Words by Jonathan Stout
You can’t deny Oliver Ackermann’s work ethic. An artist who stays busy, Ackermann divides his time between his band, A Place to Bury Strangers, his effects pedal company, Death By Audio, and his own music label, Dedstrange. Having freshly parted ways with his former bandmates, Ackermann spent the early months of the pandemic reforming with a new lineup and honing his vision for the concise Hologram EP. Although this EP was just released in July, Ackermann already speaks excitedly about his next album, which is completed and currently in post production. Naturally, there was a lot to discuss with Ackermann, who’s always plotting a new project, with one foot in the present and the other in the future at all times.
Off Shelf: You got busy during the pandemic- fleshing out a new band lineup, recording a new EP and designing new guitar pedals. How did you keep and maintain inspiration and motivation during the turmoil and often bleak moments of the last year and a half?
Oliver Ackermann: I live for the dance floor. So the hopes and chances to be able to play shows again and have people all piled up in excitement is what keeps me going most days. The fun human pile. And well, you’ve got to have a live band to put on the kind of show I know how to make. One of the other insatiable satisfactions is getting lost in the mind cave. A tropical dream journey that is anything close to the thoughts I have while asleep. The best way to simulate that I feel is with a soundscape. So I listen to them and create them.
OS: Your former Skywave bandmate John Fedowitz is now by your side again, taking up bass duties for A Place to Bury Strangers. What made you both reconnect and decide to make music together again?
OA: When the last members of the band and I parted ways it was so contentious and it was really painful. I felt taken advantage of and gave away a lot of my songwriting for peace and it wasn’t good enough and didn’t bring peace. So now when reforming the band I just wanted to work with people I know have good hearts and wouldn’t try to fuck me over. I think I just generally accept whatever situation I am in and endure it when I should have changed things a long time ago. Now working with John and Sandra the band is sounding so incredible and all the new material is so good, I can’t wait to play shows and have been having such a great time writing songs recently, I am back in a good space.
OS: There’s a lot of hurt and anger exemplified in the album’s lyrics. On the opening track, “End of the Night,” you sing: Now that the love is gone you take me for granted, Now that the friendship’s gone I miss it to pieces. I won’t ask what you were specifically working through here, but were you able to get through and move on from your trauma with the creation of this material?
OA: It gets easier a little bit at a time. Most of the time I don’t think about it anymore but then photos pop up or I’m reminiscing with friends and it makes me miss the good times. It’s pretty tragic to lose a good friend and I think super weird when things could be patched up. It’s a messed up voluntary decision.
OS: Even though the new EP is only 22 minutes, it feels complete and is one of your most concise collections of songs. Did returning to work with a musician who you have a lot of comfort and experience with contribute to the overall clarity of vision that can be heard on the album?
OA: This record was done almost completely by myself. That being said a lot of the decisions and the support for this record came from the people around me which included John and Sandra for sure. We were working on new material and reforming the band in a new vision and they have been nothing but supportive. I think that is really important as an artist. People who help propel your vision to make it greater. this sort of clears out the space for the record to be anything. This was liberating and let the songs very naturally come together.
OS: It can be difficult for artists to decide when a work is complete. What convinced you that the grouping of songs for the Hologram were complete rather than continuing the writing and recording process to create a full length release?
OA: I had actually almost completely finished the record when I started working on Hologram so it’s sort of an afterthought to the record. The record is where the real self-destructive lunacy is and will come out next year.
OS: The Hologram EP is the first to be released on your new label, Dedstrange. What made you decide to start a new label and go the self-release route over trying to find a different label?
OA: I am extremely grateful for every label and person who has believed in the music I’ve made. It is a huge undertaking to release music properly and greatly appreciate it. I was just thinking, since there are so many cool creative bands coming out these days, perhaps I could give back and help some of these artists and build a community of cool artists working together to make something greater.
OS: Is Dedstrange planning on releasing anything else this year?
OA: Yes, we have a ton of releases lined up. We just release a Double EP by Berln’s Jealous, some singles by Plattenbau – also from Berlin – with an album coming out early next year, a new Data Animal album is coming in November and we have three or four more signings to announce. We’re also presenting a stage at Synasthesie Festival in Berlin featuring Jealous, Plattenbau and the Pleasure Majenta. We hope it’s the first of many.
OS: What made you start to create your own guitar pedals? How did Death by Audio start?
OA: I really hit a wall at some point with the effects available to me at the time and wanted to see how they worked and explore sounds people weren’t making. It took me a long time to start to figure things out but then it became easier and easier. With every pedal built and design I gained knowledge, I could use in future designs. At some point it just turned into where I now ask the question: what do I want to build and then make it happen. I started the pedal company just to make some money at a time when I was living with no expenses in a warehouse that was a practice space. I had been recording a lot of music with feedback loops and thought it would make a really cool pedal so that was the big idea. Make the most heinous sounds available to everyone. That kind of broke through the constraints for everything else I’ve done since. None of these devices need to live in a nice world. The world is messed up so sounds should be too.
OS: What’s your favorite pedal that you’ve designed? Do you have any new pedal concepts in the works?
OA: My favorite pedal I’ve designed at the moment is the Rooms pedal. With an expression pedal it is so interactive it has definitely been a big part of the music I’ve been creating recently. As for new pedals in the works we have about 20 or so. It takes a really long time to design them and make sure they are as good as they possibly can be.
OS: I know that live shows are still a little tenuous and some venues still haven’t reopened- but do you think you’ll open a new Death by Audio music venue at some point? Or does that name strictly speak to a specific time and place- too sacred to recreate?
OA: That name applies to a specific time and space. There were so many more people who had way more to do with the space than I did. They were what made it an incredible space. I also think that when something ends if you decide to revive it, it’s really something different and then you are just using the name to drive people to something that was actually something else. Sounds kind of disingenuous to me.