With a new song out and EP in the works, ackerman isn’t letting a little thing like being 2,451 miles apart stop them from growing.
“I moved to LA during the mixing process of the [forthcoming] record and that has required a lot of communication and coordination,” frontman Jordan McAfee-Hahn tells BTRtoday. “Especially because I’m very domineering and opinionated.” As he laughs, ackerman drummer Matti Dunietz says the move forced them to be more focused and organized.
“Whenever Jordan visited we had to make sure that no time was being wasted,” he says.
This past Friday, ackerman released the first single from their forthcoming sophomore EP coming out this fall. Entitled “Loverboy,” the song is a sweet psychedelic tune about an awkward date. Vocalist and guitarist Bernardo Ochoa says the track was heavily inspired by the ‘60s and ‘70s. “We wanted to sound like the Beatles and The Beach Boys,” he says.
Known for their airy vocals, dreamy melodies and experimental loops and samples, ackerman says the EP is totally different than their usual approach. “I’m always interested in us bringing something new to every record,” McAfee-Hahn says. “We also went back to our roots and enjoyed ambiances and washed out airy vocals as well,” Dunietz says. “Overall, this album has much more epic-ness in the orchestration.”
Read the entire interview with ackerman below.
BTRtoday (BTR): Where did the name ackerman come from?
Jordan McAfee-Hahn (JMH): In the beginning of the project I was struggling with finding an appropriate name. In 2014, when I was mixing the first record, I was in Scotland with my family and stayed in a small town. I can’t remember the name, but there was an older man there who ran the BNB that we were staying at with the last name Ackerman. He was an interesting man, stayed in that small town his whole life and seemed very content.
At the time, I was struggling a lot with life in New York. I had a yearning to be in a more natural place. I looked up the etymology of the name and it was Germanic for “man of the earth” [and] I thought it really fit where I was mentally at the time—even though my surroundings were the complete opposite of that. I always liked the idea of an ambiguous name too, the idea that there isn’t necessarily a connection to one person when people first learned about the project. For the longest time, I didn’t even want people to know it was me.
BTR: How long have you guys played together?
JMH: Matti and I started collaborating in 2015 right before the release of the second record Sleep Songs. We were living together, he was coming to all my shows and we had a drum set in the basement of the apartment. It was kind of a foregone conclusion that he would end up playing drums on some of those tracks. Our friendship has always been so natural, it kind of just happened, I don’t even think there was a point where he “joined the band,” he just started playing with me and we never stopped. That was when he started being interested in production. Nardo (BO) joined in summer 2016, while we were working on the third record The Orion Pact. It was exactly the same situation—we were just spending so much time together, it just sort of happened. It’s all been really fluid.
Matti Dunietz (MD): Jordan and I became very close friends after he transferred to NYU. We would spend most of our nights on bike rides together or eating copious amounts of food at the dining halls. Our joint musical experiences mainly included lying on floors listening to folk albums.
Jordan began releasing music under the moniker ackerman in 2014 and that fall I began learning how to produce. I saw Jordan perform a solo show at Sidewalk Cafe and told him that we needed to work together. Over Thanksgiving Jordan sent me a guitar track he recorded at his home in Newton, Mass. while recording Sleep Songs and we started working on it from there. That track became the final for my music production class and was eventually released as an ackerman song called “Trip.”
Sleep Songs was the first record that both Jordan and I collaborated on together. A while later we played a bill at the Knitting Factory and Nardo came up to us after the show and very enthusiastically said he needed to play with us. Jordan was looking for some vocal inspiration for our song “5/7” and one day Nardo came over and absolutely killed it. It just made sense. That was probably about two years ago.
BTR: Do you all share a similar taste in music or are you guys a mix?
JMH: I think musically we all come from very different backgrounds but are so curious and open-minded that we’re always pushing different inspirations into the songs. It’s like a venn diagram—the foundation is there, but its disparate enough that we still challenge each other with references that wouldn’t necessarily come to mind to the others.
Bernardo Ochoa (BO): I think we all listen to different music. I love listening to what Jordan and Matti are listening to and hearing music from their perspective—at the same time I feel really comfortable being able to share music that I’m into with them. Nothing’s better than hanging out and throwing on a record for a listening session.
MD: We all branch off in different directions. Each of us has a unique background in our musical development and how we bring those together creates the sound of ackerman.
BTR: Tell me about this newest song “Loverboy. “Who’s the loverboy of the group?
JMH: Not sure about that one. [Laughs] If we’re talking about the actual song, the first verse is about an awkward date I went on a few years ago. But when it comes to the band, they both slay my heart. Probably Matti though.
BTR: What kind of inspirations went into the song lyrically and musically?
BO: The energy of the ‘60s and ‘70s was an inspiration. We wanted to sound like The Beatles and The Beach Boys.
JMH: The concept of the song kind of came about because I’ve been curious about love as a concept for awhile—so original. [Laughs] I was so obsessed with how weird and surprising chemistry is sometimes. The whole concept of romantic love is so nebulous, no one really knows anything about it—it’s so visceral.
That’s what we’re dealing with a lot in this record, exploring and comparing platonic vs. romantic love. We’re all in long term relationships and rely on our friendships so deeply, we are all just naturally curious to explore those questions, especially at this stage in life. The beachy, retro vibe of the song only inspired that more.
BTR: Did you experiment with anything new in this album?
MD: Yes, definitely. Everything—from the songwriting to the recording process and orchestration was quite different from our previous records. All five songs on this record were approached in completely different ways.
JMH: I’m always interested in us bringing something new to every record. With older records, the songs were built mostly in the recording process. This time we were interested in concocting more straightforward and hard-hitting songs, so we could really bring the energy.
After The Orion Pact, which was super electronic, I was also interested in a more natural sound. This record is more guitar-based and traditional than our older records, I would say. With other tracks on the album, there’s a lot of post-rock inspired orchestral instrumentation too. It sounds weirdly real and also very electronic because of the samples and processing—I called it the “Uncanny Valley Orchestra.” It’s a corny name, but I can’t shake it for some reason.
MD: The songs on this record tend to be shorter and more concise than our last record and the vocal approach is a little more direct. But then we also went back to our roots and enjoyed ambiances and washed out airy vocals as well. Overall, this album has much more epic-ness in the orchestration. Jordan wrote some huge string and horn arrangements that are filled out with massive choirs of vocals.
JMH: There was also the logistical complications of working remotely. I moved to LA during the mixing process of the record and that has required a lot of communication and coordination to make work, especially because I’m very domineering and opinionated. [Laughs]
BO: This EP was our first time making music as a bicoastal band. The move made us more focused and organized because whenever Jordan visited we had to make sure that no time was being wasted. When he was away we had to make sure to keep the project going forward and to be super communicative with each other about our thoughts and feelings on the music.
BTR: How has your music evolved?
JMH: I think there’s more musicality to what we do as we grow individually and together. As a very solitary musician, it’s been a learning experience letting people into the project and letting them bring it to new heights. I’ve been very protective for sure, but I trust these guys more than anyone else in the world and they’re helping me grow and vice versa. That personal development is a huge evolution that translates to the music in a big way. We keep trying new things and as our lives grow in different directions as adults it presents a myriad of circumstances that we need to adapt to in order to continue working together. I’m very grateful for these guys.
BO: We’re also becoming more discerning about what the music sounds like. I think we’re getting better at subtracting elements from the song till only the bare essentials stay. We still like creating a wash you can get lost in, but it’s more of a minimalist wash.
MD: Essentially, our music is a constant exploration and experimentation with what we like and how we’re feeling. We don’t have one formula for creating our songs and currently we’ve been really focused on pushing the needle forward and quickly.
BTR: What should we be keeping an eye out for in the future of Ackerman?
BO: Speaking of eyes, you should keep ‘em on our Instagram. We’re working with our longtime friend and collaborator Camille Petricola to envision what this new EP unveiling looks like. You’ll be able to keep up with all the new music we’ll be releasing this fall, and we’ll post info about our tour.
MD: We’ve got a tour in September and the beginning of October, and seven of those dates are with our good friends Ritual Talk. We’ve got a couple more singles coming and a five-song EP in the fall.
JMH: We have two more singles and an EP in the coming months, and another EP after that that we’re finishing up. I’m already making plans for the next record—they don’t know about that yet though [Laughs], but yeah, there’s a lot to be excited about, so stay tuned.