Pointed Discussion with Peter Silberman of The Antlers

Here’s what happened the first time I listened to the Brooklyn-based trio The Antlers. I heard a snippet of their song “Two.” I printed out the liner notes to their album Hospice. I read them while listening to the album in its entirety. And then I cried at my desk in the middle of the workday. A chat with the man responsible, The Antlers’ lead singer Peter Silberman, after the jump.

Hospice is a narrative concept album about “a destructive relationship—a very manipulative, controlling one,” says Silberman. The NYU grad wrote the album solo before current band mates Darby Cicci and Michael Lerner joined the collaboration. The narrative switches between realistic stories and nightmares. It’s all a bit dark, and beautiful. Silberman elaborates that the very personal album is about “finding yourself in a very familiar, scary situation, being brainwashed, and thinking that everyone is against you. If you push them away long enough, they’ll give up on you. You have to fix it yourself and get out which is much harder. When you‘re finally out of it, which is how the record goes, you have a lot of apologies and reparations to make.”

Deciphering this “scary situation” portrayed through dark imagery (a hospital cancer ward, a funeral, cataloging failed life aspirations) is something that Silberman wishes to leave to his listeners. “People are pretty strongly developing their own relationship with the record, and they’re deciding for themselves what it’s really about. I don’t think forcing my perspective will do any good.” And what about the relationship that prompted him to write Hospice? “There are a few reasons I’ve wanted to keep that under wraps,” he says, “The character in the story is portrayed accurately but very negatively. I have no malice towards the person this is based on, but I don’t want their name in print.” However, inquisitive fans don’t seem to mind pushing it. Silberman recalls a common situation, “I’ll be getting off stage, and someone will walk up to me and be like, ‘Peter, did your girlfriend die? Is this song about abortion?’ It’s cool that they’re curious, but it’s sort of weird to just flat out ask something like that.” At least it’s helping him get on with his life. “I have a strange relationship with the record now because I’m still really attached to it,” he maintains, “My younger self was trying to work through something. So the album and touring helped me grow up a lot.”

Although Silberman had some difficulties writing the album in a narrative format, he’s happy with the final product. “You have to try to make it in some way listenable and understandable. You don’t want to shut people out. I think that can be a problem with this kind of music,” he says. “You can make it too difficult and unlistenable. It can alienate people.” The front man notes the Dirty Projectors as an example of bands that have succeeded in creating personal records that aren’t alienating. “On first listen, their music is pretty strange, but also really incredible. I think it’s the Radiohead trick,” he says. “They were getting stranger and stranger but also more popular because they were more aware of production. They encouraged a lot of people to expand their minds and think outside the box, but it still sounds human and real.” When I tell him about my experience with Hospice, tears and all, Silberman is sincerely flattered. “I like an album to be this entity. To be its own world. It’s sort of like creating your own set of rules for the album about how everything is going to operate,” he says. “You have to convince yourself that the world you create is the truth and hope that everyone else believes it.”

Hospice has been met with general accolades from critics and fans and was named the best album of 2009 by NPR’s All Songs Considered. The band signed onto Frenchkiss Records earlier this year after much consideration. “We’ve been very protective of our work, so we wait until we’re absolutely certain about people to give them creative control.” Success has changed the lives of Silberman, Cicci and Lerner drastically and propelled them into a long year of touring. “It started off with us just going anywhere in the US where we could figure out a place to play,” says Silberman. None of The Antlers are romantically attached, which makes the lifestyle transition somewhat more manageable, but he notes, “it’s weird when you dig your heels into the place you live and you leave and life goes on without you. You notice it when you come home. Some things change, some stay the same, but you kind of just have to get back into it.” He swears that he tries to send postcards from the road, but never makes it to the post office, and the lack of Wi-Fi makes keeping in touch almost impossible.

While growing up in Northern Westchester, Silberman picked up guitar around age six, and started writing solo concept albums at 17. He was in his first band at the age of nine, but he won’t share his evidently embarrassing past band names. “I’m going to keep those in confidence. Suffice to say that they were god-awful.” He claims that his first concept album was “this weird idea I had when I was on a mountain” and sounds eerily similar to Hospice. He also believes that if this album had failed, he’d still be strumming the guitar by himself, “This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and if it wasn’t going well, I’d probably just be doing it unsuccessfully. I’d be trying to figure out what to do with myself.”

The band has a show scheduled on December 15th at Bowery Ballroom which sold out weeks ago. When asked how he felt about packing the house in their home turf, Silberman takes a pause, “I cannot believe that. I don’t think it’s really hit me yet. I never imagined, ever, that we would sell out Bowery Ballroom, even in my best case scenario.” Like so many of us and the fans attending the upcoming show, his love for his home city occasionally fluctuates. “It takes a long time to adjust to being here, and you always have this love/hate relationship with the city. It actually wasn’t until I moved to Brooklyn that I was really happy about living here. I lived in Manhattan the first year and a half, but it’s just not a good place to be anymore.” And luckily, it pays off to be a Brooklynite on the road. “There are a lot of Brooklyn bands that we didn’t know when we were in Brooklyn,” he says “but now that everybody is touring we run into the same people in totally strange locations. People who in theory lived down the street from us, but in reality no one is ever home.”

The Antlers have slowly and cautiously started work on their next album, and unlike Hospice, the material on this one will be written by all three members. “It’s strange because it almost feels like it’s our first record in a way,” says Silberman, “And it sort of is—we all played on Hospice but it was organized in a very different way. There were more or less five of us involved in recording. It was just sort of this loose collection of people. But now it’s very much a three-piece band with all of us collaborating 100%. It doesn’t feel like a follow up album.” But don’t expect a re-hashing of the same material “We’re taking it in a very different direction than we anticipated.”

Thursday’s Covered: Solange Knowles, Fanfarlo

Two covers are gaining huge traction today in the mp3/YouTube buzz-bins of the music blogeratti. The first has sister of Beyoncé, Solange Knowles, shooting high with an epic cover of the Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is the Move.” The other sees Arcade Fire soundalikes Fanfarlo going after the 90s alt classic by Neutral Milk Hotel, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” How are they?

As of today, Solange Knowles is posed to be the next hipster icon. She DJed at last night’s release party for The xx. She got dropped by Interscope, and she’s now free from the constraints of doing what a label pays her to do. She’s been spotted hanging out around Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Bed-Stuy. The Dirty Projectors and The xx are bands whose music is heavily rooted in early to mid-90s R B. Solange Knowles has those roots in her blood. So it makes sense that she’d cover a song like this; the way she did, however, is as unexpectedly shocking as it is solid. By running over and looping the key beat in Dr. Dre’s “Xxplosive” — a “wow” moment of rhythmic intuition in and of itself — Knowles sets herself a perfect landscape and well-built, pre-tested metronome to hit every high note and then some the ladies of DP do. It is, without question, one of the most memorable covers of the year. But as music writer/blogger Matthew Perpetua acknowledges, we shouldn’t be surprised: Knowles’ has been this good for a while, and just because her hipster cachet exploded into the atmosphere doesn’t mean she came out of nowhere. Those in the know have known. But besides wishing I’d been one of them before, I’m definitely glad I do now. Right-click and save to download here.

Today’s second cover comes to us from Fanfarlo, a band who has everything down on paper: the internet buzz, the early corporate sponsorship love (also see: Oh, Inverted World-era Shins and McDonald’s), and they sound somewhere between Beirut and The Arcade Fire. Unfortunately, like the girl you fall in love with on idealism alone, not everything’s there in the body, always. See this very noble attempt at covering a great song, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” by Neutral Milk Hotel. NMH is indie rock sacred ground; no matter who covers it, it’s not going to be great. Most people who enjoy NMH are too burned from the fact that the band’s lead singer, Jeff Magnum, basically retired from indie rock without completing the massive, deep, indelible print he started to make on rock music. Which is why a neophyte band like Fanfarlo — who, don’t get me wrong, have some incredible songs — and their attempt to cover a classic look incredibly trite.

The Shins cover T-Rex songs. The Arcade Fire at least goes as far back as Talking Heads or New Order. And Beirut goes after Jacques Brel. Knowles did something unexpected and innovative. Fanfarlo took something old and made it older. Another day, another lesson in cover art.

Dirty Projectors on Letterman Create Internet Freakout

Dirty Projectors—a favorite around the office—went on The Late Show with David Letterman Monday night to promote their new album. Indie bands on late night talk shows? It happens! Often! TV on the Radio and Phoenix both played Saturday Night Live this season. Bands like these get front-and-center placement on shows like The Colbert Report often, too. So why did everyone seem to write about this appearance so breathlessly?

1. Music news comes few and far between. Interesting things happen in the world of fashion, film, and television all the time. Paradigms shift between days, and new models are continuously tweaked and re-examined. Music news? Nothing happens. It’s a slow news cycle. The things that do aren’t exactly earth-shattering. Example: Oasis breaking up for the ninth time (or something) makes for much! Hyped! News! [Spoiler Alert: He’ll be back.]

2. The Thoughts Of “Indie” Bands Being Mainstream Makes Hipsters Go Crazy. Just because they’re not on the radio or MTV — which, who is? — doesn’t mean they don’t matter to the rest of America. They do, and in a big way. And it’s been happening for a while (see: Vampire Weekend). Bands like Dirty Projectors going mainstream represents another intrusion by the mainstream into a culture of tastemaking hipsterism. But really, you don’t have to look past the closest Urban Outfitters to see how mainstream they actually are. Again, let’s go over this: Abercrombie is to fraternities as Urban Outfitters is to hipsterism. So does that make the Dirty Projectors the Dispatch of Hipster Brooklyn? Bang Bang, indeed.

3. The Dirty Projectors just aren’t mainstream, despite being popular, a post-performance revelation that should be much to the relief of their hipster protectors. This is really, more than anything, why there was so much to say about their performance. If a bunch of Letterman viewers went out and bought Bitte Orca after watching Dave Longstreth and Co. jam out “Cannibal Resource,” good on ’em. But this is a kinetic band, ever-shifting, always changing: lineups, songs, musical styles, mid-song progressions, whatever: they’re constantly move from one thing to the next. They’re tough to nail down. They learn their songs as they go on tour; they’re not like Phoenix, or The Decemberists, who, for the most part, stick to what they have in front of them, with slight tweaks here and there. Even the performance they put in on Letterman is, while not dramatically different, slightly different than what’s on the album. They’re a band that teaches us that we — music writers and bloggers, especially — should just can it with oft-used (like, in this post) descriptors, like “Indie,” besides being passe, it’s also uninteresting and inaccurate. If music writers and their ilk are going to pigeonhole bands like Dirty Projectors, then bands that are Dirty Projectors are going to force us to be better listeners, writers, thinkers, and pop culture gormandizers.

Brooklyn’s Dirty Projectors Take a Finger Lickin’ Bite Out of Life

When they’re not channeling their creative energies on stage, the Dirty Projectors, Brooklyn-based purveyors of wildly experimental orchestrations and complex harmonies, like to keep it chill at home. That is, when they have one. “I actually just got an apartment for the first time in years, so I haven’t had anybody over,” says multi-instrumentalist and founding member Dave Longstreth.

Download “Stillness Is The Move” off the Dirty Projectors’ new album!

On tour recently in the U.S., London, and other far-flung points on the map, today finds Longstreth and company at a photo shoot in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the same building where they record, tearing into some BBQ. Keeping it quiet, mild and cozy, they sit at a table, digging into the messy grub with their hands. The vegans present nibble corn on the cob. Varied palates combine to make for a good time—and the same can be said for the way the Dirty Projectors make music. As his artistic plat du jour, Longstreth concocted Dirty Projectors—the name under which he began recording tracks seven years ago—with the intention of veering wildly from what is traditionally thought of as “indie rock.”

Longstreth speaks about his band the way one talks about cooking ingredients: “I love the idea of taking things that I love or experience and cutting them up… and letting them come out again unrecognizable,” he says, grinning at the vast understatement. The band’s latest album, Bitte Orca, is a nine-track odyssey through every flavor of every genre imaginable: hints of R&B, blues rock, country, prog and opera waft through every note, resulting in unmitigated praise from early reviewers, among them rock luminary David Byrne. “I guess I have confidence or faith that what I’m doing is right,” Longstreth says, “or that has a logic, an emotional directness in some way. To find it for the listener, it’ll be an act of discovery. I love the progression that happens from something revealing itself.” That inspirational process is happening again, with the rest of the band now shouting out suggestions for future sit-down dinners:

“Nachos!” “Frito pies!” Ingredients for the perfect house party are slowly coming together. “Goat cheese and crackers!” gets nods of agreement. “A Meyer lemon aioli,” elicits a chorus of oohs. And what would Longstreth have? “Good music.” Naturally.

DAVE’S FAVORITE RESTAURANT: Papacitos, Brooklyn
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