An Interview with A Place To Bury Strangers 05/15/2018
A couple months ago while catching up on some of this year’s SxSW highlights, I came across the band A Place To Bury Strangers. The author chose to use them as the main photo for the article, but the description of the band itself left a lot to be desired (writing a review for 30+ bands is no small feat). I saw that they had a show booked at The Earl on 5/28 and had just put out a new album, Pinned. I checked out the album and figured it would be a pretty great way to spend a Monday night. As luck would have it I was later put in touch with Oliver Ackerman, the founder of APTBS. He was kind of enough to do a quick phone interview with me.
Jason: I first heard of A Place To Bury Strangers while reading up on SxSW bands this year. SXSW is known as a place where bands can launch careers, but also where bands can get lost in the noise. How do you think you were able to stand out?
Oliver: I think we’re doing things in a way that remind people what it used to be like to go to a rock show. People have forgotten what bands could be like, destroying things on stage, creating chaos in a moment, not worrying about recreating the album experience and creating a new one that stands on its own. Going to a show should be inspirational and a place where you can let loose. People need that outlet to dance or fight or do whatever they need to get out of the world.
Jason: APTBS has been going for a while now. How have your goals for the band and the music you create changed over the past decade?
Oliver: I think our goals have stayed pretty consistent, but the way we’re going about them have changed. There was a time when I wanted APTBS to be picked up by a label and to do all the things that bands should do. I wanted to do everything the “right” way. That was really tough because I was placing limits on the group without realizing it and it made us feel like we weren’t going in the right direction. At some point one of our fans begged to let him release some of our demos and the other members pushed for it, “it can’t hurt to put it out, we’ll have a CD to sell at the merch table.” I’m glad that we ended up doing that, he released the demos and let us keep 100% control over the music. The response went well, and we figured out that we needed to stay true to who we were and that this is what it looked like. Our first record contract was written on a napkin, that’s the kind of band we are.
Jason: I’ve never seen you live, but I can’t wait to catch the show at The Earl on May 28th. I’ve heard your live shows can get pretty chaotic.
When did you decide to start embracing and sometimes creating problems on stage?
Oliver: Mistakes just happen, that’s a part of life. When you push something to the limits, beyond what it was designed to do, things are bound to go wrong. We turn our amps up as loud as they can go, we push things over and throw our instruments. The problems that happen on stage and the way a band solves those problems is just as much a part of the experience as the songs being played. There have been times when one of the other members comes up to me after a performance and says they felt like they had just played the worst show, and I would think, “That show was fantastic.” Everything that just happened was so awesome, so cool and had nothing to do with playing a song the way it was supposed to be played. It was something that no one who saw or heard it would forget.
Jason: Do you try to plan out chaotic breaks in your set, or would you consider it true improv?
Oliver: I think when you try to plan out something that’s supposed to be in the moment, you lose the pure magic of those moments. If the point is to create something on the spot, you’re cheating yourself and the audience from having a genuine experience by planning out parts of it ahead of time. A lot of bands spend their performances trying to recreate the studio version as closely as possible, but we believe in creating unique experiences for people to tell stories about. That was the feeling that I got when I went to shows as a kid, where you can unleash whatever you’ve been holding in. You don’t plan how you release those feeling, and I don’t think a performance should always be some rigid structured experienced. If I wanted that there are plenty of jobs I could get that pay a lot better.
Jason: Do songs that you improvise live ever make it to the albums?
Oliver: Definitely. For our latest album Pinned we released a Deluxe version that includes a second album of live and improvised songs. It’s such a major part of who we are as a band, we definitely want to share those unique versions and exclusive songs with our fans. We also will include live tracks on our albums if we feel like the recording presents the song the way we want it to be heard. “I Will Die” off of Transfixiation was a song that was originally recorded with just 2 mics in a practice room. We tried to recreate it with different setups, both as live versions and in the studio, but the original recording just seemed to say everything that we wanted to say, the way we wanted to say it. We’re not scared to put something imperfect on a record because it captures a moment in time and that’s what we’re trying to do.
Jason: How has your song writing process changed, moving from a loud practice space to quiet apartment? Do you think it’s forced you to write in a way that’s helped APTBS’ sound?
Oliver: No matter where I am, I want to create music. Being around musicians in an open and creative space, collaborating and having access to helpful feedback can be a great thing. Being isolated can be a growing experience as well, where you’re forced to overcome something that feels restricting. Embrace the situation you’re in, that’s how I see it. Overcoming a struggle can be more enjoyable than the thing that you’ve created, when you realize you can do something that you couldn’t do before.
Jason: What about APTBS do you think resonates with your fans. What would you tell someone in order to give you chance, whether as a listener or a show goer?
Oliver: People appreciate that we do what we think is right. They appreciate the risks that we take and how honest we are. It’s a rare thing in this life to see something that’s so vulnerable as people taking risks and not knowing what’s going to happen. We’re over the top and exciting. I would tell someone if you want to see something that’s crazy and loud, we do that.
Jason: Do you have influences that have remained constant over the years? Who are some of your modern influences?
Oliver: Influence change over time, there are few that I would say have stayed consistent from when I was younger to now. I used to have a very strong sense of exactly how I wanted my music to sound, and now there are so many bands doing cool things I think it’s better to keep yourself open to finding inspiration in whatever form it comes. Surfbort, Buck Gooter who we just did a European run with, and Slowdive who just put out a great record are some that come to mind.