WALL OF NOISE "I think a lot of what it's about is perceived volume, where it doesn't have to actually be loud if it just seems loud," says Oliver Ackermann of A Place To Bury Strangers.
Being a fan of music is, in many ways, all about making decisions regarding thresholds, and typically, the first threshold one must face is that of volume and noise. When you are surrounded with those jagged barbs of sheer bloody noise for the first time, do you run for the hills or continue to stick your head in the acid bath? It only takes a few seconds of luxuriating in the stinging audio hailstorm that is A Place To Bury Strangers to know how a young Oliver Ackermann reacted to the noise threshold test. Beginning in his teens, when he strapped on a guitar in search of the gnarliest sounds imaginable, he's been administering said test to countless willing participants in a gloriously painful career filled with fried eardrums and pissed-off soundmen.
"I think a lot of what it's about is perceived volume, where it doesn't have to actually be loud if it just seems loud," Ackermann tells me from Death By Audio, a Brooklyn compound that isn't just his apartment but also his practice space, recording studio, performance venue, and the offices and factory floor of his guitar effects-pedal business. For the past 15 years, first in his high school Jesus & Mary Chain-adoring band Skywave, and then in APTBS, Ackermann has doggedly pursued the extremes of perceived volume.
"People always say 'Oh my God you guys are a crazy fucking loud band!' " Ackermann explains, "and I don't know if it's because it's actually that loud or it's just the crazy distortion making it seem louder than it is."
Ackermann has definitely seen a shift, as everyone from clubs to audiences have become far more accepting of the cone-shredding tones that APTBS peddle. "Maybe people have heard a lot more music nowadays or whatever, but people are definitely way more accommodating than they used to be," he says. Perhaps Ackermann is referring to his Skywave days, when his distorto-dream-pop trio would routinely get shut down for overloading sound systems and violating noise ordinances. Or perhaps he's referring to the way that, upon transforming the poptones of Skywave into the dark and funereal APTBS, Ackermann routinely tested the ears of attendees with sonics that were both punishing and epic.
Ackermann and his band have tweaked the formula a bit since then, honing their songwriting and sharpening the sheer noise on their latest, last month's Onward to the Wall EP (Dead Oceans). "For this record, we experimented a lot, recorded drums in the elevator shaft, lit stuff on fire while we were recording them, recorded tracks with parties going on in the background. Anything to get that excitement onto the track itself." The effort pays off, from the echo-y surf-industrial "So Far Away," to the shimmering outer-space-techno-punk of "Nothing Will Surprise Me," to the buzzing majesty of the title track. They haven't moved beyond being loud and noisy, but they sound like a band that has pushed that boundary and are now on to the next barrier.
: Music Features
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