QRO was lucky enough to sit down and chat with two of the three members of A Place to Bury Strangers (also know as APTBS) on a mild Sunday evening in March at The Doug Fir in Portland, Oregon.
This was the first week of their spring tour of the U.S., opening for The U.K.’s The Big Pink (QRO photos from the show). AP2BS get a two-week break back in NYC and then they are off to tour Europe into the summer months. This has been a busy time for them, with multiple European and U.K. tours under their belt, numerous festivals, a new album, new music videos and a new record deal with Mute Records (Depeche Mode, Moby, Liars).
Their second album, Exploding Head (QRO review) was released last fall on Mute Records; they also have two new music videos out for both their singles, "In Your Heart" and "Keep Slipping Away". There is a tour only 12" EP available "Ego Death", though at this time it’s iTunes-only, as it’s still caught up in production.
APTBS started in 2003 in NYC, playing their first gig at the infamous Luxx, which is now Trash Bar. Now they are signed to Mute records, touring Europe and playing large festivals, has it changed them much? Nay. Singer/guitarist Oliver Ackerman has a very friendly demeanor and though at times shy, he is also very personable and willing to laugh, not the standoff rocker he could be.
They have a new member with them on this tour, Dion Lunadon, on bass. Jono Smith, the original bass player, left the band last year wanting to spend more time with his family and less time on the road. And these guys are on the road, a lot. Lunadon is originally from New Zealand, but has been living in NYC for a few years now, playing in various rock bands. He had four rehearsals before they set out on tour – now that’s talent for you.
The show was great, the audience loved it; Ackerman throws himself into his live act, like no one else is there. It’s almost like he is exercising his demons and leaving the stage triumphant when he does. The trio work well together playing off each other’s energy, a must see live show for any music fan. The video projection behind the stage is footage Ackerman shoot himself, some in his apartment with his oscilloscope and some in NYC’s gorgeous Botanical Gardens. And there is fog, and strobe lights and just everything that makes the difference between a good rock show and a great rock show.
QRO: I noticed you guys are touring a lot. Is this the fourth day of your spring tour?
Oliver Ackerman: The fifth I think.
QRO: You’re going to be touring for the next couple months?
Dion Lunadon: Yeah, four or five more weeks.
QRO: How does it affect you?
OA: Right now it’s fantastic. Usually it’s always really good.
As to where am I, you don’t even know. Not that it’s even such a bad thing; you have weird days where you just feel kind of crazy, where you never have grounding.
Kind of cool with this tour in the middle we’re going to be back in NY for a couple days. We’ll at least just get to get in touch with reality. At the end of last year we did the longest tour we’d ever done.
Maybe eleven weeks in a row or something like that, and towards the end of that it was just kind of crazy. Every night you’re going out and seeing completely new people every single day and almost like nonstop.
DL: It’s a weird little social experiment.
QRO: So are you actually new to the band?
DL: I am, yeah.
QRO: You sound British.
DL: No, I’m from New Zealand.
QRO: When did you join the band?
DL: This is my fourth show.
QRO: You practiced a bunch before?
DL: Like four practices.
OA: He’s good.
DL: I’m not that good.
QRO: So were you living in NY when you joined the band?
QRO: What band are you coming from?
DL: I was in a band quite a few years ago called the D4, and another band now called True Lovers.
OA: Both awesome bands.
DL: The D4 were more straightforward indie rock and roll. The True Lovers are more like slow energy rock ‘n’ roll.
QRO: "Slow energy rock and roll?"
DL: More tender than what the D4 was, more grove orientated, not so loud.
QRO: So how did that happen? What happened to your old bass player?
OA: Jono [Smith], the old bass player, just wanted to leave and focus on his family. He recently got married; I think it was last year. It was in the middle of this tour, we all flew back to NY and he got married. Then we all flew back the next day.
QRO: He just needed to make that decision?
OA: I think so. It was hard on him doing all that stuff; he was older and stuff as well. It was, I think, just wearing on him, all the traveling, playing shows and all the partying.
QRO: All the partying, are you guys hardcore partiers?
OA: It’s funny, he was actually one of the most hardcore partiers in the band, so he needed a break from himself I think.
QRO: So you guys are going to Europe in a couple months aren’t you?
OA: I think there is a two-week break after this tour.
QRO: And is this your second or third European tour?
OA: Probably the sixth, maybe the fourth really big European tour.
QRO: How are you accepted over there?
OA: Really good, much better than the U.S.
QRO: Wow, that’s really interesting.
OA: I think it’s exotic when people travel from anywhere.
QRO: You’re a NY band.
OA: If there are bands from England or wherever in the U.S. it’s cool, like that they made that extra effort. It’s honorable, it’s a good thing: this band is serious enough that they want to go out. Even something exotic about it. If there were two bands and one was from Sweden or Tennessee, I’d probably go see the one from Sweden.
QRO: Do you play bigger venues there?
OA: We do in most places, sometimes not. Europe and the U.K. are vast in their differences.
QRO: Where did you play in London?
OA: Last time we played The Garage.
QRO: You have toured America, you’ve toured Europe – have you had any response from Asia or other parts of the world?
OA: I think we are going to be playing in Indonesia coming up. We had some offers to kind of go to Japan, but it just hasn’t worked out. We’ve been to Australia, which was really awesome.
QRO: He liked your band?
OA: He liked our band and wanted us to come out. Yes, of course we’d love to.
QRO: I could see you guys doing well in Japan; I’m surprised that hasn’t happened.
OA: I’m sure we’ll go soon enough.
QRO: You guys have played a bunch of festivals recently?
OA: Some are better than others. Some you’ll play randomly in the middle of the day, some festivals you’ll play early in the day. It’s so almost anti music, it’s noon, the sun is coming out. Siren (QRO recap) and Coachella were both really good. It’s really fun, you get free passes to the festivals, they pay for our hotel rooms. I get to see bands that I love, idolized in my youth.
QRO: What bands?
OA: Bands like Devo, De La Soul, My Bloody Valentine.
QRO: So I love your new music video, "Keep Slipping Away".
OA: Thanks, thank you.
QRO: It’s totally awesome. Where did you shoot that? Did you shoot it on Metropolitan Ave. in Williamsburg?
OA: It’s actually at my house. It was just an empty warehouse; we built it out as we wanted. It looks just like other crazy warehouses kids think it’d be a good idea to build.
QRO: How long have you been in NY?
OA: Since 2003.
QRO: How do you feel like the NY music scene going?
OA: I think it’s going really good right now. At times I think it seems like it slumps down but I think it’s only the times when I don’t go out that much. Then I’m not in touch with what’s going on. Anytime you assert yourself and out go to different venues there’s tons of stuff going on.
QRO: But at the same time in NY there are definitely neighborhoods where young people who are musicians live.
DL: There is our neighborhood (Williamsburg) that is flooded with musicians.
OA: Even a neighborhood like Park Slope, these sections of Brooklyn that you wouldn’t think are that big are like Baltimore or something. There are still tons of crazy lofts, tons of kids who are roughing it. There are tons of bands coming out of there, different scenes and stuff.
QRO: It’s funny everyone always says you guys are really loud and when I listen to you I’m just like, that’s just music. It doesn’t seem that loud to me, I mean that’s what a rock band should be right? Maybe it’s the music we grew up to.
OA: Right on! [high five]
I don’t think we are doing anything crazy. People always say, ‘You’re so insanely loud,’ but it doesn’t ever seem that crazy loud. People always say, "Oh my god! I can’t fucking hear!" I don’t even think it’s a good thing to be particularly loud; I just want to feel the music.
QRO: So when you practice, do you practice that loud?
QRO: Do you wear earplugs then?
QRO: You’re not worried?
OA: No, I think it’s fine. I don’t think it’s that loud.
QRO: How old were you when you stared playing music?
OA: Fifteen or sixteen.
QRO: What was your first instrument, guitar?
QRO: But you also play drums?
OA: I mean, not like really, but I do.
QRO: I thought you played drums first in this band?
OA: These guys were looking for a drummer. And I was like, "I’ll play drums for you!" And after the first practice they said, "We don’t want you to play drums, we want you to play guitar." It wasn’t that I sucked that bad at drums, they’d just heard the first band I was in.
QRO: What band was that?
QRO: Do you feel like a big rock star now that you are on Mute?
OA: Um, well yeah.
OA: [joking] "F*ck yeah"! I mean I can’t believe it; I mean it’s crazy.
QRO: They approached you?
OA: Yeah, they approached us. They came to a bunch of different shows. After we met all the U.S. people we did this tour in Europe and met everyone in the European offices. After meeting everyone and they were all really, really cool, it sealed the deal for me. That would be great to work with them. Everyone at the label seemed really into music, as opposed to people who are really interested in business.
QRO: At the end of the day it’s about the music, of course we all still need to make a living but you’ve got to have the passion for music.
OA: I’m just used to working with indie labels. That kind of thing where it’s one dude who really loves music. Like, "I’ll put out your record but I won’t be able to do anything for you."
QRO: That is the benefit of being on a big label, getting your name out there. They have the money and the means to promote you.
OA: Yeah definitely, and not only because of all that. Their back catalogue of bands and what they are doing now is amazing. That’s really cool to be associated with that.
QRO: Have you seen your album cover in billboards or on the subway yet?
OA: I’ve seen posters, no billboards, and was flying Jet Blue and I heard myself on the radio.
QRO: I wanted to ask you about your song writing process. When you work on new material. Like when you guys are working on your new album, do you think about the lyrics first or the music first?
OA: It’s really anyway it possibly can come about. We’re open to tap into what’s a good song. Sometime it starts with effects; sometimes it starts with a melody that you’ve got in your head that you can’t work out. Only once you try to figure it out does it piece together to be something.
I love writing songs and I write songs as much as I possibly can.
QRO: Do you work off feedback from other band members?
OA: No, not so much. On this most recent album it was more than the second record (A Place To Bury Strangers – QRO review), where it was about a third. I’m a fanatic workaholic.
QRO: Like your video, "Keep Slipping Away".
OA: Those guys just came up with that concept. It’s exactly like parallel to how my relationships have worked out.
DL: You’re always working and shit like that.
QRO: I assumed that’s what that song is about?
OA: No, no. That’s not what it’s about; I mean you could say that’s what it’s about. I’m pretty private about what the songs are about. A lot of them are about miserable things and stuff like that, also very personal. Maybe it wouldn’t be fair to talk what the songs are about. Not all songs, sometimes if people have asked me about songs I’ve even lied.
OA: If I were to say what the songs are about it might hurt someone’s feelings that I like. It not necessarily a good thing.
DL: The first I’ve heard of it!
OA: Not even being exactly specific about things. Like noise rock, you use your own personal experience to kind of fill in the blank. Your own idea is much greater than anything that I could tell you, you have your own personal experiences to evoke.
QRO: That’s what a good song is, it reaches out to someone. They’re all human experiences.
OA: Totally, that makes the song. Something that hurts to sing about or something that’s happy to sing about. You can just kind of feel it.
QRO: Do you consider yourself a guitar player first, a singer or a writer? Or are they all kind of the same?
OA: I would say the only one I could maybe consider myself would be a writer. I don’t really consider myself a singer or a guitar player.
QRO: You don’t consider yourself a guitar player? Then what do you call that noise that you do?
OA: I always barely considered that I could play guitar. But that’s just me, I don’t know. And it’s really pathetic too because I’ve been playing guitar for like 18 years or something like that. I should have learned to play guitar by now.
QRO: I think you do a pretty good job.
OA: Ok, well thank you.
QRO: What are looking forward to in the future?
QRO: Are you having pizza for dinner?
OA: No, I am just looking forward to traveling more. And I would love to be able to write songs that I enjoy. So to just be able to you know do both of those things. To play and make music that I like.
QRO: If you were going to give advice…
OA: Do something that makes you happy yourself. Don’t try to focus on business or any of that baloney. There will be points in your life where you will have to but as long as you’re doing something you like, satisfy yourself.
QRO: When you started making music did you try to fit into music that was popular or try to fit into a scene?
OA: I never tried to fit into any sort of scene, it was like a year or two, I’d almost given up completely. I used to try and book tours, mail out fliers, get things out to as many magazines as possible. That’s a lot of work.
We said forget all this we’re going to play music for ourselves that we like, and try and focus on that, rather than half and half. And I don’t know, for some reason people liked that first album; I didn’t think it was done. But the guys in the band were like, "Then you won’t have to burn CD-R’s to sell at shows."
QRO: You have a new EP, Ego Death, that you’re selling just on tour?
OA: It’s delayed at the printing press but you can buy the iTunes version, it’s a sweet twelve-inch record.
QRO: Nice. What is the artwork like?
OA: It’s clips from some of the stuff we’re using for video projection. Oscilloscope test patterns. Psychedelicized photos taken of the projection.
QRO: Post post-modern art.
QRO: I’m looking forward to the show tonight.
OA: Thanks so much.