Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

The Big Pink meets A Place to Bury Strangers, in possibly the loudest blog post ever

March 9, 2010 |  3:22 pm


Anyone looking to make a quick buck would do well to buy a trash bag of earplugs and hock them at huge markups in Mid-City tonight. Londoners The Big Pink and New York's A Place to Bury Strangers, two  exciting and pulverizingly loud rock bands, will kick off a fiendishly curated co-headlining tour at the El Rey Theatre tonight.

But on the bands' latest albums -- "A Brief History of Love" and "Exploding Head," respectively -- there are real streaks of romance, misanthropy and grandeur beneath the brutality. To steel our poor little eardrums for the occasion, we got frontmen Robbie Furze of the Big Pink and Oliver Ackermann of A Place to Bury Strangers on the phone together to talk about the pleasures of kicking the bejesus out of your reverb unit, Alan Moulder's black magic behind a mixing desk and how to cut through the chaos to make a song break your skull -- and heart -- alike.

You both put out really dense, sonically involved records last year. What strategies do you use to re-create them live?

Ackermann: I take it with a completely different approach. In a live atmosphere, you can do completely different things, depending on the space. We try to create as much chaos as possible, and you can play around with so many things to do that.

Furze: For us, live, it's far more aggressive than on the record. All the samples get effected again through an effect chain; I use a lot more pedals live than on record. There's just a lot more going on.

Ackermann: Yeah, there's something about the energy of a place where the kids are going crazy, it's way more exciting than sitting in your room just tripping on sounds.

Oliver, you have a fine side career making boutique effects pedals. What are some of your favorite sounds the Big Pink uses?

Ackermann: I think their sounds are awesome and right on with what’s going on right now; it takes music to another level. Never seen them play live except on videos yet, but I’m psyched to see it.

Robbie, A Place to Bury Strangers is one of the loudest bands going today. Do you think playing alongside a band that aggressive might make you re-imagine any ideas in your own headlining set?

Furze: We’ll do what we usually do. Apart from a few new songs, we're not going to change things sonically. It's always different, but this tour feels more like a joint tour sonically.

What are some of the challenges of making such a loud set still feel articulate and true to the record? Do sound techs just hate you both by the time the night’s over?

Furze: We want to control things. Sometimes, when we lose the dynamics of a song, it can turn into a wash quite quickly. It's quite important to keep that clarity that we have on the record.

Ackermann: That's why I've always kept it as a three-piece band, otherwise it gets out of control quickly. ... We're constantly playing on edge and almost out of control anyways, so we have to try to keep it in the song structure, when we're always about to fall into the realm of unmanageable chaos.

You each have a real firm hand over your sound from a technical standpoint. How does technology inform your craft of songwriting?

Ackermann: I'm always excited about new technology. I embrace it, along with old technology too; it's about finding sounds and tools you like working with. It's what keeps it interesting. It's cool to write songs on different instruments and effects you're not used to.

Furze: Boredom's really good too. I get bored easily and always have to move onto something different. I'm always kind of looking for new toys.

A Place to Bury Strangers’ last record put vocals and lyrics up front in a way they hadn't before. Robbie, how do you think Oliver’s singing and lyrics elaborate on the kinds of guitar sounds he uses?

Furze: Vocals are really important for me. Some of my favorite music is old soul, where the lyrics are up front and it's all about vocals and strong melodies. When I heard their new record, for me, it gives it another dimension on top. I'm not saying it was lacking before, but it makes a different shape, which for me, personally, I could really get on board with. That’s what we tried to do with the Big Pink, when we were mixing with Rich Costey. I just wanted to push vocals up as much as we could get away with.

A Place to Bury Strangers did lots of its early recordings at home, while the Big Pink worked with some well-known mixers and producers like Alan Moulder. What are the respective gains and challenges of working at home versus what seasoned studio hands can bring?

Furze: We actually did the bulk of our record at home; the stuff in New York was mostly tracking drums and guitars and re-recording stuff. We didn’t have the proper mikes; we just have a very small system at home. When we did "Velvet" with Alan Moulder, watching him work was magic. I didn't know what we were doing half the time; he was just constantly manipulating the track and making it come alive, more than I ever thought the track could. In a similar way, Rich Costey took the record a level farther than I ever could have done on my own.

Ackermann: It's important to work with the right people: You need someone who gets what you’re doing,  and that makes all the difference. You know your music better than anyone, but someone fresh can get even stronger ideas. Working with Andy Smith on our record, he made me think of things I never thought of before, like timing issues where something is milliseconds off, or differences between drum mikes. The really technical things helped get a clarity that was good for this record.

It's a challenging commercial climate for rock bands now. You each know this firsthand -- Milo Cordell from the Big Pink runs Merock Records, and A Place to Bury Strangers had some label challenges before signing with Mute. How does that business reality affect the goals and ambitions you have for your band, or does it?

Ackermann: Personally, I never think about it. I’m really happy anything is happening for us at all; if it wasn’t, I’d still be making music for myself.

Furze: I try not to think about it as much as I can; I would just carry on doing it anyway. We’ve had conversations about it, but I really hate talking about it -- those things stress me out. It’s hard to go on the road -- it’s hard to do anything really as a band -- so whatever it takes to get out there and do what you love, you just got to do it, even if they’re not throwing money at it like they used to.

-- August Brown

The Big Pink and A Place to Bury Strangers play the El Rey Theatre tonight, with the also-quite-great Active Child and IO Echo. Doors at 8 p.m., tickets are $20.

The Big Pink photo by Tim Saccenti; A Place to Bury Strangers photo courtesy Girlie Action.