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.”