Those who perceive A Place to Bury Strangers, a/k/a the “Loudest Band in Brooklyn” as an indie novelty act are missing out on two of the most consistently thrilling records of 2012, Worship and the Onwards to the Wall EP, aptly summed up by Michael Tatum as “wind-tunnel rock,” but with real songs and melodies down there beneath the shrapnel, not that frontman and Death by Audio entrepreneur of guitar-god effects Oliver Ackermann minds if those come through during the band’s psychedelically thunderous live show. We spoke to him about freak pedal-building accidents, the best utilitarian uses for bracing noise, and his Loudest Band in Brooklyn competitors Sleigh Bells.
A Place to Bury Strangers plays Bowery Ballroom on Sunday, November 18.
Do you remember the first effects pedal you ever bought?
Uhhhh….I think it was an Ibanez Power Lead…pitch black? It was this very intense distortion, and I think it was pretty awesome if I remember correctly. I didn’t use it a bunch when I played bass.
You played bass before guitar?
I did, yeah.
What made you switch?
It seemed more mysterious…I could do more with the guitar I think than I felt like I could with the bass at the time. So I started going that route toward something slightly unknown but not completely.
Have you had any weird experiences trying to build pedals before? Or did any ideas fail miserably?
All the time. Definitely, especially at the beginning. It took me a few years to finally make anything work out. I would have these really strange ideas that I’d think would be good, like, I think the first pedal I tried to build was a wooden pedal. That wasn’t really a good idea. And it took me a couple years to learn how to solder and that would never really work out. And stuff just broke.
Do you write songs by messing with the pedals or do you come up with them clean and add effects later?
Usually while with the effects. There’s many different ways to get a melody in your head and make that turn into a song, but a lot of times it’s while playing with the effects.
U2, TV on the Radio and Nine Inch Nails have bought your custom-made pedals, can you ever identify when they’re using your sounds in a song on record?
There’s no way really to tell which is the source on many, but I can definitely hear some of my pedals on one U2 song. I forget which one but you can definitely hear one of my pedals on there. And that’s pretty cool, hearing one of the top pop artists, U2, using my sounds.
On Worship, were you aiming more for one long groove rather than dynamics that start and stop? The bass on it is so constant.
We didn’t really have any sort of goal. We were just going for what came out of playing a lot and seeing what progressed naturally. So I think it got that flow as an album as we wrote it and it all kind of comes together so I guess that it does kind of have a long sort of groove. The other records are more like a collection of songs in some ways.
The Onwards to the Wall EP sounded like you plucked off all the songs that would’ve changed the groove.
Sure. Those were the earlier ones that were almost kind of finished. Once we had the EP done it sort of gave us an idea of what to expect.
How did the duet with the Alanna Nuala of Moon [“Onwards to the Wall”] come about?
She was one of my housemates and I’m a really big fan of her music.
Do you think you’d want to do more duets?
I’m always a big fan of that kind of stuff so I’d like to. We kind of lock ourselves away all on our own and don’t work with other people that much so we don’t ever ask for help so much, but it would be cool. I’d love to.
Is it important for you that the songs come out distinctly live?
I don’t necessarily think so. I guess that’s kind of our style. With this project, A Place to Bury Strangers, we sort of keep along the lines of energy-driven crazy rock so I guess that’s one of our trademark things, so it doesn’t have to be.
The first show I ever saw of you guys was between the debut and Exploding Head, I could only recognize a couple songs but it was still great.Cool, man.
What do you think of Sleigh Bells?
Ummm…I don’t know. I guess I don’t know too much of their stuff. I saw them playing on some TV show and I don’t really know that it worked that well. It looked like they were playing along with iPods or something like that and it wasn’t that exciting to me. Maybe their records are better. They have a really cool look and it seems like they could be. I don’t know too much about them. They were almost boring to me but maybe they’re awesome.
Do you ever listen to straight noise music or do you need there to be traditional songwriting involved?
Sometimes I do, not as much as…depends what sort of mood I’m in. I can get into some Black Dice or Lightning Bolt or something, those bands are close to my heart.
What’s the most abrasive band you’ve ever heard?
The most abrasive band I’ve ever heard, huh. Maybe this band Force Field from Providence. Although I think there might be another band called Force Field now or something. [Their show] was really insanely loud.
What was the story behind those singles awhile ago that caused the pressing plant to melt them?
Oh, yeah yeah. This single that came out in Europe, we took ’em to get pressed, and they broke the pressing plant, and the guy whose label it was that was putting them out sent out a press release like “the band is so loud they broke the pressing plant, haha.” We thought that that was kind of funny. So then we took it someplace else it broke their pressing plant as well. So who knows, maybe it was.
What activity do you think your music would make a good soundtrack for that people normally wouldn’t think of, like cooking or something?
There was this guy who came to this show who was a scientist, who said that we’re the only music he could perform his experiments while listening to because he could only concentrate with that insane loud noise going on in his head, like it keeps him using that part of his brain so he doesn’t lose concentration.
Wow. I guess the last thing I wanted to ask is if you have a favorite Sonic Youth album?
I am a Sonic Youth fan and my favorite album is…I don’t even know what it’s called. There’s like a blue border and a photo of them in the middle.
Oh, is that their…
I think it’s their first album or EP?
That’s my favorite.