TARGET: AUDIENCE: “You’re always playing for that one kid who would get excited about it,” says APTBS frontman Oliver Ackermann.
The history of rock is littered with crazies who have craved nothing more than volume on top of volume, who have short-circuited themselves in the pursuit of the purity of noise. It might seem a foolhardy pursuit, but from those who make it their obsession, you’ll hear statements like this one feverishly uttered by A Place To Bury Strangers frontman and Death by Audio effects-pedal impresario Oliver Ackermann: “When you plug in a guitar and you turn it up really loud and get that awesome sound that comes out of an amp — that’s just kind of that thing you fall in love with. And then, as your ears get more damaged or as you get more used to certain sounds, you kind of try to push it forward to other crazy sounds.”
Ackermann’s quest for crazy sounds began in the mid ’90s in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with high-school band Skywave, an outfit equally influenced by the doomed romanticism of the Jesus and Mary Chain, the unhinged sonics of My Bloody Valentine, and the simplistic relentlessness of the Ramones. A move to New York at the beginning of the new millennium might have spelled doom for the trio, but not for Ackermann’s mania for decibels. Skywave were notorious for getting shut off at shows for pure volume, and A Place To Bury Strangers — his next project — are no different. Did it ever bother him to meet such resistance to his noise evangelism?
“No! That kind of thing never bothered me. I mean, other members of the band can get depressed when you play a show and the audience gets really pissed off or the club owners get really pissed off at you. But I am always fine with that — that’s part of the excitement and the edge, when they turn off the soundboard. And there’s always some kids out there that are really excited about it. You’re always playing for that one kid who would get excited about it.”
APTBS quickly won (or assumed) the title of “NYC’s Loudest Band,” and though I don’t imagine that they actually are, anyone knows that noise and loudness are felt, not measured: in your gut, your ears, your skull. Now that they’re on the verge of a tour opening for Nine Inch Nails, do they have any plans to upgrade their arsenal. “We’re hoping to make like two really huge tall stacks of amps, if they’ll let us. We want to stack amps like 20 feet high; we’ll see if they’ll let us.”
Trying to get away with things is a theme in Ackermann’s œuvre, and it carries over into his alter ego as CEO of Death by Audio, his homemade-effects-pedal company. “I think people, now more than ever, are a lot more into experimental music. Companies like Boss have to make an effects pedal do all sorts of things to comply with regulations, and you know, I don’t care about those regulations. We’re making pedals that could, potentially, blow up your amplifier, or not accept all types of inputs. Commercial pedals will do things like filter out radio interference, and usually we don’t bother with that. If you get radio interference, then good! Keep on playing with that.
“The way Death by Audio started was this: it took a whole year or so for me to make something that even worked. It took me a really long time to learn how to solder, and I definitely broke a lot of stuff, I broke a lot of amplifiers, too. I’d run a pedal through one and then, BAM!: ‘Man, that amp just doesn’t work anymore!’ But eventually I figured it out, sort of.”
Ackermann’s musical outfit is blowing up in tandem with the success of his pedal company, which has provided noisemakers to U2, Wilco, and Lightning Bolt among many, many others. And he’s done it all his way. He’s recorded all of APTBS’s records himself in his own studio, and until recently, when the success of Death by Audio necessitated employees and interns, all of DBA’s work was done with his own two hands. His is a true DIY ethos, with emphasis on the Y.
“You always want to be creating something exciting for yourself, and you’re always trying to push that barrier, and then having that direct hand on whatever you are doing. I’m not trying to make some Top 40 single, and I don’t care if all of this stuff went away, I’d still be doing the same stuff anyway. It’s kinda cool that people are supporting this at this moment, but if they decide later that they don’t want to, then that’s fine as well. I’d still be doing it.”
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