Brooklyn-based band, The Antlers, blew me away from the first time I heard them. Their song Two nearly killed me on the spot. At the time, I had no idea that their latest album, Hospice, was a concept album and certainly didn’t know that front man Peter Silberman didn’t leave his house for nearly two years prior to writing and recording the album.
Reading the lyrics to Hospice, you’ll notice it reads like a novel and progresses from one song to the next. It’s exceptionally written and passion drips from the page. Understandably too, the record is based from a horrific time in Silberman’s life.
Yet there is no doom and gloom in the music. The end result is nothing short of beautiful, hopeful and some of the best music I’ve heard in some time.
As you guessed, impartiality isn’t my strong suit. I’m a huge fan of The Antlers. I am, however, not a fan of digital voice recorders. After we chatted about their trip to Toronto, how the band formed and how their lives have dramatically changed in the last few months, I realized my recorder crapped out on me.
Here is my conversation with Peter Silberman, Michael Lerner and Darby Cicci before their first Canadian show ever, at the Horseshoe in Toronto on July 22.
Cheers to starting your read with a heavy question.
Kristin: With topics like cancer, abuse, isolation and death, your album could have gone real sour, and fast. But it doesn’t, how did you achieve that?
Peter: I think it’s debatable whether it’s achieved. But I think if you’re writing something about darker subjects, especially about death and dysfunctional relationships and disease and illness, if it’s strictly that darkness, I don’t think [your music] is going to come across very well. I think if you bring some positivity into it, even if it’s a difficult positivity, it makes a difference. It makes it a different animal.
K: Were you overly concerned with planting the positive?
Peter: I didn’t want to make something that would depress people, or to depress myself. The record, for me, was the process of working through something, and at the end of the end if you’ve succeeded, it’s because you’ve found some sort of understanding about everything that happens, and hopefully that’s a positive understanding.
K: Did you do that instrumentally, lyrically?
Peter: Kind of the whole thing, creating this world, starting by myself and then working with more people as time went on. And then bringing Darby and Michael into it, it was like this shut off experience opened up.
K: How long did the album take to make?
Peter: A year and a half.
K: That’s a while.
Peter: Yeah, the thing is it was recorded in my bedroom. We spent a lot of time going over it in painstaking detail, obsessing and taking a ton of time with it and not being on anyone’s clock but our own.
K: So having complete creative control.
Peter: Exactly, this is what we aim to maintain.
Michael: We’re in a position now that we don’t need to bend to anyone else’s will. It’s all about what we want to do musically.
K: Will you record in your bedroom next time?
Peter: I think we’ll record in his bedroom next time [point to Darby].
Michael: It’s expanded square footage-wise, but now the home studio has move to Darby’s place, and we now have the professional tools if you will.
Peter: I was living in a very small space.
Darby: In Hospice, we used two or three mics, I think, total. We had one mic stand. But now we have all the professional equipment we need. So we’re not limited by technology anymore.
K: You’ve been called “epic, yet intimate.” How did you pull that one off?
Michael: I don’t know if that’s for one same particular song, maybe at times epic, at times intimate. Some songs have a hushed, simple, sometimes just a vocal line, maybe the other part of the song may be this grandiose, you know, the whole band is in at maximum dynamics. I don’t know how we achieved it, just part in parcel of the songs. Sometimes they just kind of explode into the chorus. And then other times it’s a soft whisper. Whatever the emotive quality is necessary for the song.
K: How did you two [Michael and Darby] feel about getting involved in a project that was so personal for Peter?
Michael: At the time, I didn’t see a lot of the lyrics until half way through the recording process. We were just recording good songs, at the time. And then, well I guess after the record was done I looked at the lyrics and read along while listening to the record and was like ‘oh my god, these are really good.’ I remember telling Peter that they were really good, but every single word and sentence fit together. As a fan, I really appreciate strong writing, lyric writing. So it was all different from the process of recording, until after the fact, for me anyway.
Darby: I think everything in this band has developed organically, so I never felt like there was this one day that everything changed. It’s been slow and gradual. As far as Peter opening up with that side of his life, it’s parallel getting to know each other as people and being friends. This is a hard question to answer. I think it’s with any friendship, when somebody opens up to you, you don’t take advantage of that, you protect that. And especially in a musical setting, we really tried to keep everything beautiful and intimate there. I think it’s a big responsibility on me and Michael’s part to not fuck that up, to take it in stride and work with it, not against it.
K: I have to ask, and first I hope these traumatic things never happen to you again, but as a result, you wrote beautiful music. Where are you going to find inspiration the next and the next after that? Is there something in the works?
Peter: We are talking about it now.
K: Are all of you involved [in the writing] this time?
Peter: Yes, it’s much more everybody’s thing this time and we’re all going to be writing. It’s going to be different. I like the idea of whatever The Antlers is, it’s constantly changing. It started out with just me by myself, and then it was sort of a band and we really became a band with this record. The next will be full out, the three of us creating this big thing. That being said, I don’t know what it will be about yet.
Darby: I see these guys almost every day, especially on tour. It’s all day, every day. So we’re having a lot more shared experiences and I think it’s easier to see things on the same page now. It’s cool, it really helps to work together musically.
K: How are you feeling about this album? Are you tired, still in love? Looking to the next? Enjoying the moment?
Peter: I’m not getting tired of it; it’s just weird to me because it seems so long ago now. The subject matter took place between 2005 and 2007. The album was recorded in 2007 and 2008 and has been done nearly a year. It’s been around in our collective brain for a while now. And it’s been circulating for a while now, so it doesn’t feel new – which is the craziest thing.
K: It’s so new to everyone else though.
Peter: Exactly, it just keeps on snowballing and more people keep hearing it and it’s been a slow big build. I’m not tired of playing the songs though. The shows are changing and we just keep getting more and more comfortable with playing together. And we’re just having so much fun at all these shows.
Michael: I think a lot of the shows we play together have become a shared experience, whatever that particular show is, so that makes it new. Also, we allow ourselves freedom musically and won’t play a carbon copy at every show. That also keeps it interesting for us.
K: I have one last question. The first time I heard your song Two, I was completely blown away, and then I read the lyrics, and then I got the chance to read the lyrics to the whole album and realized it reads like a novel, fluid from one to the next. Peter, have you considered publishing?
Peter: I haven’t until very recently. I did some creative writing while I was growing up, but never had a focus for it. A friend of mine asked me to write a tour journal, and it ended up turning into a narrative; less journal and more story. And then I started writing something else related to this record, so we’ll see what happens.
K: I lied, that wasn’t the last question. Do you think you’ll write another concept album?
Michael: It’s too early to say. We do have inspirations and the seeds are planted.
Peter: It will definitely have a focus. I doubt it’ll be just a simple collection of songs, for me at least. I like the idea of revolving around a certain something.
You can buy Hospice on August 18th, or listen to some of it now at their website: