Coming out of quarantine, Oliver Ackermann offers this advice: “Everyone be good to one another. It’s nice when people are nice to other people.”
The founding member of iconic NYC noise band A Place To Bury Strangers is no different than the rest of us in the sense that the last year felt deeply strange, but ultimately contemplative and ripe with opportunities to grow. Lovingly hailed as “the loudest band in New York,” APTBS has seen many different line-ups over its nearly twenty-year lifespan.
“There was sort of a shift in the band,” Ackermann explains. “The last iteration of the band broke up kind of contentiously, so there was definitely some bad feelings, and the weird unknowing of what was going to happen [with the pandemic], so I was just like, I need to reform this band with people who I know are really good people, and friendly, and doing this for the right reasons.”
APTBS reemerges into the present with new members and a new EP, Hologram, out July 16 on Ackermann’s own DedStrange imprint. With it comes the video for single “I Might Have,” a raucous spin with the band around their neighborhood of Ridgewood, Queens.
“I [started] this for the reasons you always start a band in the first place,” Ackermann continues. “You’re there with your best friends, trying to do something together.” Enter John Fedowitz, Ackermann’s childhood friend who had played alongside him in underground Virginia shoegaze band Skywave, and his wife Sandra Fedowitz, who have joined the band on bass and drums, respectively, after playing together in Ceremony East Coast.
“I think we connected in all the right ways to bring all of us back to that fun and exciting place of starting a band, and doing things from the ground up,” he says of the overwhelming positivity and good vibes he felt every time he’d go back to Virginia to visit them. “That’s where this album is – that connection of the pure form of songwriting that’s inside of you, people who just easily get along and write songs together.”
He describes the new EP as “the glimmer of hope or something, the need for a future,” born of early pandemic solo recordings and “bizarre” writing sessions. It brings him back to writing the first APTBS record, released in 2007. “That was all just making music for me and my friends to listen to… When that album came out, it was just those demos that I recorded to get everybody excited about the music. It was awesome that people actually liked that and took to that,” Ackermann remembers. “I think this is the same sort of thing. I didn’t know what was going to happen, if music was going to continue, so we just started doing stuff to make some music that we wanted to hear.”
The new song and video for “I Might Have” reflects this return to the joy of creating without expectations: the band cruises around Ridgewood listening to a cassette tape endearingly labeled “demos” while hijinks ensue and escalate. The song itself is “a fuzz-soaked sonic disaster in the best way possible,” the band at its most honest and unfiltered. It captures the ironic purity and joy of youth, a time when there wasn’t anything to do besides nothing at all really, what Ackermann refers to as “street hangs.” In a way, this visual rendering of a simpler time is a testament to the weirdness of the last year as much as the music itself, the pent-up energy of all our favorite haunts and hangouts shuttered with no end date in sight.
“Originally I had this really loose idea of, let’s do what was fun for us to do growing up, which was basically just you’d drive around in a car and listen to music and that was it,” he says.
With that in mind, the band prepares for their return to live performance and touring. They have a slew of European tour dates already slated for spring 2022, as well as a number of festivals and one-off dates. “We’ve got as many shows as we can possibly play coming up,” Ackermann says, refreshed and more ready than ever to get back in the game. “Whatever it is, you know, someone’s birthday party or whatever, I want to play it! If you book A Place To Bury Strangers, we’ll come play.”
It’s a newfound sense of purpose that might never have been so acutely felt if not for the pandemic. “When you dance really close to death, or whatever, the potential of that, you reevaluate your life and think like, oh wait a minute, what’s important to me? Maybe I need to go to the beach today and not work on stuff,” Ackermann says. “I’m only starting to realize it now, what a weird time we just went through, how strange it was.”