In the span of just a few years, A Place to Bury Strangers has experienced a whirlwind of heat, flash and action. APTBS has been dubbed “the loudest band in New York”; they went from being reigning Pitchfork darlings to dwellers of the site’s doghouse; and they’ve weathered countless Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine dead-ringer accusations. All the while, APTBS mastermind/founder Oliver Ackermann has flexed his genius in constructing effect pedals, attaching rad labels to the noise dischargers like “Total Sonic Annihilation” and personally building contraptions for the likes of The Edge and Nine Inch Nails.
The band’s new LP Worship (Dead Oceans) takes a killer tilt toward guitar-n-synth disemboweling, with pedal-crushing shards, squawking low-end chunks, billowing and harsh streaks of industrial white-noise shooting off in furious wads. It’s propulsive, truly addictive stuff.
Sound of the City spoke to a slightly inebriated and hung-over Dion Lunadon (bass) for a riotous chat about his numerous pedals and the nicknames for his guitars and amps, which took place as he came face-to-face to with dead bats and baby dinosaurs.
Hey Dion, this is Brad here. Abe over at Dead Oceans set us up for an interview at 1:30PM. This is for the Village Voice.
I’m kinda drunk but I’m good. I’m gonna go lay down in the grass.
This is going to be a good interview, then.
Right, yeah. I’m gonna lay down… oh, my god. What the fuck? I just saw a dead bat.
A dead bat on the ground.
Where are you?
I’m in Nashville.
And you’re outside?
Yeah. We’re at the Waffle House.
Getting some breakfast?
Yeah, it’s like eating breakfast in the toilet. Fuckin’ disgusting.
What did you order?
Um, I had the… what’d I have? I had a waffle, I had the sausage and egg sandwich and we got the Triple Hash Brown, Smothered, Covered and Peppered. [Laughs]
Is that the usual tour breakfast?
Yeah, but we kinda went left-field with the hash browns, yeah.
What are you gonna eat for dinner?
Waffle House. I don’t know, man. I don’t know. My buddy is craving Whole Foods. I had a salad yesterday. We went to this really nice place in Nashville, kinda like a healthy supermarket, and I had a salad and my buddy was just screaming “Yes! Yes!”
Whole Foods sounds too healthy for tour, though.
It sounds good, though, doesn’t it?
So you had a bit too much to drink last night?
Yeah, I haven’t drunk the whole tour but last night I decided to drink. So, yeah, I hadn’t one drop for the whole tour but I kinda felt like it last night so I did. I’m back on the wagon now.
What did you drink?
Whiskey and beer.
How was the gig?
The gig was cool, actually. It was really good. I was kinda excited to play Nashville because we’ve only played here once before and we have a lot friends here so I kinda felt like I needed to step it up and that’s why I drank. I had one shot before I went onstage, which is always good.
But you were able to hold down the bass lines with the one shot?
Oh, yeah, yeah. It’s always for the better. There’s a fine line. If you have one shot before you go on—for me—it’s like perfect because it loosens me up and I’m still totally focused and with it. Any more than that can be a bit dodgy.
A Place To Bury Strangers, “You Are The One”
Do you play the bass through tons of pedals like Oliver does?
Yeah. I got more pedals than Oliver does [laughing], which is strange! I’ve played bass and guitars in [other] bands and this is the most pedals I’ve ever used.
How many pedals do you have on stage?
Oliver has killer names for his pedals. Do you have names for yours, too?
Yup. After our last tour he made me a custom pedal called “The Wizard.” It’s pretty cool.
Any other cool names?
My bass is called “The Destroyer”—the last one was, anyway.
What’s the bass you are using now called?
“World War 9.”
That’s pretty fuckin’ cool.
Do you have a sticker on it that says “World War 9?”
No stickers. Nothing. Just, like, some cracks. [laughs]
Is the bass built from scratch?
No, it’s a Fender Precision, but as I do with all my basses, I customize it. So, I paint it myself and then when things break, I kinda have to like fix them. I got rid of the tone control. I’ve got two inputs in case one breaks and just a volume knob with a custom volume knob. It’s kinda just customized so it’s bulletproof.
So the new record [Worship] is the first for Dead Oceans.
Well, we released an EP in February but it’s the first album, yup.
What happened with the band being on Mute Records?
It wasn’t really working out for us, to be honest. I joined the band probably six months after Exploding Head came out and Mute was in the process of being sold to another company and when that shit happens, things get dropped and fall by the wayside and it’s like, none of the bands get looked after, everyone’s gonna lose their jobs—all kinds of shit. I’ve been in that situation and it’s not good. Dead Oceans are independently owned and even have their own distribution, which appealed to us.
A Place To Bury Strangers, “I Lived My Life To Stand In The Shadow Of Your Heart”
On Worship, you guys did everything yourselves?
Yup. We did it all, yup.
So you didn’t want to work with a “producer?”
I’ve never worked with a producer with this band; I’ve worked with producers before. Oliver felt like that—and I’ve been doing this for twenty years now—we knew how to get what we want. So why rely on some producer, especially because we are kinda extreme in the way we do things and [in being] experimental. Sometimes a producer will kinda fight that.
And it’s cheaper to do it yourselves, too.
A hell of a lot cheaper [laughs]. Producers are overrated, they really are. So many bands on labels get told they have to work with a producer and a lot of the times I think it’s pointless. I don’t think so much nowadays because [more] bands are doing it themselves. But maybe ten years ago [or so], everyone was told “What about working with this guy? He’s got a big name, blah, blah, blah.” It’s kind of a mistake sometimes.
Producers just sit there anyway and do nothing anyway. I remember the Melvins said, when Kurt Cobain “produced” one of their records, his “production” was, like, sitting there eating a sandwich.
Well, there are producers that work but I’ve worked with those producers that sit there and do nothing. I paid $20,000 once to work with a producer for one song that did nothing that pretty much ended the band that one song [laughing]. But some producers are amazing and do a great job.
You made this statement about Worship: “it is our vision of what our music should sound like in 2012, not someone else’s interpretation.” Was your statement directed at someone or something in particular? Was that sorta like a jab?
[Laughing] Not really, no, no. When we wrote that—oh, my god, I just found a baby dinosaur on the ground. Um… strange.
So I’ve found a dead bat and a baby dinosaur… Not really [a jab at anyone]. We were writing what we honestly thought about the album. Oliver said, “We should make something that sounds relevant and now and futuristic, almost.” So that kinda rung true to me and I wrote that down. It wasn’t a jab at anyone; it was just a comment about how we do it ourselves and it was purely our vision without any outside influence.
Do you guys read reviews of your stuff?
I read them. Oliver doesn’t read them cuz his feelings get hurt.
His feelings get hurt?
Yeah, he’s a little sensitive about that shit. Even the good ones he sees, he tends to dwell on the bad ones so he doesn’t like to read them I understand that. For me, I don’t really give a fuck [laughing] so I reads the. I read them because sometimes the reviewer will have a relevant point and make it where I go “Yeah, Yeah. I can see that. Maybe I’ll work on it next time or whatever.” And sometimes it’s just a fuckin’ bunch of bullshit and when it’s a bunch of bullshit, ya know, I just fuckin’ take it with a grain of salt. It’s a bunch of bullshit; it’s not even about the music sometimes.
A Place to Bury Strangers, “So Far Away”
Do you get annoyed at the references like, “this sounds like the Jesus and Mary Chain,” “this sounds like the Cure”? But in your mind when you’re making the record, that didn’t even cross your mind.
No, it didn’t even cross my mind. I mean, ya know, I never even owned a My Bloody Valentine record [laughing], so. It is kind of annoying when as soon as I read a review or something and see something like that, I pretty much stop reading the review because I know that they didn’t quite get it. I don’t know. I just pretty much stop reading the review because I’ve heard this so many times, why do I need to read that again? But reviewers have to have a reference point and pigeonhole you and I understand that. That’s cool; I don’t get pissed off. But it’s not really what we’re trying to do or where we’re coming from or we’re not trying to copy anything. We don’t even listen to those bands, ya know. I don’t, at least.
Oliver listens to those bands, though, right?
I mean, sure, obviously he grew up listening to those bands. But he doesn’t have his finger on it and we’re not fucking listening to it in the van or something like that. When you’re a kid, you know, and yeah, he [Oliver] listened to, yeah, the Jesus and Mary Chain, it’s gonna shape what you do as an adult and as an adult you leave those things to the side and you try to focus on who you are and what you are and what you want to do and do your own things and Oliver definitely does that and I do that. However, those things that you listened to when you were young, those are things that molded you to what you are so it’s gonna come out.
What did you grow up on?
Stooges. MC5. Stuff like that.
Did you guys spend a lot of time on Worship? It sounds like the guitar sounds and effects were constructed in a certain way.
Oh, yeah. We spent a lot of time on that record. We spent like 18 months on it, pretty much. We went through a lot of stuff. We also recorded and released an EP within that time. We didn’t plan it but we decided halfway through the making of the record that we needed to put something else out so we were like “How about we’ll just choose five songs and we’ll put that out as an EP?” and we did that. We spent a lot of time really honing in on those sounds and fine tuning every sound. It was weird because I never made a record like this. It was like a puzzle. We wrote, mixed and mastered it all at the same time so it’s like a jumble of shit and in the end we kind of just molded it slowly into the finished product.
Each song sounds like it could potentially be a “single,” at least in my mind.
[laughing] Really? To me, it doesn’t sound like there’s any singles. It’s kinda weird, I think, because we used some for the purpose of the EP. But it makes it interesting. I think it’s an interesting listen and a bit of a grower, as well, myself. Everyone seems to have their own opinion and everyone seems to like different songs, which is kinda good. It makes it interesting.
How long have you been living in New York?
Five, six years now.
Do you guys feel like you are isolated or part of a scene in New York?
Um… we kinda feel like we’re doing our own thing. I don’t think anyone is doing what we’re doing in New York, but obviously there’s so many good people and it’s a real vibrant and creative atmosphere. It’s really cool. I love it.
Getting back to your gear. Do you build your own amps, too?
We do build our own amps and shit.
Are you familiar with Shellac?
They build their own guitar and amps.
They do? [laughing]. What they do with their guitars is unique. It sounds like aluminum or something or steel. I think he [Steve Albini] uses an aluminum guitar. We don’t really build our own amps; we build our own sort of controllers that control our amps and it can do certain things. We’re always keen on trying to create our own sound, which is cool. When you modify stuff, you know, that kind of stuff happens.
Do you have cool names for your amps and/or your controllers?
[laughing] Mine is called “Sonic Bass Destroyer.” Oliver’s is called… I don’t know. I can’t remember.
Do the drums have names, too?
[laughing] The drums? No. Our drummer—he builds his own drum kit, as well, by hand. Cool sound.
He needs killer names for those drums.
He really does—for each tom. Cool sound.
Will the Brooklyn show be a bit of a homecoming for you?
Yeah, it’s gonna be really cool. I’ve never played the Music Hall. I’m really excited. I might drink again [that night].
Finally, how sick are you guys of being called “The loudest band in New York?”
I think we should upgrade it to “loudest band in the world.” I mean, do we really want to be the loudest band of, like, a small city? I mean, come on.
Yeah. You guys are aiming way low just being the loudest band in New York.
Exactly! We’re like the loudest band in this area, but the rest of the world has all the louder bands. [laughing]
A Place to Bury Strangers play Music Hall of Williamsburg with Cymbals Eat Guitars and Hunters tonight.