All Connected Somehow

It’s All Connected Somehow

With Robi Gonzalez

Interview / Cody Liska

Photos / A Place To Bury Strangers


Robi Gonzalez is the newest drummer for A Place to Bury Strangers and, for the time being, he’s almost impossible to hear. Talking on the phone while you’re riding a bike through the noisy streets of Brooklyn, New York will do that. The wind blowing into the receiver doesn’t help either.


“I’ll be home in ten minutes,” Robi yells. “So if it’s all shitty and noisy you can start over.”


Robi’s biking home from Death By Audio, APTBS’s Brooklyn-based studio and venue. His mind is a little frenetic. One minute he’s talking about dodging pedestrians, the next he’s telling me about being a sucker for rom-coms (“Seriously. I also like movies that make you think. Eternal Sunshine [of the Spotless Mind] and shit like that,” he says.). By the time he gets home, the conversation that turned from Breaking Bad predictions to eastern philosophical musings segues into an explanation of how the group dynamic of APTBS is a lot like a human centipede.

We always joke about what role each of us plays in the human centipede. And so I’m the front of the ‘pede, Oliver [Ackermann] is the middle and Dion [Lunadon] is the back of the ‘pede. And any time we add someone to the crew, for a different tour or something like that, they have to establish their role in the ‘pede.


Tangential, not scatterbrained, that’s the best way to understand Robi. He’s got a lot to think about. When he’s not out of the country on tour, he’s bartending all night; when he’s not bartending all night, he’s practicing. “I’m supposed to work tomorrow at this speakeasy where there’s no menu and you just kind of make cocktails to somebody’s palate,” Robi says. “Anyway, yea, I’m fucking exhausted, dude. Like, on my days off work, my arms are sore from shaking cocktails and lifting heavy ice all night and I have to go to the studio for like six to eight hours, playing and sweating my ass off.”


Ask him and he’ll tell you, this band is the craziest thing he’s ever done. Last year alone APTBS did 200 shows worldwide. They did shows in Mexico City, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, Russia, Poland, all throughout Europe and the festivals in the U.S. And no two shows were the same. Sometimes the power goes out and then it’s just Robi playing drums until the power comes back on. “Or maybe one of the guitarists, they like to throw their guitars in the air, and maybe their guitar smashes. Then they have to fumble around to get another one,” Robi says. “Or the amp cuts out. Or Dion’s lost in the crowd. We never know what’s going to happen at a show, man.”


To see APTBS live is to see them for the first time, in their natural habitat – moody and relentless and loud. The Loudest Band in New York, that’s what the critics call them. And for $2 you can buy a pair of their signature earplugs before the show.  


“[Our live show] captures almost every sense except smell,” Robi says. “We always bring like 10 projectors onstage with us, we have like 4 fog machines, then the last 15-20 minutes of the set we turn all the stage lights and projectors off and turn all the strobe lights on. We play like 120-130 decibels. You see people in the front plugging their ears and squishing their eyes shut.”


It’s the type of music that makes your ears ring during the show and numb hours afterwards. Guitars wail like sirens and drums pop like gunshots. But that’s what APTBS is: an unbroken dissonance that jars then resonates. It’s distorted and cacophonous. Every listen sounds like a live performance echoing from inside of a mausoleum. Phantasmal vocals hum over reverb. If it wasn’t music, it would be a scene from Lost Boys. And if Robi wasn’t a drummer, he’d be a snowboarder. After all, he has roots in the Alaska snowboard community. In fact, professional snowboarder Mark Landvik contacted Robi back in July  about using one of APTBS’s songs in his X-Games Real Snow part. “Lando hit me up, which was really cool. I love that dude. I talked to the boys and they were totally cool with it. [Dissolved] is actually my favorite song on [the Worship album] because the beginning of it is really slow and really mellow – and that’s very not like our band. It’s really mellow and spacey and then it switches halfway through and it becomes like a sort of Joy Division, pop song. I love it. I was really stoked he chose that one.”


Two years ago Robi had never heard of APTBS. He was still living in Brooklyn and bartending, but he was playing with Trouble Andrew, doing the odd show here and there. The money was good when they played, but the consistency was lacking. “I wasn’t playing enough and I got so jaded bartending five days a week. The service industry in New York is a monster.” And then a friend suggested that he audition for this band, A Place to Bury Strangers, because they needed a drummer for an upcoming tour.

“I thought he was awesome,” Dion says. “We ran through a few new APTBS songs and of all the drummers we tried, he nailed them best. Especially ‘Nothing Will Surprise Me,’ which no one else could get. He whipped it out first time.”


The feeling was mutual: “Honestly, I was blown away,” Oliver says. “Behind a drum kit Robi is amazing. Crazy fast, super tight, and extremely loud like a drum machine blasting through a peaked out P.A. He hits harder than anyone else, but with some sort of technique where he doesn't punch through the drum skins. If you look at the wear and tear on his skins there is just a little dot in the middle where every drum hit came down on the same place. It's like those scenes in those action movies where they give Clint Eastwood the gun and all the targets get shot inside the other holes inside the targets eye.”

Music, snowboarding, Alaska, New York, dodging pedestrians, they’re all connected somehow – a mess of thoughts that are all part of a creative process; a means to a state of mind that exists in a feeling. It all makes sense if you just think about it long enough.

“Once I’m onstage, it’s kind of like that feeling you get when you’re in the backcountry and you forget about everything else and it’s all about that moment and that feeling,” Robi says. “I’ve learned to embrace that and that’s what keeps me going.”