INTERVIEW: Oliver Ackermann from A Place To Bury Strangers discusses making music, playing in Louisville & more!

2018 saw the release of A Place To Bury Strangers’ latest album, Pinned, both a continuation of their brand of chaotic, dark shoegaze and the natural maturation of a band making music for the last fifteen years. Led by founder Oliver Ackerman, the band is currently on tour and will be heading to Zanzabar tomorrow night (October 23rd).

I got a chance to talk to Ackerman from the road where we discussed his philosophy of making music, cover art and their remix of Pinned aptly titled Re-Pinned.

Never Nervous: Have you played Louisville before? Or how long has it been since you have?

Oliver Ackerman: It’s been a little while. I’m trying to think. I think we played Zanzabar twice before, like three years ago or something. It was a great show, I really like it there.

NN: Yeah, it’s one of my favorite venues to see bands play because it’s so intimate. You can really get up in there.

OA: Yeah. And if you’re bored you can go play some video games or something.

NN: So something I wanted to ask, as A Place To Bury Strangers occupies a unique place in that era of being an active band before the current internet interference and before, what do you notice that’s different or stands out to to you?

OA: Things are always constantly changing, I think. It’s like there’s always different waves of these things, kind of building up and crumbling and falling apart. When we first stared, like bands I was in before this, we would get thrown out of bars. I remember we played this one show and some lady was like (assumes old southern lady-like voice) ‘I’ve only had to wear ear plugs twice in my life and both times were tonight!’ But I think some people have broken through. Like some of these punk bands and noise bands, people are a lot more accepting about it.

So I think there’s a lot more support for the arts and people are more open to some of these shows. Right now I think there’s a real approach to music in a way were you actually really get to know the people and kind of get to know them. You can just see a community of people coming together because they love the music so much. I feel like in the past, in the late 90s, there was almost more of a status with music, more being a bit more sort of jerky. Maybe it’s the position I’m in now but I like it, how it’s a lot more community based.

“I remember we played this one show and some lady was like (assumes old southern lady-like voice) ‘I’ve only had to wear ear plugs twice in my life and both times were tonight!’”

NN: Weirdly enough, I just read an interview of Slash who said the same thing. Obviously, he’s on another level of things but it had the same feel as what you’re saying.

OA: Yeah, for sure. I think there’s less corporations chasing after these bands. It helps to level the playing field.

NN: So you’ve been in this band for over 15 years. What’s keeping you going? What’s driving you? I guess what I’m asking is: what’s your secret?

OA: You have to always be breaking new ground and trying out different things. We always try to organically progress with every song we do and every show that we play, sort of build off of everything. As long as there’s some sort of surprise or something that’s actually interesting and interests us, I think it’s going to keep us going and constantly striving for that.

You just always try to look at every record or every song you’ll possibly write or every single show as an opportunity to discover something that is greater than anything you’ve done in the past. All that stuff is subjective and people can think whatever they want but as long as you follow your heart and do what it is that you want to do or interesting to you, I think you’ll find it.

“As long as there’s some sort of surprise or something that’s actually interesting and interests us, I think it’s going to keep us going.”

NN: Couldn’t agree more. Let’s talk about that artwork. I loved it. Today, in the world of streaming and Spotify, it seems people either don’t notice album art anymore or bands just don’t put forth much effort. I remember living in the era of going to FYI and buying CDs based on cover art alone and if I saw this then I’d have definitely bought it.

OA: It was really important to us. We wanted to do something that was bold and kind of cool for this album. We had a friend of ours who’s a photographer, one of the first people I actually met when I moved to New York, and she’s gone on from just taking like band photos and that route and sort of gone on to a nice studio and having all these cool art shows and galleries and stuff.

It’s been really cool to see her progress to do so much stuff throughout the years. She’s always kind of loved us and wanted to collaborate on something. We went into her studio and places around New York and shot a bunch of whatever crazy ideas we thought up. This photograph is of a friend rolling her eye up in her head and it just looked so insane that it seemed to just make sense.

NN: Tell me about Re-Pinned the remix version of your album Pinned. How’d that come about and how did you get all those kickass bands to participate?

OA: I was just so surprised that everybody was so totally into it and said yes, you know. We just asked if people wanted to do a re-mix and they were all actually psyched to do it. I’m always surprised by that kind of stuff, I feel like the bands that are on there I’m such big fans of that, I don’t know, I just always imagine myself, you know, not the same caliber as some of those bands. When they said they were psyched to do the remix, it was such an honor and mind-blowing. So, yeah. That just kind of came about, crazy as that is.

NN: Yeah, it is! That’s awesome. Really cool. So as far as the actual album goes, what are some of the songs that your get the best reactions from, that you think the people are really digging? Or what are your personal favorites, if any?

OA: I think for me personally it’s “Never Coming Back.” I feel like it’s just a different kind of song for us. There’s these pretty awesome swells and builds as the song goes on, it goes really high and then really low, and that’s just sort of like working yourself up so much you can feel all your muscles clenching as tight as possible. But all the songs are fun to play. Just kind of depends on the crowd and what’s going on. We try do that every night, where we play totally different sets. We try to almost do like a DJ set where if things don’t seem to be going the right way we just turn them another way.

“We try to almost do like a DJ set where if things don’t seem to be going the right way we just turn them another way.”

NN: That’s a great way to handle that. I feel like a lot of bands aren’t prepared for that. Like this is the set for the night and this is how it is.

OA: Yeah, I think that just gets too mind-numbing and boring. I could see the reason to do that like you’re trying to hone your craft in that way but our sets are always so chaotic, so many things are kind of going wrong and gong right and happening that it’s important to just embrace that. You never know when half your equipment is going to give.

NN: That’s so true. So what’s next for the band? Anything baking?

OA: We’re playing this festival in South Africa, it’s the first time we’re going there so I’m pretty psyched about that. Cape Town, that would be pretty nuts. Then, besides that, I usually just go straight back to work. So whenever I get off the plane or we drive home, whenever that is, I’ll just start working.

NN: Well, alright. I appreciate you talking to me. And definitely can’t wait for the show.

OA: Thanks so much. We’re psyched to play there.