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“You are the One”
All Oliver Ackermann ever wanted was to make music. The Virginia-born, RISD-educated, Brooklyn-based guitarist has spent the past 35 years forcing his way toward that goal. The result: Death by Audio, the Williamsburg recording space / venue / effects-pedal company that houses the songwriter and assorted friends as well as his noise-rock band, A Place to Bury Strangers.
The converted warehouse is part studio, part lab, and part jungle gym — an unlikely facility for gear that’s used by bands as famous as U2 and Nine Inch Nails. A climbable rope net hangs from the ceiling, and bikes and skateboards line the hall of its entryway. All sorts of stuff — guitar cords, cymbal cases, a massive French press — fills virtually every space, and a pair of cats wander aimlessly. It’s a mess, but a beautiful one. Ackermann recently gave us a glimpse of this rock-infused Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and sat down to answer our questions.
You have so much happening in this building. Did it all happen naturally?
It was completely natural. Things like the effects-pedal company started because my real passion in life is for making music. It’s just another element. You have to build your own gear when you’re not rich. It’s from spending tons of time doing that. I used to do web design or graphic design, and so you put together your own album covers or make posters for shows. You just teach yourself to do whatever you can.
A Yelp reviewer wrote of the venue, “In all of the places I have seen up-and-coming bands play in…Death by Audio stands out as the best shitty venue of them all.” Is that a badge of honor?
Yeah, I think so. For sure. It’s a great thing to have the kind of space where people can just have fun. It’s all about the music and bringing people together. If people are talking about how wonderful the bathrooms are or how great the shrimp cocktail is, it doesn’t sound like that has much to do with the venue. It’s a space for people to meet.
Do people come to you with strange requests for effects?
After the first or second pedal I came out with, I started to take custom orders. Sometimes people would be like, “I want it to sound like a whale.” I would tell them, “No problem. It’s going to cost $350.” I would have no clue. I would wonder what a whale would sound like. Or someone would tell me that they wanted it to sound like Tom DeLonge’s guitar. I didn’t know who he was, but I’d say, “Sure, no problem. I can make that happen for $250.” That was a good learning tool, because I would have to do the research to learn how to build that.
Is this the dream?
I don’t know. I guess — I’m happy. Sure, it’s my dream, I suppose. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. If you put me in some frickin’ mansion somewhere, I’d probably have a fun time smashing shit and enjoying the hot tub for a day or two, but I’d get bored really quick.