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A Place to Bury Strangers

Weapons of Sonic Destruction

Feb 01, 2008 Winter 2008 - She & Him Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Bookmark and Share


A Place to Bury Strangers' singer/guitarist Oliver Ackerman builds guitar effects for a living: unpredictable, cacophonous contraptions with names like Supersonic Fuzz Gun and Total Sonic Annihilation. Ackerman lived in Providence, Rhode Island when he began the company, appropriately dubbed Death by Audio. "There was a really big noise scene, so I think that helped influence that aesthetic of trying to get sounds that you can't get from normal effects," he says. "Sounds that are maybe dangerous for your amplifiers, and cats and dogs."

Along with bandmates Jonathan Smith (bass) and Jay Weilminster  (drums), Ackerman puts his pet-frightening creations to work, now in Brooklyn, creating a wall of grating but melodic noise backed by sheer volume (earning an oft-mentioned description as "NYC's Loudest Band").

Ackerman's previous band, Skywave, worshipped at the altar of '90s shoegaze, deftly delivering an updated version of noise-laden dream pop that would make The Jesus and Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine proud. A Place to Bury Strangers work from this same blueprint, but set the earache on eleven, a blistering, tooth-gnashing take on the three-chord pop tune.

"I don't think that I've ever personally copied some other song. It's never any conscious effort," says Ackerman, when asked about the fine line between inspiration and imitation. He notes other influences that seep into his songs-one can hear echoes of '50s and '60s girl-group pop in his simple vocal melodies, for example. "But you know, the songs' inspiration is from all sorts of different avenues," he continues. "A lot of it's even built on sounds that you'll be making and you'll hear, and that sort of writes the song. Much different I think than listening to songs and trying to write a song that sounds like them."

A Place to Bury Strangers' eponymous debut full-length collects tracks from CD-R EPs the band released themselves. "There was this guy John Whitney in Boston who runs the label it was released on, Killer Pimp, who wanted to take those songs from the EPs and put them out on an album," says Ackerman. "We weren't even really sure that we wanted to do it." Whitney convinced them, and in retrospect Ackerman admits it was the right choice. A great review on tastemaker website Pitchfork Media helped generate buzz, and Killer Pimp has since re-pressed the album.

So what of a follow-up? Easier said than done. Witness the ill-fated deal with Chicago's Highwheel Records. The band was set to sign on for two records, beginning with the follow-up to their Killer Pimp debut. "Everything [Highwheel owner Julius Moriarty] was saying was cool-it's a really good label that's helping a bunch of bands start up and do good things," Ackerman says, diplomatically. "I think that it was just the contract he sent us was kind of crap." The label wanted the band to hit the studio in December of 2007, but APTBS wanted to tour in support of their debut a bit longer, taking advantage of its new success. The band delayed signing, and the contract was summarily dropped.

Ackerman remains hopeful they'll release something by this summer. Once they get this whole label ordeal worked out. "I don't really like to deal with all the mumbo jumbo that you have to deal with running a label," he says, when asked about the prospect of self-releasing. "I'd just rather concentrate on the music."

Self-recording is another matter. The band recorded the songs on the self-titled full-length on their own, partially on cassette eight-track, and partially on computer. Ackerman expects they'll do it themselves again, but kick it up a notch. "I think we'll have the opportunity to use some better equipment and stuff like that-take our time and get it just right," he says.

In the meantime, grab your earplugs and take in the live spectacle. The club is their canvas. The band augments its legendary volume with video projections, strobe lights, and other visual effects. "There's even ways where you can push the element of live sound at a club," says Ackerman. "You can do things like pick up your amplifiers and throw them around, and kind of direct where the speakers make sound; or stick vocal mics into amps. You have that ability to take what would be a normal club atmosphere to the next level. Which can be kind of fun and exciting."

Soundmen beware.



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