
Oliver: Yeah I think so.
Jono: Yeah, definitely, it’s like a lot of it is just something that’s rehashing something that’s been done before and also it seems like people want to throw other bands in [with the shoegaze movement], it’s like it doesn’t even make any sense to me. People call The Jesus and Mary Chain a shoegaze band now.
They were around before that term existed. But it also hasn’t hurt to talk about your influences sometimes, because you guys got to support Jesus and Mary Chain.
Jay: We played with My Bloody Valentine, but we haven’t played with Lush or Slowdive.
That’ll come, I’m sure those reunions will be down the track. You also got to do a song (“The Light”) for that Love And Rockets tribute album as well, things like that must be nice when some like-minded people do come at the band.
Oliver: Yeah, sure, I mean those people were even at the time when My Bloody Valentine was doing that — or Love And Rockets — there was nothing else like [what] they were doing. They were just artists as fresh as anyone else. That’s good stuff.
It’s also meant that you’ve got to work with some of your heroes? Oliver, you were in Black Acid, which is Richard Fearless’ from Death In Vegas project? Has it been nice having people like that?
Oliver: I was, yeah definitely, that was crazy. I just remember we played this one show and my buddy Spencer — who’s done the projections for us — was like: I want you to meet this guy Richard, and [Richard’s] like: ‘Why don’t you come get a drink round the corner and with me and I want you to play guitar in my band’, and I was like: ‘Oh, okay, yeah, sure, that sounds cool’.
Did he say please?
Oliver: He probably did. He’s such a nice guy, he’s amazing. A really good guy — super talented.
Jono: He was living in New York for about two years. He’s moved back to London now though.
He did a remix for APTBS as well so you continued the friendship.
Oliver: He did, yeah, that’s amazing — definitely. I can’t believe that half of any of this stuff has even happened! You grow up being a fan of all these bands and just creating music because you want to create music that you want to hear, and have people take notice.
So you must be pissing off less people now — what’s the problem, Jay?
Jay: I dunno!
Oliver: We’ve lost our vision!
Jay: Yeah, my mind is blown…
Are the shows always as noisy as the first ones were or do you ever tone it down?
Jono: I think we even try to turn them up more.
Oliver: Yeah, who knows, there’s all sorts of limitations and sorts of things and we tend to break a lot of stuff.
I was wondering if there was the money-back guarantee on the ‘loudest band in New York’ tag. Has anyone ever come up and gone ‘No.’?
Jay: We actually are not the loudest band in New York.
Oliver: I don’t think so.
Jay: That was a biased test, they were pulling shenanigans on that! Props for Psychic Ills, because they’re a great band and we tied with them.
Has this been Guinness Book of Recorded or something?
Jono: No it was Time Out New York: they came to our rehearsal studio and had a decibel meter while we were rehearsing, but then they went to Music Hall of Williamsburg, which is this huge 500-capacity venue and then they recorded Black Dice and they were louder than us. Was it Black Dice?
Jay: Yeah it was.
Jono: So it wasn’t a controlled experiment.
You guys are getting very defensive about this!
Oliver: Oh no, I don’t really care! Whatever, that’s great.
Jay: We’ll take anyone on tonight!
Tonight? Let’s make it happen! Well the other thing is: loudest doesn’t necessarily mean best band.
Jay: Exactly, I always laugh when they say that
Jono: I think it’s funny, it’s like from Spinal Tap — they’re one of the loudest bands around.
Jay: How much louder can they get? The answer is: None more loud.
Jono: And like people at our shows now, there’s always some character in the audience saying ‘Turn it up!’
Well let Sydney audiences be warned right now, for people who are going to see you: I hope there’s going to be some ears bleeding, and no bad heckling. We might have a listen to a different remix of “Keep Slipping Away”, we’ll hear this South Central one, which is some guys from Brighton or somewhere like that?
Jay: Yeah, we met them in France — they’re really cool guys.
Oliver: Yeah, definitely. I’ve played guitar for one of their tracks and sent that to them.
Jay: Yeah this is one of my favourite remixes.
We’ll have a listen to what they’ve done to APTBS. Gentlemen: thank you for coming in this evening.
ATPBS: Thank you so much, thanks for having us, nice to meet you.
Transcription: Chris Butler
First broadcast on Static on 11/02/10. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).