I can remember how hard I fell for A Place to Bury Strangers the first time I heard them a few years ago, and that was only magnified by the first time I saw them live. Since then, I’ve seen several more shows, and somehow my admiration grows every time. While the entire band is solid, my focus tends to be on the ninja guitar skills of Oliver Ackermann. Below is my phone interview with Oliver, who is in the midst of a West Coast series of headlining dates.
HardRockChick: When I first saw you guys a few years ago, the first words that came to my mind were ‘sensory overload’, between the volume and the fog and the strobes and everything. I was wondering how you think that fits with your music and what about that draws certain people in to that kind of show?
“And that’s even partially sort of the goal of the music as well as the live show where it kind of takes over the body and the mind with what’s going on.”
Oliver Ackermann: I think that all of those kind of elements just help…kind of go hand in hand, with where the songs and the music sort of goes. Where you’ve got things where it’s sort of ambiguous exactly what is going on, kind of like music and what sort of sounds are happening, which is kind of reflective of the smoke machines where it kind of blows your vision, strobe lights that can be disorienting and goes with the distortion and what not. You know, I think it’s just almost the same sort of thing with that, I think it’s an appropriate sort of marriage of things. And that’s even partially sort of the goal of the music as well as the live show where it kind of takes over the body and the mind with what’s going on. I think that’s the best way to do it- to mix it with something that’s disorienting as well as overpowering. I think that the kind of people who would like that sort of thing I guess are maybe people who, I don’t know, kind of want to have an out of body experience in some sort of way. It’s not the kind of music where you go with your friend and kind of mingle and pick up people or whatever. It’s for people who want to enter that out of body state, or something like that.
HRC: Another thing I noticed is that your vocals are always pretty drowned out during the show, and I was just wondering why that is, if there’s a reason for that?
OA: I guess it doesn’t always end up that way. Maybe it’s because of inadequate PA equipment? We’re kind of playing where the guitars are an important element as well as the vocals and everything, and the volumes are really loud on the guitars so to get a particular sound, so I think sometimes it’s just, you can’t necessarily hear exactly what’s going on with the vocals. Sometimes it has to do with the PA. It’s just the way things go.
HRC: The highlight of your show for me is always when you essentially destroy your guitar. I was wondering- there’s equipment abuse and then almost this element of admiration for the instrument that goes along with that, like when Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire. While those are 2 conflicting elements, I was wondering if you feel they go together?
“And when you kind of rough it up a little bit, you kind of get more in tune with how a guitar is built and how you interact with it and what maybe it’s limits are.”
OA: Guitars, and instruments, are meant to be played. And when you kind of rough it up a little bit, you kind of get more in tune with how a guitar is built and how you interact with it and what maybe it’s limits are. So I guess, you know, I have a little bit of an advantage because I can just put the stuff back together. It’s great that there are guitars and to be able to use such nice beautiful guitars out there, but as far as respect goes, you shouldn’t really worry too much about some sort of object. It’s meant to create the sound, and it should be used for its purpose.
HRC: What’s the best show you’ve ever played and what makes it the best show for you?
OA: Best show I’ve ever played? Tough call. I’m just going to say…we played a festival in Greece, and I guess it was because it was truly destructive, so it was super fun. I was swinging my guitar around and it smashed into these lights and they exploded with glass all over the place. And we were rolling around in the glass and lots of good stuff. It was fun. And then I think I threw a guitar through the drum set. It was just a good, fun, crazy show.
HRC: So it seems like you guys are constantly touring…how do you keep your sanity and remember where you are?
“You should just live life, live it up, experience and hang out with good people that you’re doing good stuff with and make you feel good.”
OA: I don’t know. I guess we don’t do it? Is that an answer? I guess, you know, you can remember where you are once you get someplace, it’s easy enough. You become aware of what’s going on. But we usually don’t know exactly where we’re going or what time shows are and stuff like that. As far as dates in the future, people will be like ‘hey I heard you guys are playing, what time are you playing?’ and I’ll be like ‘I don’t know’. It’s hard to remember that kind of shit. As far as keeping your sanity, you just don’t really think about it too much. I think I sort of felt like I’ve lost my sanity at times. You should just live life, live it up, experience and hang out with good people that you’re doing good stuff with and make you feel good. I think you would lose your mind more if you were just constantly partying and not aware of reality or something. You have to take in a little bit of the environment. Helps keep it amazing, helps keep you inspired by the cities.
HRC: That leads into my next question; who or what would you consider to be your muse?
OA: I don’t know, I guess…all sorts of things….just life helps take that role…and it changes. It can be exciting, whether its the people in your band or the bands you’re traveling with, all sorts of stuff. Let’s just say the music. That keeps things afloat. And that conversation between it and you.
HRC: What’s a goal you have in mind for the band and for you personally?
“Just try to be able to do everything I’m doing now as much as I can, whether it be like helping bands out or releasing some cool records, or travel around more and play more cool shows.”
OA: Oh my…for the band, just to record more music that we want to hear. We’re writing a bunch more songs. I think that goal would just be to write and record some really cool stuff. And for me, personally, I guess it’s the same kind of thing. Just try to be able to do everything I’m doing now as much as I can, whether it be like helping bands out or releasing some cool records, or travel around more and play more cool shows. I dunno, I guess just to focus on working all the time and usually that ends up working out for me, and have a good outcome. The goals come about without even realizing it, I think.
HRC: Is there a new band that you’re working on helping out now or are into recently?
OA: Yeah, we just played with this band Weekend, they’re amazing. This other band Grave Babies, they’re an amazing band. I really like this band Natural Child, and Jeff the Brotherhood, they’re wicked. Seahorse, they’re a good band….there are a bunch of good bands.
HRC: What’s the last movie you saw or book you read that had a big impact on you that you would recommend to people?
OA: It’s a book- Atomised, by Michael Houellebecq. That was an amazing book. I don’t know if it exactly ties into what we’re doing….but it’s kind of raw and sexy and really cool.