I saw A Place to Bury Strangers live, and this was recently. We have done many things together since then in exciting places both foreign and domestic. Places like Vail, Colorado and the Sorbonne. But those are not stories I am willing or being paid enough to talk about here as they deal with high-ranking officials of the French government and their lovely daughters.
This story is about seeing them play for the first time and how it came to pass in Silver Lake, in the beautiful-but-useless modern citystate of Los Angeles. It is a particularly revolting corner of and I avoid it at all costs—save for work, or if I have a crucial appointment with my surgeon whose offices are in the vicinity. Either way, I don’t leave the vehicle without some sort of weapon. I will fight a circle of Latin street thugs in deadly hand-to-hand combat before I try and take on a couple of the thirtysomethinglostinspace emo-heads which frequent the pinky-extended doughnut shops and shitty wine bars which crowd the loaded landscape that was once quite charming. Silver Lake and Echo Park, its churlish, carrot-nosed sister—they are thick with such chickenheaded high-steppers. Lily-white and inept at crossword puzzles, they drink skim milk exclusively, wear coke-bottle glasses over 20/20 vision, they shave their clothes but not their body hair and these pencilarms attack without motive, fueled by dim confusion and denial based on youths squandered in futile, weekend-long masturbation sessions, nose-deep in O(prah) magazine.
This run was for work. Adolfo, my trusted midget manservant was along for the ride, therefore I needed no heat. With his fists alone, Adolfo is better than any gun. The fact that he carries throwing stars is just to impress the babes. We skipped the line, ducked the paparazzi, got our shit expanded via the opener Light Pollution, et cetera. When A Place to Bury Strangers made it to stage, the space, much tightened by both machine fog and marijuana smoke was shorn away from what humans call “our dimension” by a coruscating chainfire of distortion and reverb which will melt your mind like a honeycomb under an alien solvent; this has not been practically observed by scholar since the days in which the Jesus and Mary Chain were in high form. Rare indeed.
Harkening back, I knew they were going to be hot shit(e) the moment I heard their name, probably a year before. One does not get signed to a seminally “fuck you if you don’t get it” label like Mute with a “double fuck you if you don’t get it” name like that and suck anything. It just doesn’t happen. If it did justice, would be swift and recoilless.
As I have intimated, in concert they are firebrand: a three piece. You and I, reader, we are the type of people who walk tall and shit on in the face of genres. Such puerile classifications are below us. That said, let me tell you that theirs’ is a is a floating citadel of linear bass lines stoned over by the simply bionic and heavy-effect-modified guitar of Oliver Ackerman, kept aloft by the running-to-keep-from-falling boom of drummer Jay Space—and a loop or two. For all of it’s chaos it is carefully balanced and continuously verges on collapse due to factors of extreme speed, or inertia—it is hard to tell which in the tremendous confusion—but somehow holds together, all eyes on the besieged drummer, until weapons are discharged, instruments smashed, people stampeded and cattle raped… at the end of it all.
After the end of it all Adolfo signed autographs and we retired with frontman Oliver Ackermann, Jay Space and newly anointed bassist Dion Lunadon to the green room—which was of questionable merit and will not be include in my upcoming book titled: Best Green Rooms of all Time: Let’s Make our Endorphins Beg for Sweet, Sweet Mercy. Even if the “correct” ingredients had been present, and I will maintain until the end of time that they were not, the ambience was as sexy as Andy Warhol’s bedroom. No vibe.
Exploding Head is their second LP and it is superb. It is a mile-high wall of ice picks protecting a wounded heart. Since its release parts of it have been remixed by people who matter, and I am serious about that. The Strangers have changed bassists, tightened the cinches and mounted up for “big one.” There is no denying it, eyes are on them now. Their third will be the one that counts. They will break big or slough away, biting a finger as they look over their shoulder at a disappointed public. But that will not happen, not if I’m picking the odds—which I am. But still, in the stilted and inadequate green room of an un-named venue, it was still a pink elephant I did not want to touch or fondle in any way. So we shadowboxed. Always in the back of my mind was the long walk back to the car, through dark alleys amongst and between the lurking hordes of Emily Strange-lovers. For some reason, the stress caused me to slip into the persona of certain 19th-century Austrian psychoanalyst to which I often revert when threatened. One of my many, many turtles.
Mark von Pfeiffer: Are you comfortable? Take a deep breath and give us a breakdown of your usual day. We have all the time in the world.
Oliver Ackermann: I spend most of my time working in New York at our project space, Death By Audio. I typically wake late in the day and start listening to what I worked on the night before to see what ideas I had come up with when in my most lucid state.
MvP: And then?
OA: I'll usually fiddle with some electronic projects that are In process, as other people will be working as well, and it’s always good fun to bounce back ideas and see what other work is going on. Perhaps I will go on a walk sometime around then while the normal hours of the day are still going on to get a slight glimpse of the outside world, maybe buy coffee.
MvP: And then? (I was nodding now. Writing short notes and nodding. Always nodding. ‘Keep them talking, just keep them talking and their attention away from the door which was showing signs of structural fatigued, I figured the “hordes” were pressing the “attack.”)
OA: Then back home to record and mix… and record and mix. I feel like good song ideas come about while recording other songs, and so it is usually while working on other songs that novel ideas come about; there are always a few songs I am working on at the same time. While this is going on there are a lot of people coming in and out of our house, so I end up taking lots of breaks and chatting with other people in the space.
OA: At some point in the night I will usually check out the show space and see what show is going on and watch a couple of bands and work in between. Eventually everyone will go to bed and I will remain working. Usually until 8am or around then.
MvP: I see. I think I’m beginning to understand. What’s your take on nature versus nurture, on the artistic tip?
I don't think I was born with any of the skills I use in making music. I pretty much was born with bad pitch and bad rhythm, but music has just attracted me so that I’ve fought to be where I am today. I work hard at it and I feel like you can teach yourself anything.
MvP:Hmmm. I see. And are you satisfied with the way your life is going now? Any regrets? Would you do it the same way if given the chance?
OA: I would. But there would be the temptation to go into something mundane so I wouldn't feel need to create all the time. The need to create isn’t as bad as thinking you haven’t got it right.
MvP: What’s your take on the whole “pizza situation?”
OA: I love pizza, especially thin crusted NY pizza.
MvP: Craftsmanship. Now there’s a word. What’s your recipe for quality? (I raised an eyebrow here, to show that this was a particularly important point.)
OA: I think the secret is to do what you love always and it will bring you happiness. I guess I don't care if I am successful, so just to be doing what I love is good enough for me. I get the chance to do what I love, and people pay me for it. That’s mind boggling for me.
MvP:Drugs and art. Art and drugs. Do you think there are fields or mediums in art which have processes more suited, or less, than music to the use of drugs as a creative tool? This is a question with a certain presupposition and you are welcome to approach at any angle you care to.
OA: I think it is really important to let go when creating, I feel like the best ideas you don't even really come up with anyways. They are accidents in nature and you just have to be present to realize them. I think drugs could be used to lose yourself and kind of become free from awareness, but they also can just cloud your judgment so that you fixate on bad ideas.
You knew it was coming, reader, due to my fumbling foreshadowing, but this was the moment when the door did finally buckle and then was trampled to bits by a scent-frenzied mob of female marauders who had reached synchro-cloitus—eager they were, eager for a glimpse of the trio, an autograph, a child.
It was during this brief and historical period, when I was pinned up against a wall alongside new rhythm man Dion Lunadon that his faith in god and his manhood were sorely tested. I took the opportunity to ask the following questions (They are transcribed verbatim. Itals are implied.).
Is Dion Lunadon your “real” name?
Did you know that Dolph Lungren has his Masters in chemical engineering?
I did not know that.
It’s true. Everyone figures he is stupid. Everyone I tell that is surprised to hear it. It made me like him more. I’m just saying. What defines your live shows, and what makes you want to return to a given venue. Or not?
For me, number one is that I enjoy it and get wrapped up in the moment, drawing the crowd into that moment with us. It's visual and aural; we’re loud enough that the volume becomes a physical factor. We’re hard to escape. If we have a good show at a venue it makes us want to go back. Good memories.
Tell me a little about the band’s roots. How did it get started and when did you sign up?
It's hard for me to comment on the bands roots and how it started, as I only joined in March. I've known Jay for a while and heard they needed a new bass player. I text'd him and basically begged him to give me a shot. The text read something like: "I hear you need a new bass player. You HAVE to give me a shot. I will play the hell out of your songs. If I don't, you can cut my fingers off." I saw they were touring a lot and I love touring. From talking to Oliver I suppose it's rooted in "making the most bad ass music possible. Something that we would want to hear as a listener.”
Do you have clearance to discuss any upcoming projects?
We are going to Mexico for the first time and playing Mexico City and Monterrey which is bound to be exciting. I love playing in places I've never been before. We are off to Europe for a month after that. Mainly France. However we are mainly concentrating on our third album which is coming along nicely and should be out... soon.
Finally Adolfo, my sainted assistant, appeared waving a smoking palm frond, casting holy water hither and tither whilst brandishing the latest issue of US Weekly like some holy icon. His actions produced a generalized confusion so that the women did scuttle and scurry about like a group of highly cognizant baboons who had eaten a few too many golden bananas and now were not sure what to do with themselves. ‘Twas just as the ancient scrolls said it would happen.
Jay Space emerged from under the card-table which I supposed he had fancied might offer him some margin of safety. His clothes? Shattered. His face? Akimbo. He looked like the survivor of a plane crash. I know how survivors of plane crashes look due to the realistic depiction on the smash-TV hit Lost. I had wanted to ask him about his name. For me it seemed a one-worder, like super hero. But his normally flinty, pork-chopped countenance was screwy, like a man who has been hit in the groin with a sledgehammer—artless. Certainly not in form for questions. The attack seemed to have had a perverse effect on him; he waved his hands distractedly at the shattered doorframe and generally avoided making eye contact with the rest of us.
Do you, Oliver, find a pattern in the type of listeners you draw?
I do, there are a couple at least. I think the music that we create is for people who really love music and not as much for people who just like music. I think we have enough elements in our music to turn those people off to what we do.
And that, as they say gentle reader, was that. The three lads retired to their tour bus, I to my Swedish supermodel-driven Corvette; with Adolfo in his self-drafted and handcrafted rumbleseat. She gunned the motor, Inga being a hot one for showomanship, and we sped off into the Los Angeles night... towards who-knows-what. Towards... mystery.
Let us pray.