A Place To Bury Strangers believe in girl groups who ride motorcycles and custom-made guitar pedals that punch identical holes in ceiling and floor. They perform today at Coachella opposite Paul McCartney, who would probably like them. This interview rescued from the archives and conducted by Vanessa Gonzalez.
I can’t tell you how excited and surprised I was to see the Crystals listed as the first influence on your Myspace page.
Oliver Ackerman (guitar/vocals): The Crystals are AMAZING!
Who do you think would win in a fight between the Crystals and the Shangri-Las?
Oh, are you kidding? The Shangri-Las would kick the Crystals’ ass so easy. They were like the bad girls of all that stuff. They would take their motorbikes and run-over the Crystals—back and forth over their head most definitely! Drive them all up and down the street!
But musically you prefer the Crystals?
Do I PREFER the Crystals? Ahhhhh…I dunno know? I really like the Shangri-Las as well. That’s kind of a hard call. I guess it depends on your mood, ya know? Sometimes the Shangri-Las are what you want to hear. But ya know, the Crystals—some of the songs are just sung so well, and they’re such good songs. It’s hard to beat that, too.
Sometimes you get hit, and it feels like a kiss?
Yeah, totally. Especially if you’re kinda drunk. That’s so bad.
Has Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ influenced your production values?
Definitely. That stuff is amazing, and that is stuff I grew up on. And as an aesthetic, and even I think song structure and writing style, I like that kind of stuff—the old pop classic sort of thing. I don’t have all these orchestras and instruments but we definitely try and make as many different sounds and have things come together and make it interesting. I definitely make a lot of pedals to achieve a certain sound, or some specific idea, as well as sometimes you’ll discover some cool idea within some sound that you’ve created. There are songs that have nothing to do with the pedals, but that definitely helps us get the sound that we want—to manipulate that anytime. It just works from what’s appropriate.
I heard you guys record in your RV?
Sometimes we get to places where we can do a little bit of work, but not really that much. There’s sorta some room to do some things, but not really as much as you would like.
How was the first album recorded?
Most of that album was just demo songs that I recorded myself with all sorts of different mediums—drum machines and stuff. All sorts of stuff thrown together—experimenting with 8 tracks, and the computer. It’s like almost everything was just kind of an idea for a song—songs that I wanted to listen to and hear myself, whether anyone else was going to or not.
So they were not intended for release?
Exactly. We were just kinda demoing things out, and then we released these EP CD-Rs that we would sell at shows or give away so that people would hear the music. And then we played a show in Austin, and the guy that runs the label that released our record wrote on a napkin that he’d like to release a bunch of the EPs as a CD and that he’d give us all the profits or something like that, and we were really reluctant to do it actually. It sounded kinda good, but it also sounded like not a good idea—I don’t know why. But I’m glad that we did it because it seems to have worked out pretty good.
Why the reluctance?
I guess I felt like everything wasn’t ready, or that it wasn’t really quite like a whole album or anything like that. Definitely all the songs were recorded to sound the way that I like to hear things. But I guess I had heard some things from different people—‘Your music’s got to be really slick…’ and all this bull crap that I don’t really believe ‘…to be listened to and appreciated by people.’ But I know that kind of stuff is just shit. And I’m really glad that people like the album the way it is because it means that we can kind of continue to work and create things that we think sound good, whether it’s commercially viable or not. I think that we can focus on just kind of making everything sound really good rather than sound commercial.
Like Times New Viking? They’re ultra lo-fi, but it sounds amazing and they write good songs and…
Times New Viking is an excellent example.
What was it like going on tour with Nine Inch Nails?
It was RIDICULOUSLY high tech! MY GOODNESS. It was AMAZING! It was really fun. It was also like, completely silly—you just feel like ‘What are you doing there?’ They had this huge crew of 85 people or something like that with all these really cool nicknames like ‘RADAR’ and ‘LAZER’ and ‘FOXTROT’ or something. It was so amazing. I guess they sorta look the part. It’s just a bunch of dudes all dressed in black with headsets and walkie-talkies. They weren’t menacing or anything like that. But they all had really cool names. I don’t know where they got em’ from. They put on just a ridiculously good show. They had these walls of light that were moving around and going in front of them and behind them and all this—just so intensely planned. But they were playing all the instruments live, and it was really cool. It wasn’t cheap, like you could easily imagine a lot of people would do. There were video cameras across stage and then maybe some sensors on their hands and they would wave their hands across the lights and stuff and the lights would shoot out of their hand—really crazy ridiculous things.
Is that a level that you are trying to attain?
Not quite. I thought what they were doing was cool. It wasn’t exactly something I would have done per se. But what would you do with millions and millions of dollars to put on some show? It was kind of ridiculous. I don’t think I would do that. I think maybe just keep things simple and just give the money to someone less fortunate—hand out cars to all the audience members.
Was being the opening act for a band with such an intense fan base uncomfortable?
Everyone was really cool actually. People were cheering and going nuts and it was really good. We were definitely well received. But talking to a bunch of these kids when you go out into the crowds—some of the fans, it’s almost like their lives revolve around Nine Inch Nails. Nine Inch Nails patches and hats and they have screen names for the fan club and stickers all over their car. I definitely had a lot of people ask me, ‘What’s Trent like? Gee, I wish I had a demo tape of my band with me so that you could give it to him.’ Almost all the shows were at these basketball stadiums, so we’d be in a locker rooms for a whole basketball team—rows and rows of showers, and all these closets and huge screens TVs, and the catering was unbelievable. Baked salmon with lemon-pepper and wine sauce drizzled over it—crazy, amazingly good food. Everyone was really nice. It was super cool.
How did you get into making pedals?
Just trying to create sounds that I couldn’t get in other places. I failed miserably for years and then kindda figured out how to make things work. And then I started the company because I wanted to go to Europe for a month as a vacation, but I didn’t really have any money, and I had this idea for a pedal that no one else had ever come out with before, and I just kind of marketed that real quick and I made enough money to go. Total Sonic Annihilation. The flagship of Death by Audio. At that time I was pretty much on my own. I was living in Fredericksberg, Virginia, with about two to three people at most that you’d want around you at any given time, and we had this really huge warehouse that we rented for nothing. A couple bands practiced there. They all paid the rent, so I was living for free in this huge warehouse. And I was the only one who lived there because everyone else was afraid. I don’t know—some people like home life or something! So I was just in there, doing that stuff, and you could be up all night experimenting. I was playing in that band Skywave at the time, and our last album Synthstatic, we recorded—it took maybe two and a half years to record and mix. I was doing that every single day—recording and mixing that album. I left Virginia because it felt like Skywave wasn’t going anywhere. Like the last Skywaves tour—one of the guys didn’t even want to go on the tour, so we had someone else come as a replacement. And then the other guy in the band was married and had two kids and couldn’t really do too much. So I was just kind of like, ‘Well, I guess I’m going to move to New York.’ Then shortly after I was there I met two guys who were interested in doing something.
Can we do the rest of the interview as Two Truths and a Lie? I’ll give you a category, and then you tell me two truths and a lie about it. Lets begin with A Place to Bury Strangers: The Early Days. And I’ll start us off as an example. 1. I was so excited the first time I heard Oceans on the radio, that I pulled over to write your band name down. 2. The first time I visited your Myspace, I listened to your 4 songs for 3 hours straight. 3. I wrote you guys a fan letter after I bought your album, but I was too embarrassed to ever mail it. Which is the lie?
No, the last one. I haven’t written a fan letter since New Kids on the Block in Elementary school. But I really did listen to your songs for 3 hours straight.
That’s amazing. Someone must have drugged you.
Your songs did. Okay, your turn.
Alright. 1. Our drummer got hit by a car, and then plays a show…right after getting hit by a car. Alright…what’s another truth?
Oh no, don’t tell me which are true—I have to guess!
I know, I know! I’m just messing with you. Alright, this is the lie right here. These are just all going to be about drummers. 2. Our drummer threw a stick into the crowd, it hit someone in the face, and then BAM—they fell to the ground. 3. One time our drummer dropped his sticks and then played the rest of the set with his hands.
Playing the drums like the congas is the lie.
Nope, that’s true. Couldn’t even tell!
Closed fist or open handed? How did he do that?
I don’t know; he was an animal!
So the lie must be the second one.
How’d you know?
The way you called him an animal I figured he must have played a show immediately after getting hit by a car!
Yeah, that’s true.
How badly was he hit by the car?
Not that bad. He was okay.
Alright, next category. Geography. Tell me two truths and a lie about cities you’ve been to.
1.There is a place in Canada named Regina, and the sign, when you drive in, says ‘The Place that Rhymes with Fun.’ 2. There is a place in Portland where you can get drinks for 50 cents. It’s called the Lionshead. Next time you’re in Portland you have to go.
50 cent drinks! For like, a full pint of beer? Any drink?
Yeah, totally! I mean, it all comes in plastic glasses, but it’s totally worth it! TOOOOTTTALLLY bottom shelf booze. But still worth it!
Tell me something about Seattle.
Of all the places I’ve been in Seattle, at least fifty percent have something to do with space, like the Space Needle, or the Cosomonaut or the Apollo. I even ate a sandwich that was called the Space Blaster or something.
Which is the lie? What was the first one? I don’t even remember. Oh yeah. The town in Canada. I hope that one’s true. I’m going to say the last one is false.
No, it was the place with the fifty cent drinks. Doesn’t that suck? Didn’t you want that to be true?
So what was Regina like?
It was like New Jersey or something like that. It was kind of industrial and really desolate. But the place really did rhyme with fun. Those wacky Canadians.
Next category: guilty pleasures.
Alright, let’s see… 1. Jameson Whiskey. 2. I really love to shoot guns. 3. I love scrambled eggs and Cool Ranch Doritos.
That’s like trailer park chilaquiles. I’m going to go with the last one. I can see you wondering around your empty warehouse shooting guns off all night while you’re playing with your Sonic Annihilator pedal.
Actually, I don’t like shooting guns. I’ve done it a few times, but I don’t think it’s that cool.
Too bad. But that was a good lie. And the fact that you eat scrambled eggs with Cool Ranch Doritos is an awesome truth.
Shooting guns isn’t even that bad. It can be fun now that I think about it. But alright, what else you got?
Alright. 1. Me and some friends were trying to figure out what drugs were, so we rolled up herbal tea and cigarettes, and smoked it together. 2. When I was young, I used to drive like a maniac, and I’ve taken a car to 160 mph—a Chevy Caprice. 3. I am a—well I’m not so much anymore, but I used to be a juggling MASTER. I used to be able to juggle knives and swords and stuff.
Knives AND swords?
Oh no, just knives. I didn’t say swords.
I’m going to have to say the last is false.
How’d you know?
What kind of tea were you mixing into your cigarettes?
We tried all sorts of stuff—all different flavors, and none of it worked. We must’ve smoked like a pound. We used to do all sorts of stupid things.
Last category. Touring.
1. We had an RV and I’m the only person’ s who ever got it slightly wrecked by scraping the whole side of the RV on some cement, and then we tried to lie to the rental place about it. 2. One time, at the end of a tour, and this is a tour with a car, and you couldn’t start it except push start it because it was about to die, and the last date was a 24-hour drive back home and we push started the car and drove the entire 24-hours without stopping it once, and filling up gas while it was running. 3. One time while playing a show I was jumping around and got totally knocked out, and when I came to I didn’t know what the hell was going on. It was so insane, like the earth was ending, but the show never ended.
Taking after your warrior drummer, the show must go on.
Most people I don’t think even noticed it because there was all this feedback, and they just thought it was part of the show. Things were kind of crazy anyways.
The lie is the last one.
Dang it. Yeah, it is.
A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS WITH PAUL McCARTNEY, SILVERSUN PICKUPS, PEANUT BUTTER WOLF, MORRISSEY, THE BLACK KEYS AND MORE ON FRI., APR. 17, AT COACHELLA AT THE EMPIRE POLO FIELD, 81-800 AVENUE 51, INDIO. 11 AM / $269 / ALL AGES. COACHELLA.COM. VISIT A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS AT APLACETOBURYSTRANGERS.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/APLACETOBURYSTRANGERS.