Interview with Oliver Ackermann of A Place To Bury Strangers

How’s it going today, Ollie?

It’s going great! Yep, it’s another snowy, dark day in New York. It’s all right!

You feeling good to be back home after your recent tour in Europe?

It’s great to be back home.

What was the weather like there?

Snowy, miserable and cold.

Ah, so you were ready!

I was ready for it, definitely. And then I had a little vacation in Mexico, so I got to enjoy some warm weather for a bit.

Lovely. So how did the tour go?

The tour was great. There were a couple of hiccups. For one, our van got stolen in Rome. So we got a rental, and then we got into a little bit of a crash with ourselves, or something like that. There were some scary drives–

Wait, what does that mean? Like, you hit the curb or something?

Yeah, we lodged the van up on some curb. We were trying to get these people to tie a chain around the van and pull it off of this thing, and trying to put boards under the tires to frickin’ raise it up and get traction… it was a little bit of an adventure.

Oh man. At least your stage gear was not in the van when it was stolen.

None of the stage gear was in the van, which was good. So we had a bunch of equipment and no way to get it anywhere. Besides that, the tour was really good. Lots of kids going crazy, lots of smashing equipment, hanging out and having a good time!

All that good stuff. And I understand a lot of people banded together to help you guys out with donations and stuff.

It was so nice, it was really so great. We definitely couldn’t have done it without that. It was such a kind of big disappointment and bummer and loss to have that happen, so to have people come together and help us raise money, and even help us out with some extra shows and things like that, was really cool.

So now that you’re back at home in New York, what’s next on the agenda?

We’re working on recording a new album. We’re just getting back into the swing of things and trying to write more songs. Rebuilding our studio, setting stuff up, all of that. We always kind of re-work what we do — to do things in a completely different way, so that’s what we’ll be doing again!

So is it too soon to say when the record might come out — are you just in the early writing stages still?

Well, we kinda went crazy and wrote as many songs as we possibly could in October. I can’t remember exactly how many, but maybe 40 or 50 songs. Of that, maybe 25 of them were ones we thought were worth anything. And then, we’re trying to see which ones go together, and maybe write some more.

How does the process work for you guys? Do you do most of the writing by yourself, or is it more collaborative?

It’s bits of both. There’s definitely lots of stuff that I write on my own, but as much as I can I try to collaborate with the band, because that just takes things to a different element that I wouldn’t be able to come up with. I think that helps keep things not sounding too one-sided. It’s cool to have different peoples’ perspectives on things. We all pretty much see in the same direction, so it’s easy to make stuff happen.

You guys tour a lot. It almost seems as if you tour compulsively. Will there be some shows this year as well?

I’m sure there will. That’s what everybody always wants you to do. People always offer us shows that are too cool to pass up, so we can’t help but play as many shows as we do. I’d say that we wouldn’t want to be touring non-stop, but I’m sure we will to some degree.

I was listening to the remix you did of the Grinderman song, “Worm Tamer,” and I thought it was awesome. How did that come about?

They just asked us if we wanted to a do a remix. And when you get asked by someone like them, you’re like, “Of course, I’d love to.” That was cool, I was really psyched when I heard that they liked it, and that they were going to use it [as the B-side] on that [colored vinyl 12″ inch single] and everything. Pretty wicked.

Yeah, it’s great. And then I guess someone else just independently made a video for it, too.

I know, right!? That’s crazy stuff. People have been doing that recently. I don’t know, we might be starting to get to be a popular band, when people are just doing that stuff.

Yeah, a couple people have heard of you. Are there other collaborations that you’re looking forward to?

Totally. We’ve done some of that, and I definitely want to do more of that in the future. I don’t know if we’ll get to it for this album, but I always wanted to come out with an album where every song had some friends or someone collaborating on it, to turn it all into something different. I definitely have friends who want to collaborate with us, and we really should, but it’s tough too, because there’s always only so much time. I guess you just kinda have to make it happen.

You guys have a lot on your plate, so I’m sure you do have to prioritize.

Totally. I mean, just living in New York puts a lot on your plate.

I couldn’t agree more. On another note, I’ve been watching some of your videos. I was curious about the video for “Keep Slipping Away” — is there a story behind that?

The directors had a story, and one of the two people who collaborated on those ideas knows me pretty well, so I guess it kind of reflects a little bit about my life, as well as some make-believe. I think it’s kind of just about working too hard and not having time for anything else, which maybe has a little to do with my life.

I bet a lot of people can relate to that.

Definitely. I think for some people, that’s always a little bit of a battle. Sometimes you kind of find this sort of passion within yourself, and then you also want to maybe do things with other people as well — well, I guess that’s the way that kind of stuff goes. I guess there’s no perfect balance, but in the video I sort of take it over the line, just spending too much time focusing on stuff I want to do.

Yeah, it seems like it matched well with the music. I noticed some of these similar themes in other videos of yours; themes about mediation, how we view ourselves and each other, often on screens, what it is to be a performer, alienation, circuitry, all of these types of themes that I think are present on some level in the music already. But then of course they’re much more explicit when you depict them in the videos.

Yeah, for sure. Definitely. I guess people maybe tap into that, and that it is a reflection of that.

It’s cool how all that imagery of the pedals and stuff you do with Death By Audio can play into that as well.

I think that is really cool too. All those old electronics just kind of look mysterious and like old sci-fi. It kind of makes your mind think of all sorts of things.

So it sounds like, with most of your videos, it was more the case that the directors picked up on those things rather than you guiding them into that.

Yeah, definitely. We haven’t done any of our own videos, so it must just be a real prevalent theme in the songs, that subconsciously makes people think those kinds of things.

Wow, that’s kind of cool how that happens.

That’s pretty interesting. Or, maybe it’s the kind of music where the people that relate to it are the people that have those kinds of troubles and problems themselves, and it’s a reflection of themselves. Or maybe everybody feels the same way, and all videos have that same undertone! But I don’t think so.

No, there are definitely other flavors out there. Well, what else is coming up that you are excited about?

We’re excited to play at SXSW this year. But I’m really excited about this record. We’re going to try to do this thing I’ve been thinking about, just record some of the most insane scenarios possible. Like, maybe setting stuff on fire and recording that while it’s burning. Or maybe like saw some guitars in half while playing songs.

That’s really cool.

We’ll see how some of that stuff works out. Some of those ideas will probably not quite be as cool as you’d imagine them to be. I’ve kind of come to that point where I’ve realized that lots of sounds are really cool, but whether you recorded it one way or another [may make it] sometimes work and sometimes not. But maybe we’ll try to do some crazy shit.

That’s great. What’s the most amount of pedals you’ve ever put in a chain?

I don’t know exactly. I’ve done a lot. It doesn’t necessarily sound as cool as you would think, but sometimes it kind of works out. Sometimes it’s good to start that way, and then you might realize something you would never have thought of before. We used to do that even more. It usually just introduces a lot of noise once you get up to like, number 80, or something like that.

80. Yeah, wow, I guess it would just get way too processed by that point, huh?

Though that can be kinda cool.

I guess that’s it! Thanks, Ollie!

Heck yeah, thanks for making this happen!

Pick up A Place To Bury Strangers’ album Exploding Head.