Q&A: The Antlers' Peter Silberman On Working Out Demons, Playing More Guitar, And His Favorite Dogs
Back in 2009, the Antlers burst onto the scene with an explosive, utterly sad album called Hospice, which vocalist/guitarist Peter Silberman wrote about the relationship between a hospice worker and a terminally ill patient. They garnered a handful of Arcade Fire comparisons (which kinda bugged Silberman) while being critically lauded for balancing their willingness to be utterly human on record with powerful live shows that could move even the most stoic individuals.
This week, the Antlers return with Burst Apart, a ten-song collection that relies less on the swells that dominated Hospice and more on intricate, atmospheric compositions. They've slowed themselves down a bit, but that doesn't mean they've become boring. Silberman's still one of today's best brooders--and a big dog lover, too. Sound of the City spoke with him last week from his home in Brooklyn.
I noticed that everyone uses the word "brood" to describe the Antlers' music.
That's one of the words I see, definitely. I also see "sad" or "depressing."
Well, what's the brood like in your everyday life?
Um, I'm definitely guilty of some of that in my day to day. But I don't consider that a big part of my life. I think maybe when I was a little bit younger, I was brooding more. More reasons to do it, but I think it just got exhausting being that way.
At first glance, Burst Apart's songs seem like they're about falling out of love. But, there are also a lot of references or allusions to dogs.
Yeah. It's definitely there.
What's the deal with the dogs?
I think with Hospice there was a lot of intentionally repeated imagery. I think with Burst Apart, because of a lot of the way the record came together fluidly, I think that just happened to work its way in, in a weird way. I've always been a dog lover myself. Anyone that knows me knows that if I'm walking down the street and I see a dog that's a particularly great dog, I will point it out. And I will probably say something to the dog. I think of them as having very big personalities.
As a quick side note, what makes a particularly great dog?
Well, there are a lot of different types of great dogs. I tend to gravitate towards bigger dogs. Giant dogs like Newfoundlands or the Old English Sheepdogs are pretty great. But the Labrador has a very sweet disposition. I'm not a big fan of the tiny dogs, the ones you actually see a lot of here in New York. Basset hounds. They're pretty great.
I noticed at the beginning of the record, there's a line in the song "French Exit" that says for "I'm not a puppy you take home." And then, at the end of the record, the song's called "Putting The Dog To Sleep." I don't want to read too far into this, but there's a certain life cycle situation that could be perceived going on here.
I think so. I think the record is about a lot of different things and I change my mind pretty frequently about it. One part of it is being a person in a point in time and deciding you want to change and deciding that you want to improve. Recognizing problems you've got and flaws. Like we were saying, I used to brood a lot more and less so now. It's working out your demons, I guess.
Speaking on that, there's a lot of heavy themes on Hospice about loss and institutionalization. Was there any desire to be like "fuck it, the next Antlers record is going to be about lollipops"?
Heh. We definitely joked about it a lot. We have a sense of humor. I think most people assume we're very serious about everything we do but the reality is we aren't. We care about what we're doing a lot but we poke fun at ourselves all the time. We know we have the reputation of being a sad-sack band, but we laugh at it, because we're not that way. I think especially touring on those [Hospice] songs for so long helped me get it out of my system.
Looking back at the overall experience around Hospice, what did people connect to more: The story or the music? I know that sounds weird to position it as two separate things.
I know what you mean; I compartmentalize things with music. And with Hospice, I think it is split in half that way, where it's the music versus the lyrics. In the live show, playing them over and over, people that knew the songs, they could follow them. But people who'd never heard us before... I don't know, I just can't understand lyrics that well at a live show. Lyrics blow right by me. We got used to that so we focused on the sounds for the show, the mood of it, and tried to make it sound explosive and personal, even if you couldn't necessarily understand every word of this story going on.
There's a handful of instrumental moments on Burst Apart, for example the song "Tiptoe." Is there a desire to not sing as much these days?
I feel conflicted about being the singer of the band. I always thought of myself as a guitar player and the way I started singing was because I wanted to keep recording. So I thought "for the time being, I'll sing." There's a strange kind of responsibility to being a singer, especially in a band where the fans are paying attention to the lyrics like they are. I think we came back from all the Hospice touring and I was a little burnt out on singing. All I wanted to do was be home and play guitar all the time. And that's what I did for a while. The way I was able to start writing again after a long writer's block--because I was trying to write lyrics for a long time--but the way I started again was to stop thinking of myself as a singer for a little bit and resetting and being a guitar player in the band.
The Antlers' live show had so many of those explosive moments, but from a musical standpoint, Burst Apart doesn't rely on that as much. It has the same feel, but there has more atmospherics this time, more floating experiences through this.
Right. That was a little more of the idea on this one. Make it a little more trancier. Hospice was built around these crescendos because it's really dramatic subject matter. This is a melancholy record, but I don't think it's that dramatic. We all got a little bored with the crescendo and huge climax thing. It's so easy to do it and it can be kind of a cheap trick. It becomes a lot less powerful the more you do it.
The Antlers play Music Hall of Williamsburg on May 19 and the Bowery Ballroom on May 20
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