We caught up with the extreme rock band A Place To Bury Strangers about their unique studio set up – the Death By Audio warehouse in New York where they record, run a record label, put on a club night and run a pedal manufacturing business.
You guys are based in New York. How does that as a place affect the music you make or how you write?
Extremely I think. New York is like a really really great place to live. Tons of stuff going on all the time, lots of awesome bands all the time everywhere. Lots of influence, lots of great art, lots of stuff. And you really kind of have to resist doing a whole lot of stuff to play music a lot of the time.
I remember from seeing you before that there seems to be quite a strong visual element to your performance. Do you do the artwork yourselves?
Yeah yeah. I made all the videos and stuff that we projected and stuff. In my spare time, which is not… a lot. We just mixed the videos, the videos that we’re projecting today, were mixed down maybe half an hour before we got on the plane, so I was crossing my fingers because it was 23 hours of video rendering…
Do you change the videos with every tour then?
Well, we try to as much as possible. We’re always kind of filming all sorts of different stuff everywhere so, as much kind of different stuff… We only have so much time to put it all together, and we’re always buying more projectors and I’m like building video mixers and all sorts of different things, using up more of my spare time which I don’t have much of, so we’re always kind of creating different stuff that we can use to do something cool.
With Death By Audio, there seems to be a lot of stuff going on under that name. How did that all come to be?
Well, it all started out as an effects pedal company that I started actually when I lived in Virginia, and then I brought it up to New York, and then I was kind of just doing that for a little while. And then I found this really huge warehouse that we kind of turned into a place… We were throwing some shows, doing some things, and then everyone started calling it Death By Audio, so that became that, and then we just try and do as much as we can to help out the music community in many ways, so we started a label, and all sorts of other things.
So has it changed a lot since the beginning, that whole set up?
Completely. It’s always changing all the time. We used to just rent out like half a floor, and now we rent out like the whole floor of the building. There’s a bunch of people there, there are like ten people who live there. It’s constantly being rebuilt. You know, it’s a cool thing when you can just like take your kitchen table and saw it in half and then turn it into like some shelves or whatever. So it’s a lot of that mentality of let’s create something cool.
Is the freedom of it the kind of thing that appeals to you about being there?
Exactly, and I’ve always for the past however many years lived in warehouses, and always aspired to. You want to build your place to be exactly what you want, so you can do… it’s the greatest thing in the world. You can build your perfect workspace, and then rebuild it to be your perfect workspace… I don’t know. Whatever else you want to do.
Does that place, in terms of where it is in the city maybe, affect the music you make there?
I guess it must, you know? Who knows. I feel like the music that we make is very personal and introverted, so even though perhaps going to see bands does inspire you, at the same time I think really what’s inside my head, doing things that are very personal. That may be lame, but whatever.
You mentioned the pedal manufacturing business. Was that something you had going on before A Place To Bury Strangers?
It was yeah. I was with this other band in Virginia, a very similar thing called Skywave. But the pedal company was started just on a fluke, where I wanted to go on this vacation with the girlfriend that I had to Europe, and I had this idea for an effects pedal that no one else had ever come up with before, so I thought people would want this if they wanted to have something crazy, and marketed it briefly, and made enough money so I could go on the vacation.
What was the pedal out of interest?
It’s called Total Sonic Annihilation. It’s like a force-feedback, which takes whatever effects you already have and forces them back into themselves. To create the sound of things like… aliens landing, bombs going off…
Yeah, because I was thinking nowadays with electronic music being so prominent, that people don’t necessarily think about guitars as being very sonically challenging…
Yeah totally. All of that stuff. I mean we play with effects pedals, and that’s almost even… even though I’m completely anti-keyboard with everything we do in A Place To Bury Strangers. I don’t even know if its for any particular reason, I mean I like playing the keyboard but we do none of that because we like to keep it as organic as possible. But, you know, effects pedals and stuff are even the building blocks of actual synthesizers. So it’s kind of like playing a guitar through a synthesizer.
You’ve got the Death By Audio record label going on as well. Are you very involved with that?
Definitely. It’s me and a couple of friends. You know, we’re just trying to help people out. We offer almost nothing on the record label except for pay for your record, and if you want us to silk screen the covers or something we’ll silk screen the covers. But we’re not involved in trying to do like PR campaigns or something. Anything that’s been done like that that’s on the label, the band has done that on their own. And, you know, it’s more just any bands that are really awesome, I’ll always offer them hey if you want I’ll put out your record.
So who would you recommend that’s doing good stuff on the label at the moment?
Uh, The Seawhores record that we just did is really wicked. The Coin Under Tongue record that we did recently was really good. What else have we done? The Starling record that we did is ok, but they’re way better live I think…
So they’re not necessarily bands that are based in New York, in the same area as you then?
No no. Some of them are or whatever. It’s just bands that we like. Originally, we were just going to release 7”s. I mean, I tried to just make it vinyl, the label. Sometimes people will come up with CDs and we’re just like whatever, they’re our friends. But originally we were just going to put records out of live shows, shows in our live show space. But for some reason it’s been such a hassle. I mean, it’s not that big of a deal but the bands are like going back and forth and trying to coordinate it – we’re not the best at coordination – and so, sometimes soon. Maybe.
What makes you want to record bands live?
I mean I think if there’s the right kind of energy, the right kind of feel… I think definitely our space condones itself to people having a really good time and sort of going nuts and enjoying the show. So there’s sometimes those magic moments when, you know, the band is like really feeling it. You know.
Yeah I was going to ask about your Death By Audio parties. What do you think it is about that space that makes it a really good night out?
Well, for one it feels like almost anything goes, which is pretty cool. Even though it’s not the prettiest space at all… There’s also cheap drinks, you know, people even bring in their own alcohol. Also there’s a bit of the, illegal things that we do. People will do whatever kinds of drugs and nobody really cares. So it’s uh, the kind of thing where it’s like, a space for people to have a good time. As well as it being all ages lots of the time, so it keeps it. Also the person that books all the shows, there’s this one guy, and he almost always trys to make sure the shows are awesome no matter what. Even if it was like a puppet show, it’s going to be a ‘cool’ puppet show. Any time you want to go in there, there’s going to be something cool. We don’t have shows every night, almost every night, but you know, if there’s something that’s going to be good, he’ll book it. I think that helps our club gain respect. Because there are a lot of places in New York, hundreds of venues, I’m sure it’s kind of the same as London, where a lot of places there’s no way you would go to unless there was something in particular you wanted to go see.
Would you say there’s a very strong sense of community among all the bands and the people involved?
There is but, it’s just like so crazy. So it’s like, you’re constantly meeting new people in this supposed to be tight-knit community. So it’s like, someone I should know who knows all of my friends, and then you meet other people in other cool communities. I think it’s just, I don’t know, it’s just an enormous community. And I think it kind of travels all over the world, with people who are like into this sort of stuff, and I think it’s almost, even in a way, where it’s not a community, but like trying to bring the world together. Or something. You shouldn’t feel excluded from this community or anything. We’re just good people.
Would you say it’s a certain ‘scene’ going on there?
I would say that there’s maybe like… 80 or 90 different scenes or something? 200 scenes… you know, there’s probably like 50 different goth scenes or something like that. And it’s really weird because even all these neighbourhoods all around, there are different scenes in all the neighbourhoods. You could stay in the same neighbourhood and not realize that in the neighbourhood over there’s hundreds of kids doing the same thing and thinking the same kind of stuff.
I feel like it’s kind of rare nowadays to have a scene based around geographical location, with the internet seeming to be where most things are happening…
I know, but that’s like a whole other different world. I mean, a lot of people I know don’t even own internet. I mean, I like have all these pages which I don’t even ever check. The Death By Audio like, myspace page or something like that. I don’t even, I’ve never answered a myspace message off that. And there’s like thousands of them! And I feel so bad, but, you know, there’s only so much you can pay attention to. Whatever. People are always like calling me and going why won’t you accept my friend request on facebook? And I’m like, I’m sorry I don’t really go on facebook (laughs). But there is a huge community of that too. It’s a great way for people to meet, make stuff happen.
So, what are you guys up to at the moment? You seem to have been on tour a lot of the last year or so.
Always, constantly! We’re kind of recording the next record right now. Even though we’re just starting a three week tour, but whatever. So we started doing that. We tried to write as many songs as we possibly could in like end of September and October, and me and the bass player got together and tried to write even just a couple of songs a day. So we wrote maybe like 70 songs or something like that. And then about 30 of them were pretty decent, and now we’re kind of focusing on like 17 of them to kind of like go further with them. But I’m sure we’ll even write more songs. Even on the last record, some of the best songs I though were written in like a week before the record was finished, so we’ll see.
How would you say it’s shaping up the album? Is it different to the last one?
Well, I’d never done that experiment where I just tried to write as many songs as I possibly could in a short amount of time. And I think it worked and we got into some really interesting stuff, which is sort of… I don’t know, for me it’s really awesome in a ground-breaking way, I think it still has sort of the same aesthetic. But I think we just really wrote some unique kind of songs which, I’m not really sure where they fit in with music at all. So it’s going to be cool. But yeah, it’s the same sort of aesthetic, so I think people who liked the last record will like this as well.
And you haven’t been tempted to add in other instruments?
No! No no. Definitely not. I mean I’ve always been tempted to do those sorts of things but I think we just wanted to keep it straight. You can make any sounds you possibly want with guitars… I mean we’ll definitely be experimenting with a lot of things… Like this guy made me this really crazy 30 string guitar, something like that. So we were playing with that for a little bit, making some really crazy sounds.
So in terms of the tour you’re on, have you been anywhere particularly exciting?
We just went to Mexico, and that was amazing. You can never predict what’s going to be the awesomest, but you know. I love traveling all over the place. I’m exciting to be in London right now. It’s cool.
If you could record anywhere in the world, where would choose?
Record anywhere in the world? My goodness! Maybe… Antarctica. That would be cool.
Yeah, we’d have to endure the most intense situation possible! I think if we agreed to do that my band mates would be like why the fuck are we here?