My Life In 10 Songs: Oliver Ackermann of A Place To Bury Strangers

New York City noise explorers A Place To Bury Strangers release their sixth album, See Through You, via frontman Oliver Ackermann’s Dedstrange label in February, riding the band’s trademark tidal wave of post-punk, noise-rock, shoegaze, psychedelia and avant-garde music higher, further, louder, more powerful, whilst also maintaining a core of kick-ass catchy rock & roll.

We caught up with Oliver to ask him about the foundations of his life in music and to select ten songs that have shaped his relationship with sound.

1) What is your earliest music-related memory? What do you remember being played at home when you were a child?

Definitely dancing with my parents in our living room. We always had a stereo system and it was a treat to all be together, drop on a record and just dance! One of my favorite moves would be holding on to either my Mom or Dad’s arms and walking up their bodies and flipping around. I quickly got to an age where this wasn’t realistic but it was fun as heck while it lasted!

My parents grew up in the 50s/60s and loved records so there were so much cool beginnings of Rock and Roll, Chubby Checker, Bob Dylan, The Byrds,
Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Tina Turner, Donovan, and lots of classical music that I really couldn’t tell you where it was from without asking them. I never got into orchestrated music as much as Rock and Roll.

2) What was the first single/album that you ever bought?

You know I can’t be positive but I think it was the Breakin’ Soundtrack. I always thought it looked like the pinnacle of fun when people would bust out into some worm robo thing and I wanted to have that much fun!

3) When did you really start to develop a passion for listening to music? How did that come about and what were you into at the time?

It was a lot of things really. It might have been when I finally got a record player in my room. I was able to listen to what I wanted to and would sneak some records from my brother’s punk record collection. We used to listen to 120 minutes on MTV and at some point heard some bands that were doing something that was so intriguing for me. It was this blurred sound that allowed my imagination to fill in the blanks and it just connected as nothing had ever before. Comforted me when I was sad, cooled me down when I was mad, and was a dream world of fantasy that I could escape into.

4) What was the first gig that you went to? Where was it and what was it like?

Dinosaur Jr. at the Boathouse. It wasn’t my first show but it was the first one that totally blew me away. I remember the band that opened up for them being crazy loud and having to yell in my friend’s ear to talk to him and then Dinosaur Jr. came on and they were 10 times as loud. It was so intense. There were so many insane changes in Jay Mascus’s guitar tone it was wicked. I remember particularly the song “The Lung” being so epic and intense it even changed the way that song has always sounded for me. I heard it played better than the recording so every time I hear it now it brings me back.

5) What are your memories of starting out making music? What was the first song that you learned to play?

I used to make all these sheets of chord progressions or “songs” I had come up with. There was no real way to read them as a song as it was just something like E-A-D written on a piece of paper with no rhythm or anything. I also used to fill tapes with ideas and they are hilarious to listen to now. I would start off by going “ok this song holds on E for a while and then jumps to G every once in a while” proceeded by me playing the riff. The first song I remember being able to play was “Wild Thing” by the Troggs. Once I got the riff it just became all about the attitude which I always loved:  focusing not on the complexity of the riff, but on what you feel shaking through your bones.

6) What was your first band/musical project? What music was influencing you at that time? What are your memories of playing your first gig and are there any recordings out there?

Yeah my first band totally shaped my musical ability and it always has been rooted in the romantic ideas of this band and what it was like dreaming as a teenager. The band was Skywave and it was really just my good friend Paul Baker and I making feedback and noise over top of simple song structures. I always felt like I was hanging on for dear life to be able to play any of these parts. Our first show was at a friend of ours’ farm, they had built up this big stage and a bunch of local Virginia punk bands were playing too. I remember showing the drummer at the time a few of the songs we were playing on an unplugged guitar behind a car in the field before the show. 

7) What are your memories of starting A Place to Bury Strangers? What was your first release and what do you think now when you listen back to it?

A Place To Bury Strangers started a little while after I moved to NY in 2002. I had met Tim Gregorio and David Goffan who had asked me if I wanted to play drums in a band that wanted to sound like Slowdive. I didn’t know a lot of people who were into that sort of thing so I of course said I would. After we got together for the first time they suggested I play guitar instead and just search for a drummer. I guess I wasn’t much of a drummer at the time. I did know of a killer drummer who was my good friend Justin Avery from VA. I somehow convinced him to move into my insane loft space in NY and the 4 of us made the band. The first release came out 5 years later in 2007 and was a collection of songs I had recorded mostly just to get everyone else in the band psyched about playing live. I didn’t want it to come out but the current drummer Jay Weilminster and bassist Jonathan Smith convinced me so it was released by Killer Pimp records and the rest is history.

8) Which band/artist do you think has had the biggest influence on your music over the years? What is it about them that inspires you?

That’s tough to say. Perhaps My Bloody Valentine. People have done a similar thing to them after they had but at the time that sound was really unlike anything else. They still always do it with just the right aesthetic and style and freshness that it always has and has had. There is also the chance that they will make another record so that hope is always there.

9) Who are some of your favorite current artists? What do you like about them?

I’ve been really getting into a lot of lofi punk music at the moment. It just sounds really dumb and fun and I like that a lot. They don’t drag out some bullcrap by trying to make some epic composition, it’s not hard to dance to and it sounds like a party. What is not to love? Bands like Power Plant, Research Reactor Corp, Set Top Box ++

10) You have a new album coming out soon – how has your approach to making music changed since you started out, and how has your sound developed over that time? Is there a particular song on the record that epitomizes what you’re aiming to achieve or that is particularly special to you for any reason?

I’m always looking for some sound or idea I’ve never used before in a song and to change up my approach to keep the APTBS world exciting. I definitely know more of how to connect the ideas of what I want to happen and the lyrics together in a more deliberate way. On the track “Hold On Tight” there is a clearer message and sound that I was able to preconceive. I wanted it to be an off the chain ripping Rock and Roll track and so I did it.

See Through You is out on 4th February via Dedstrange Records. Pre-order on vinyl or CD via their official store, or as a digital download via Bandcamp.

Find out more on A Place To Bury Strangers’ official website.

Interview by Paul Maps

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