Published Jan 27, 2015Oliver Ackermann is familiar, if not entirely comfortable, with the process of destruction and rebirth. The bandleader/singer/guitarist of noisy Brooklyn shoegazers A Place to Bury Strangers, Ackermann is also the founder of Death By Audio, an effects pedal company based on the idea of, as he tells Exclaim!, "building circuits that either destroy themselves or are on the brink, and playing with that place where something is right at its limit." Such sound-melting technology fuels the band's scorched-earth approach to distortion-swathed post-punk, while the band's live performances often push every piece of gear to its (sometime literal) breaking point.
But this cycle of rising from the ashes took on a whole new reality at the end of last year when Ackermann was forced to close up shop on his combination pedal workshop/recording studio/performance space/apartment, also named Death By Audio. Ackermann's landlords informed him that they weren't renewing his lease; the warehouse was going become part of Vice Media's new Williamsburg headquarters. Tributes to the beloved DIY venue flowed in, capped off by a massive party (featuring performances by APTBS, METZ and Grooms, among others), all of which Ackermann seems to be taking in stride.
"It was so crappy that it was gone, but it kind of brought everybody together at the end," he says on the line from pedal shop's new location. "It was never that intense of a party with as many people coming together than at that moment of when everyone realized it was going to be over. Enjoy it while you can. It was lucky that we had that opportunity."
The other product of this whole period of transformation is the band's fifth album, Transfixiation (out February 17 on Dead Oceans), which was mostly recorded at Death By Audio. (Two of the tracks were recorded in Norway with the help ofEmil Nikolaisen of Serena-Maneesh.) While it wasn't intended as such, the unexpected demise of the space means that Transfixiation is sort of a de facto final document of the Death By Audio space.
"I never thought of it like that, but I guess in some ways it is," says Ackermann. "At that time, we were under the impression that Death By Audio would live on, so it's not a very accurate representation of the end coming."
Instead, the album is a testament to the band's unyielding pursuit of new sounds and new ideas.
"We were trying to capture what it was like to see A Place to Bury Strangers live and record that… experimenting with recording all sorts of different ways to try and capture that feeling or power. At the time I'd built up our studio so I could record a lot more tracks. [But] what ended up being was that the best way to make something sound good was just a really good performance. It didn't even matter how they were recorded. Some of those things were recorded almost while we were practising. I love production and I love messing around in a studio and experimenting. But when it comes down to it, [it's more about] capturing some moment of something awesome that happens."
Whether it's a scene or a sound or a song, nothing is permanent. But Ackermann continues to put himself and his band in a position where they can most effectively, as the philosopher Garth Algar once said, live in the now.
A Place to Bury Strangers' have a series of tour dates coming up in support of the new album, and you can see all those here.