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Q&A: The Antlers

By Nazirah Ashari on April 15, 2010

 

Q&A: The Antlers

Diving into The Antlers' epic 2009 album Hospice is pretty much an adventure in itself. It's an album written like a storybook, replete with grim and vivid details of moments you wouldn’t want to imagine yourself in. As Peter Silberman sings in “Two”: “You were just a little kid, and they cut your hair/then they stuck you in machines, you were so close to dying.” Add that depth to heavy shoegaze ambience and an experimental indie rock vibe and you have one of the best releases of 2009. Started off as a one-man band consisting of vocalist/guitarist Silberman, the Brooklyn-based band is now a trio with multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci and drummer Michael Lerner. Despite their busy touring schedule, FILTER snagged a few minutes with Silberman to talk about their rising popularity, the new album and his impressive skill in memorizing his storybook-length lyrics.

 

Congratulations on the praises the band received for Hospice. Now, with a busy tour schedule with The National and Phantogram, how are you coping with your rising popularity?

Peter Silberman: Why thank you.  Finding ourselves in this new position is bizarre.  I never imagined that I could be a part of something that’s been heard by so many people, and it’s all very surreal to feel as though people know you before you know them.  The more touring we do, the less our lives seem to follow any sort of logical track.  But it’s amazing.  I can’t begin to explain how lucky I feel with all of this.

As a band, are you allowing yourselves to enjoy the success? Any new luxuries?

We’re definitely happy and enjoying what’s happened.  There’s a point on every tour at which we start getting restless (surprising due to the amount of travel), or irritable, or any number of negative feelings that we quickly dismiss as we remember that this job is so much better than any jobs we’ve had prior.  As far as luxuries, it’s small things...generally whiskey and taxis, but otherwise we don’t go wild spending money.  We’re whores for equipment, but we try to restrain ourselves. 

What’s on the band’s current playlist? What have you guys been listening to lately?

We’ve all been on somewhat of a Fever Ray / Knife kick lately, but the weather’s getting nicer so maybe that’ll change.  I just heard that Gonjasufi record a few nights ago and loved it.  It’s so deceptive.  I thought it was garage-y blues but it’s actually a pretty complex electronic record.  Also, the new Caribou is so fucking great.

Hospice is indeed a very sad and intense album. It’s filled with dramatic and heart-wrenching stories, what exactly was your direction when you wrote the album in the first place?

I can recognize that it’s a difficult album to sit through, emotionally.  I would probably put it in the same place as a lot of albums I listen to, but not at any given moment.  My intent was something honest.  That honesty is a heavy honesty that hopefully finds some sort of peace by the end.  I didn’t want to depress anyone.

Hospice seems like a very personal album. Was it all based on personal experiences ─all these stories about hospital bed, deaths, Sylvia? Who is Sylvia, by the way?  

Hospice is a true story, to an extent.  To look at the events unfolding in the record and take them as a timeline of real events is to ignore what the songs are actually about.  Did I actually suddenly find myself in my own hospital bed, transformed into the girl I was taking care of?  No.  It’s a metaphor.  Begin by assuming the entire record is metaphor for something else.  The “something else” is true.  Cancer and death the context for this relationship.  Sylvia is the same way.  She’s a real person, but she’s also several people I never knew.

What about a new album? Have you started writing some new music yet?

Yes!  We’re hard at work.  We started recording sketches of things in January, left for a few months, and now we’re getting into the real album-writing stage and beginning to play these new songs live.  Finally.

If Hospice was entirely written by Peter, will the next release be a more collective effort?

This new record is absolutely more collaborative.  We’re an entirely different band than we were when Hospice was being made.  I wrote most of it before Darby and Michael contributed, which made sense for that record.  This one requires an entirely different writing process.  There’s a much more even division of labor this time around.

Will there be a happy vibe/stories to the songs/music?

It’s probably hard to believe, but I think this album might be darker, in a way.  This isn’t to say the subject matter will be more grim, but I think the tone will be more of a dark, electronic sound, though I think the record actually ends in a more positive place.  I don’t know if I yet see the purpose in writing a song about everything being fine.  Writing is about struggle, even if it’s small struggles.

The band went for a European tour in March. How was the crowd in Europe? Are they any different from the ones in America?

I’ve noticed that every time we’re in Europe, the crowds have very different personalities in different cities.  We may have the same number of people coming out to shows, but some crowds are very talkative, or silent, or any number of traits (this is true of America as well, but stronger in Europe).  And any time I meet somebody from one of these cities, they explain that their city’s crowds are notoriously “that way.”

Peter, it’s interesting to see how you managed to memorize all the words in your songs when you perform live! The album was written like a storybook and when I watched the band’s live videos I was very impressed to see how you manage to sing every word from the lyrics. How did you do that?

I wish I knew.  I have a horrible short-term memory and attention span, but I think I’m a creature of habit.  I’ve sung these songs so many times that the lyrics are burned in my brain and on my tongue.

What are three things you can’t live without while on tour?

First and foremost is coffee, followed by headphones, and then a book.  I’ve recently learned to read in the van, which is changing everything.

You used to keep a blog “Hospice by The Antlers” and the last entry was in July 2009. Are you planning to write more?

Oh I think that blog is dead.  I mostly used it to put together material related to Hospice, but creatively, I think I’ve moved on.  I wrote an “afterword” for the record, about a two-page long story, but I think I’ll probably keep that to myself. F

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