Transfixiation, the fourth full-length from Brooklyn's A Place to Bury Strangers was born out of a breakdown. The three-piece, grounded by a dark, visceral noise-rock grittiness, had hit a wall following years of touring when it came time to write and record the album, out Tuesday, Feb. 17 on Dead Oceans.
"It's a really awesome place to be," said frontman Oliver Ackermann, "but you bring yourself right to the brink — where you want to work as hard as you can on a project and make something as cool and creative as you possibly can — and then when you go way past the point of whether you should be working or not you start to flex your sanity."
Running full speed on the treadmill of creativity, the band fell into a "weird endless cycle" of writing and recording at Ackermann's communal artistic space, Death By Audio (also the name of his effects pedal company), day by day, turning their process into an all-encompassing ordeal.
"You close your eyes and you can't stop thinking about all these things," he said. "Life isn't completely about making records as fast as you can and touring as long you can."
So they took a break. It served as a moment to recharge, reflect and to do things they felt they might be missing out on. A time to figure out what APTBS wanted to do sonically this time around.
"It was that sort of weird transition as those things were kind of breaking down and apart, kind of rebuilding those things back up," Ackermann said of the mid-recording timeout.
Getting back to the grind at Death By Audio — Transfixiation ended up being the last bit of recorded material at the space, which has since closed — with a fresh new perspective and an increased focus on encompassing a live sound, the result was turning the aforementioned angst, or as Ackermann puts it, "feeling hopeless, feeling bad, questioning what's the point" into a therapeutic pursuit.
"We record our records for ourselves to listen to," he revealed. "It's sort of a reflection of what we want to hear."
As for listeners who happen to agree, Ackermann credits it as almost a fluke, though it hardly seems so. From being in control of the entire recording process — case in point, having their own studio space, being able to pause when needed, not feeling constantly on the clock — to the fullness and consistency of APTBS records, it comes down to a certain vision.
"It's a little bit less about capturing some particular arrangement and more about what everything sounds like in the end," Ackermann said.
The final product isn't reserved solely for each record they put out either. Feeling even more in control in a live setting, Ackermann thrives on a situation based in an in-real-life experience and the variables that come along with it.
"I can actually get out and punch someone in the face in a live show, you can't really do that with a record," he said jokingly of the possibilities. "There's that whole physicality of it. There's some sort of urgency where you're right there at a show."
Ultimately, due to the goal of capturing a live sound on Transfixiation and increased comfort in front of an audience, touring is where APTBS feels most at home. Because, according to Ackermann, while an album offers a single snapshot of how the music sounded at one time and can be listened to in a variety of situations — say at home on headphones, while walking the dog — a performance offers a chance for them to really flex their muscles musically.
"We don't actually focus playing the record exactly the same," he said. "We kind of try to make it crazier and better in separate ways."
A Place to Bury Strangers play Underground Arts with Ed Schrader's Music Beat and Pinkwash on Wednesday, Feb. 18. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are still available.