Oliver Ackermann of A Place to Bury Strangers on the joys of creating Total Sonic Annihilation
Clearly your band gets compared to Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine. On your song "Slide," some of your guitar work is reminiscent of the Cure. Would you say that band had an influence on what you do?
Definitely. I think those are all things. Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and the Cure are bands I was listening to a lot more when I was growing up and learning to play guitar. We're not all trying to do anything like that stuff anymore. It has sort of stylized the kind of band we are in that we like to use effects and play pop music.
Did you customize the electronics in your guitars? Is there a type of guitar you prefer to play with this band?
All the guitars I use I pretty much rip out all the electronics and just go straight into the pickups for the most pure sound. But it's not crucial. I just feel like it sounds a little bit better, and it's easier than if I throw it around and stuff smashes off. I don't have to worry about it not working. The one pickup will be wired up to one jack on the guitar and the other one is straight up. I use Jaguars because they're small and I can fit them into double guitar cases, and they have the whammy bar, so I can create all those pitch-bending effects when I want to and do chorus-y sound on the fly and everything.
Also I use those Fender guitars because they're kind of mass-produced enough to where I can get the parts for them easily and they don't break as easy as acoustic guitars and other guitars as well. They're pretty heavy duty for rolling around and if something breaks on them, it's easy to find the parts. I have some other weird guitars at home and if I were to break them it would be, "Well, that guitar is broken for good."
What kind of weird guitars do you have?
Nothing too insane. Like a Magnatone Typhoon. That's a really dope guitar. Like a Hagstrom III, a Hagstrom eight-string bass, a Fender Bass VI. Those things have very particular tuning pegs or the bridge is very particular. You could probably build something out of something else but it's just easier to not worry about it, I guess.
You still do this live, but you hold the guitar by a string and swing it around. How do you do that? Do have to set up your guitar a certain way?
No, you just have to kind of go for it. There's a moment where you're not afraid of everything, and you let loose, and you're one with the music and what's going on. You kind of aspire to reach those moments in performances as much as you can. Sometimes that works out. Sometimes it doesn't. We try to with crazy volume and lights to sort of lose track of reality and get in that headspace and really go for it and not be worried about anything. Sometimes the strings will slice your hand up. You just have to be like, "Fuck it." You might break the guitar. You never know. I'm crazy! I don't know. Who knows?
Do you use a crossover in your amp set-up to split up frequencies?
I have in the past. But I just don't even worry about it anymore. If you wanted to have something in which something didn't seem like it could handle the frequencies you were delivering to it using multiple amplifiers, you just change the tone of the amplifier and make it work out. So I guess we kind of are using crossovers without actually using crossovers. It won't be set at some specific point to be some sort of hi-fi system. You adjust to what sounds the best in whatever situation you are in.
To some degree we will split different frequencies between different things. But it's not meant to be exactly only the lows going to one thing and only the highs going to something else. I feel like that would even separate some of the sweetness of some of the sound. We do some things with really low frequencies and it maybe it sounds like the speakers are going to blow up and sometimes we do blow up speakers because the frequencies are too low but it's just kind of one of things you go for and try to do.
You obviously have a live drummer, but sometimes it sounds like you have a drum machine going. Were there bands that you've heard that you felt used drum machines in creative ways?
We've definitely used drum machines on some recordings a little bit. Maybe bands like Ministry or Cocteau Twins got me really excited about drum machines. You hear those things, and it sounds really badass. I like how it almost sounds like a machine, and there's something almost menacing and evil about something with that much precision.
Sometimes we use drum machines, but not for that kind of sound. Also maybe the Magnetic Fields for a sound that's not that kind of sound. I like old Magnetic Fields because it's almost fake sounding in a humble way. In the early stuff he would take the most wacky instruments you would never use on a recording and turn it into really great, awesome pop songs. It would be comprised of a synth saxophone or a harpsichord.
Get Lost has a lot of that sort of thing.
Totally! Ministry uses that kind of evil sound, where you're just like, "What is this giant machine coming toward me?"
What live bands did you get to see, either growing up or more recently, that made a huge impact on you?
The Ramones were absolutely wicked, I thought. Dinosaur Jr, they were crazy loud. Lightning Bolt has really amazing energy. I used to live in Providence around the time that Fort Thunder and stuff was going on. Those were some crazy shows. Six Finger Satellite were amazing. The Black Lips can be super fun and rad.
Peelander-Z do some crazy things. Arab On Radar would do some crazy things. White Mice were amazing, too -- I think they might have just broken up not too long ago. They played here last year as well. My buddy said that he heard they were just about to break up. But who knows? Maybe it's a hoax.