Interview: The Antlers' Peter Silberman on Their Strikingly Haunting Debut Hospice and Those Nagging Arcade Fire Comparisons
The Antlers: (center) Peter Silberman
When Brooklyn's the Antlers self-released their 10-song debut album Hospice this past spring, quick accolades from NPR and the usual Internet suspects prompted Frenchkiss to grab hold of it and give it a proper release this past Tuesday. And it's easy to see why: Hospice is a sprawling mix of brooding guitars and dense atmospheres, delicately narrated by Silberman's whispering falsetto. The back story to Hospice is just as compelling: Silberman spent a year-and-half in a kind of self-imposed isolation, processing the deeply personal, emotionally wrought events that inspired this record. And although the 23-year-old tends to avoid revealing too many specifics, "for the sake of everyone involved," Silberman does explain that Hospice "tells the story of a psychologically abusive relationship, some of which took place in a children's cancer ward. The record sort of drifts in and out of the hospital, which is true of the relationship itself. To an extent it's autobiographical, but I guess the best way to say it is that there's a few ways to lose someone. It's not always through death, even if it resembles death." All together, Hospice is a cathartic, therapeutic, mesmerizing piece of work that makes for a strikingly haunting debut.
There's this context to Hospice that people are really gravitating towards. How important do you think that context is to get the record?
I don't know. I think it could definitely get exhausting and pigeonhole it a bit--especially the whole isolation thing. It's kind of tricky, I think before we self-released it, we realized that it does need a bit of context before you listen to it. I think it can stand on its own, but it does need a little bit of introduction.
Some pop records you can get very easily without knowing too much. But with something like this, I think it helps.
Certain albums need their back story--but it's also tricky, because I think some of the back story is in the record. I try not to spell it out too much; it's all there, but maybe takes a little bit to dig in.
When you were writing this, had the events already taking place or had you been removed a bit, time-wise?
The events on this album pretty much had drawn to a close; I started writing the record right as they had drawn to a close.
So there wasn't much time at all.
Now it's been awhile; that was sort of a long time ago, the spring of 2007 it all came to a close. The next year and a half, I spent processing what had happened beforehand and turning it into this album. Now, we're a few years after the fact and it's very strange the album is just now coming out.
When you were writing the music, were you looking to evoke certain feelings through the sound?
I think we wanted sounds to emphasize certain aspects of the lyrics. But it's really the story; in the same way that a film has different ways of bringing out elements of the plot, it's the same way in music. They don't have to be separate and there are a couple ways you can go about that. You can make an album where the vocals are meant to be another instrument, like on Loveless. It's so much, where the vocals are alongside the guitars and drums and aren't really meant to be understood. But if you're making something where the lyrics are important, you can just have the lyric and an acoustic guitar right behind it, so you really draw attention to the lyric. But I think what we really wanted to do with this is both. Have the music as the soundtrack to the lyrics. Bringing out different elements of the subject matter, setting a mood for what is going on.
It's definitely one of those things where I'm not going to listen to one track; I'm going to put this in when I can listen to the whole thing.
Those are definitely my favorite types of albums. Those are the ones that stay with me the longest in my life--the ones I can't even listen to out of order. There've been moments where people have put things on that is out of order or missing tracks and I've said "I don't even want to listen to it!" I think there is merit to singles and individual songs, but when you have an album that its own world, it's something special. I don't know to what extent we achieved that, but I those are my favorite kind of albums, when you get a feeling of in that world. It's sort of self contained and transports you somewhere.
Did you start this alone?
Yeah, I'd been recording for several years by myself. I'd grown up playing in bands and playing guitar. When I moved to New York, I was still doing that, playing under my own name, but I didn't want to do the singer-songwriter thing. That can only go so far and I was getting bored with it. The recording was fun but playing live was not. I could tell that I wanted to start working with other people. I started calling it the Antlers, in the hopes that it could be an open-ended thing. It could be a solo project or a band. But as I started getting a band together, and the three of us got really comfortable with each other and started touring, I knew that it wasn't going to be an open ended thing. It felt like a real band and I was really happy about that; it felt really collaborative. Hospice was started while I was doing this by myself, but a certain amount of time within the writing and recording process, the band got together and were writing parts for it. The album was going from A to B. And now we're at B.
You don't hear about many records being made that way.
It was sort of made in a backwards way. A lot of the drone and the atmosphere was made first; and that took the most time. And independent of that, there was writing songs. Those songs sort of go on top of these layers. A bunch of the song would be recorded, then Michael [Lerner] would come in and record a drum part over top of all this. And Darby [Cicci] would come in with the trumpet and banjo and write these parts. I think a lot of times when you record, the drums are the first thing. They lay the groundwork. But this made it a more unusual sounding thing. I liked piecing this all together and have it be this big, dense thing. We had much more freedom that way. You can take certain things out and cut it up. A lot of the writing was through the recording; that was what was fun about this.
A few items compare you to the Arcade Fire. But for me, the song structures and arrangements are radically different. Would you agree?
I think the Arcade Fire is amazing; they're really great. I've been told those comparisons. I think there is a difference and I can't really pinpoint it.
Maybe a bit more winding throughout. Maybe that's due to the atmospheres you were talking about.
My feeling is with the Arcade Fire, there is a story going throughout the entire album. And I think there is something really impressive about that--but at the same time, you can listen to the record and not have to think about the story and not have to listen to it that way. But with us, there is that story there, there's so many lyrics and it sounds like a plot. I think there is some difference there. Live, I think we've moved away from that. Live is a different experience than the record- there are some things that we don't do and we take it in a different direction--an atmospheric direction with an attempt at sounding big and grandiose. But also, the songs are more open-ended; they breathe more, they're looser. To recreate the record, it's a little bit subdued for a live show.
Are you working on new stuff too?
We're talking about a new record. In June, we were on tour with Au Revoir Simone, and we had this weirdly inspiring experience. We haven't started recording anything yet, but we're all writing now and recording little experiments.
Seems like you took your time with Hospice. Sometimes people feel pressure to put out there next thing real quick.
Yeah, I feel like that's a bit of a problem with the way music is working right now. Bands get a lot of attention for an album they've made, then they're put on a rigorous tour schedule--which is great, because then they can become a really good live band. But when it comes time to record the next one, they don't have the time to do so. Maybe substitute a well-known producer for good ideas. You know what it's going to sound like before it comes out: rushed, like a lot of money went into it and not a lot of thought. More than anything, we're going to try and avoid that.
The Antlers play the Mercury Lounge tonight. The show is sold out.
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