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Wednesday, February 28th, 2024  

A Place to Bury Strangers on “See Through You”

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Mar 23, 2022 Photography by Ebru Yildiz Web Exclusive
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A Place to Bury Strangers released their sixth album, See Through You, last month. It is their first to feature the new line-up where guitarist, vocalist, and founding member Oliver Ackermann is joined by rhythm section John (bass) and Sandra Fedowicz (drums), who also play in fellow NYC noise experimentalists Ceremony.

A record that documents the break-up of the band’s previous line-up just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, See Through You represents Oliver Ackermann’s most personal collection of songs to date, while also heralding one of his most prolific periods as a songwriter and recording artist.

Currently on the first leg of a month-long European tour, Under the Radar caught up with Ackermann between gigs in the beautiful Hungarian city of Budapest.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): When did you start writing the songs that became See Through You?

Oliver Ackermann: Round about the back end of 2019. The band was breaking up just before that was happening, and I was playing drums every day just to take my mind off of that stuff. I was working on some new songs while we were together, but then it started falling apart. So, I started writing another batch of songs just for myself, and then the pandemic hit. We were in full lockdown in New York so you couldn’t really go anywhere, or do anything. Then we both got Coronavirus, me and my fiancé Heather. We were stuck indoors, just watching movies. We were literally doing nothing so I started going crazy really quick. I’m always doing so many things. So, I set up a little recording space in our living room while I was writing songs and gradually started to make these recordings happen. It was really surreal because it was so painful with the band breaking up. It was all very intense on my mind, and the state of New York was so insane at that time too. People were letting off fireworks all the time. There was nobody in the streets. There were all these big refrigerator trucks at the back of the hospitals. It was such a dark and depressing time. So, it was difficult to keep rolling on and writing these songs definitely helped, at least for me.

The songs on the record seem very personal. Were they written in reference to the band breaking up? Is that what the album’s about?

Pretty much, that’s kind of what it is. As you’re going through all those things, you can’t help but think of all the terrible stuff that’s happened to yourself. All those kinds of situations, so it all gets rolled up into one. You beat yourself up with how you’re not feeling well. All of these things twist this really confusing mindset and ideas of all that stuff. So, as you’re working through it and trying to make sense of everything you just end up going into those worlds and zones. Playing music just turns into that and songs often end up writing themselves. It’s weird to explain but sometimes it can lead to some of the best songs you’ve ever written, even when you feel like total shit. I guess it’s good to be feeling something!

It seems like a very prolific time as well, with the album being preceded by the Hologram EP in November. Were these 14 songs always intended to be separate from that and are there any others written around the same period that might be released in the future?

We recorded a ton of songs. There’s a bunch more as well. I’m not sure what’s going to happen to them. Sometimes songs come out, sometimes they don’t. But they were actually written in complete reverse order. The album was pretty much done, and then we had this idea where we should just release an EP because it didn’t seem like tours or shows were going to happen. That was with John and Sandra [Fedowitz] too. They helped out with the EP. John had sent me this drums track that he recorded for “End of the Night”. This was just where we were starting out with all of us as a band coming together. That was meant to be the start of what’s yet to come. Whereas the album was dealing with things that happened right before that.

When did John and Sandra become members of the band? It seems like a natural progression in many ways towards the next chapter of A Place to Bury Strangers. Almost like going full circle even back to the beginning bearing in mind your work with John in the past before APTBS.

I never really thought that it was ever going to happen, but then as things went south for the band, I just instantly knew that I wanted to be around people I could have a really good time with. Every time I’ve hung out with John and Sandra has been really good full of laughs and positivity. They’ve always been so supportive throughout the years, and I guess they’ve always made the same kind of music that I’ve been involved with. John and I grew up with our roots in all of that so it’s almost surprising that it hasn’t happened sooner. At least now when I think about that it’s so natural. It’s so great, almost like returning home with the family.

Does it change the dynamics within the band in terms of writing or in terms of what each person brings to A Place to Bury Strangers?

I think so. In some ways it’s a more natural thing. We’ve always had this thing with John and with Paul [Baker] too right from our days in Skywave, where you instantly knew what everybody was into and wanted to do. We all supported each other. It wasn’t like a fighting of egos. It was more about aiming towards a unified goal of making the coolest music, and that’s just really exciting. At times, some people can go to those places and bring their own personal things to it or issues that they’re dealing with. So, it’s nice to be able to erase all of that stuff and go to a more natural place instead.

A Place to Bury Strangers have changed personnel in the past and its felt quite natural in that it seemed the band had gone as far it could with some of those people, so required a change of line-up to move on to the next phase of the band’s development. Was that a similar case here?

I don’t know. I thought we were going to continue on and do other things or take them to another place. You just try and work with what you can when you’re dealing with things. If you still want to be creating music and making things, you just take what you have and make the best of it. So, I think you can still go on, even in weird situations. You see bands all the time where they don’t get along yet still manage to make amazing records. There’s not any guaranteed winning recipe or formula. I do think it’s cool when bands change over time because you get other ideas in the mix when you start working with new people. That’s why bands go with different producers or recording engineers a lot of the time. I think if you’re good at making the right decisions when confronted with them—choosing what’s a good idea rather than a bad one, choosing the best people to work with—those things can work out really well. It’s tough when you’re a band that doesn’t have those options. I remember thinking I’ll never go into a studio ever again because you’re working with some guy that doesn’t even like your music. So, we’re definitely in a much better place than where we were, and I’d say to anyone in a bad situation, “Just don’t give up.” They just maybe haven’t found the right people to work with.

You’ve made a video to accompany every track on See Through You. What inspired these?

During the pandemic we watched so many movies, and a lot of them were just these underground horror movies. So, we just had this crazy idea that we could use similar themes for the songs on this record. It dawned on me that what they were doing was actually quite similar to this underground music scene. All these different people, trying to make movies with their friends or whoever. Scrambling together what actors they could in order to make some crazy ideas happen. I thought it would be neat to work with that kind of world. Aspiring film makers, and even some established ones as well. I wanted them to relate to how the world was going and where we were. Who reflects on that better than a bunch of horror movie directors? I was thinking of the most horrible things that could possibly happen. It seemed like a cool idea and something that would be fun to do. So, we ended up reaching out to all these different people and pretty much everyone said they’d be up for doing it which was really cool, and exciting for me to be starting on a fresh new project. It all came together at just the right time.

Was there a specific theme or concept running through them?

I think it must just have been the music. Everyone involved seemed to grab onto that. I wasn’t going to push anyone in any particular direction. At least with this. I’m a fan of their art so was more curious of how they’d interpret the music and what they’d bring to the table.

Will there be any more singles off the album?

Yeah, there are some videos coming out for a couple of the songs. Even more videos! Whether we’ll release them as seven inches or whatever I’m not sure yet. Maybe.

I was watching a recent KVRX session of the band filmed in October of last year which featured a mix of new and old songs, including “Missing You” off the 2007 debut album. Have you been playing more of the older material with John and Sandra, and will other songs be revisited and added to the live sets in future?

I don’t know. I don’t think we’ll play any of the songs we recorded with Skywave before A Place to Bury Strangers. But there’s definitely room for a lot of those earlier songs off the first album and EPs. Once you start working with other people, it’s like going back to the start all over again. We’ve played every single A Place to Bury Strangers song together and there are certain songs which everyone is more excited about so they’re the ones you tend to focus on. Every show we’ve played so far—even that radio show—we decided which songs to play before the start, so you just go with whatever the feeling is in the room and what everyone wants to do, and then that becomes it.

You’ve started your own label Dedstrange and released some great records by the likes of DATA ANIMAL and Jealous, among others. Is this something you’ll be focusing more on now or will it run in tandem with making your own music?

We had this opportunity when A Place to Bury Strangers’ contract was up with Dead Oceans. We had a bunch of offers from other record labels but it just seemed cool to start up a label ourselves. Then as we started doing that, I was talking to my buddy Mitch [James] who knew all these cool bands from Berlin so it just seemed like a good idea to help out some of these people who were all totally incredible and awesome. So now we had the opportunity to make these things happen it seemed like the right thing to do. When we got Redeye Distribution it was really fantastic. They’re such a great company that focuses on all the record stores everywhere. It seems like such a real operation to get music to people who enjoy music.

Which release are you most proud of so far? Which would you say defines the label?

I don’t know. Probably the DATA ANIMAL record Future Primitive. It is Mitch [James] from the label’s band but it’s so sick. It’s fucking incredible. I love it so much. I’m so proud of him. He had some tough times in bands then it all came together with this album and its so wicked and awesome. I’m so happy to be able to stand behind that.

You’re on tour throughout Europe at present until 12th April. Are there any more tours or festival appearances planned for the rest of this year?

Yeah, there’s tons of stuff planned. We’re doing a bunch of festivals throughout the summer, then more shows and hopefully another tour before the end of the year. Those times in between we’ll be writing and recording more music. We’ve already recorded new music. As we travel around on tour, people invite us to their studios so we’re always recording music.

Your self-titled debut album A Place to Bury Strangers turns 15 in September. Will you be doing anything special to commemorate that?

Who knows, wait and see!


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