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The Antlers bring their forlorn folk to Bar Pink tonight

June 10, 2009 - 12:12 pm


Sandwiched strangely in between DJ Robin and Edgartronic, you might have a hard time hearing The Antlers tonight. Their lovely blend of folk and lo-fi rock is much more suited for a small club or church, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stand real close so as to hear every note over the loudmouths at the bar. –Seth Combs

Peter Silberman barely left his Brooklyn apartment for nearly two years. In it he sat, a stranger to the city surrounding him, holed up inside the four walls. Sure, he could have have just sat around and done nothing, but instead he began recording simple, folksy bedroom tunes under the name The Antlers. The recordings garnered little notice. Just a small noise in the vast Brooklyn soundscape.

The Antlers surely has changed since then. Now fully realized as an actual band–with Silberman on vocals and guitar, Darby Cicci playing keyboards and Michael Lerner on drums–the recordings on their latest record, Hospice (being re-released on August 18 on Frenchkiss Records), were still done in apartment bedrooms, but they’re much more grandiose, garnering buzz in major publications and the blogosphere alike. The album is a sweeping collection of songs that plays out like a concept album, telling the story of a hospice worker and a terminally ill cancer patient. Each song ends up being its own chapter, and the record itself a completed novel that encompasses the difficulties of both love and loss.

Here, Silberman talks to CityBeat about the transition from working alone to working with others, a little of the story behind the concept of Hospice and how he maybe, just maybe, might take up residence somewhere in the Golden State for awhile. –Carissa Casares

Q: Can you tell me a bit about your reclusive period? I read that you holed yourself up in your apartment and then during your re-emergence back into, I don’t know, real life you began writing this record.

A: The time scheme is a little confusing and kind of backwards but that’s true. Basically, it was when I first moved to the city. I found myself in a situation where I was not making any effort to be social. I was kind of having that force on me and it ended up being, at the time, destructive. I don’t think I realized the extent that it had gotten that way until I suddenly, until things began opening up again. I was opening up again, seeing people, re-establishing relationships that I had messed up. So I guess that was it.

Q: Hospice seems very conceptual. Did the idea of it come to you all at once? Were you by yourself then?

A: I was very much by myself when that happened and it was kind of when I began coming back into the world and New York. The entire plot didn’t necessarily unfold right away; a lot of it was based on true things that happened. I knew immediately that it was what I wanted to write the entire album about. I felt like I could make it a cohesive story and make some sense out of it.

Q: Where did you live before Brooklyn?

A: I’ve always lived in New York State. I grew up about an hour north of the city in Northern Westchester. Then I went to school for about a year and a half in Saratoga Springs which is further upstate. And then I moved down to Manhattan and then I moved to Brooklyn and have been there for the most time.

Q: At this point in time you’re working with two more musicians rather than just by yourself. Do you like it this way?

A: Yeah, in not a very long time I just became much more social. I grew up as kind of a quiet kid and I really came out of that around the time that I was writing this record. And since then, since the band has become a more serious thing, something that I’m doing full time I feel that I absolutely have to work with other people. For a long time I was just working by myself. It has just been much more enjoyable to be writing with other people and collaborating. I got really sick of doing it by myself.

Q: So you don’t miss working by yourself?

A: No, I mean, I do enjoy that a lot and I’m sure I will be doing that as time goes on. But right now this feels right and I’m going to keep going with it. I feel good about the three of us being in a band together. Whatever we’re going to do next I feel confident that we’ll be able to work well together.

Q: How has the material changed since adding two other members?

A: Well, it’s funny because a lot of the collaboration so far has been in the live setting so that’s become a much bigger thing. It’s much more grandiose sounding. As far as the writing goes, I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I think it’s going to be much more of us all writing together and creating an album equally. We just started talking about a new album the past couple of days. We’re all really excited about it. I think the sound will change but I think the sound will change from record to record because that’s the best way to keep it interesting for ourselves.

Q: Because bands shouldn’t be stagnant…

A: Yeah, hopefully. Hopefully it’s for the best and moving in positive directions. Sometimes you might try something radically different and totally fail. You kind of have to accept that risk and that possibility. Our next record might be terrible.

Q: It very well could be. But at least you put it out there. So, speaking of your live show, do you change anything up for the live show to make it more engaging?

A: It’s fairly different, actually. I think there’s a lot of things you can do on a record that you can’t do live. A lot of that has to do with a lot of small detail. I think the direction we’ve gone in with it is creating a really large sound, something that really fills up an entire sense and make as wide a sound you can with three people. There’s a lot of sound going on without being too distracting. We’re kind of working on making a sea of sound. The songs are not played note for note the way they are on the record. They breathe a little bit more. I guess, mostly, they’re longer. It’s kind of more ambient and stretched out.

Q: Do you play any of the older material or right now are you really focused on playing the new?

A: We’re definitely focused on the new one but we’ve been playing some older stuff from the Cold War EP. We just started learning songs from In the Attic of the Universe, which was the last full length. We’re starting to play that a little bit, the more we get comfortable with it, while we’re wanting to change up our set. When you’re on tour and playing every night it’s fun to try different things, to try to change it up and make it a less predictable.

Q: You recorded a lot of covers on prior EPs. Do you ever play any live?

A: Yeah, sometimes we do. We haven’t been recently. For a while we were pretty regularly playing a Neil Young cover that we’ve never recorded. We kind of turned it into this slowcore, drone-y thing. It was “Harvest Moon.”

Q: Just depends on the mood?

A: Yeah, I think we’ll probably record a bunch more covers too. It’s a good way to try out new ideas, recording wise.

Q: You’ve made so much music in the past three years (one full-length and two EPs, not including Hospice). What has that been like for you?

A: I spent so much time on Hospice. I started working with more people on it and by the time it was finished I was really ready to take a break from recording. So we’ve been really focusing on releasing the record and the live show. And to be totally honest, I was sort of at a loss of ideas after the record. I was kind of spent. I didn’t know what I wanted to write about and I was still very much in the headspace of that record. I had never written something that felt so much like a part of me. It was an involved process, all consuming. I just wanted to step away and try to get some time away from it.

Q: You’ve said that some of the stories told on Hospice have actually happened to you and it’s been said that the record plays like a novel. Would you say the record is fiction or non-fiction?

A: I guess I’d probably call it creative non-fiction, which, believe it or not, is a genre.

Q: But a lot of the concept of Hospice has to do with sickness and medicine. Did you spend time in hospitals?

A: There was a time when I was spending a lot of time at a hospital. I wasn’t the patient but there was a period of time where I kept finding myself there and I was taking care of somebody. It was during that period of time that I was just shut off from anyone else. The hospital kind of follows you home, in a weird way. The more time you spend in it the less you can escape it. I guess that’s just how my time was spent. It’s a bizarre place, especially the cancer ward, the children’s cancer ward especially.

Q: Is that where you were spending a lot of your time?

A: Yeah, a lot of time was spent in the children’s ward. It’s a very difficult place to be in but it’s the sort of thing where you don’t want to admit that it’s difficult for you to be in because obviously it’s much more difficult for the people who are actually patients there.

Q: When you were recording Hospice did you have the intention of making it seem like a novel or is that just something people started saying or noticing?

A: I think it was inspired by a lot of things I was reading at the time so it sort of worked its way in there. In a way it was intentional because it is a start to finish story. The time scheme goes back and forth sometimes but it’s definitely meant to kind of play out the way a novel does. Whether that actually worked, I don’t know.

Q: I think it did.

A: That’s good to hear.

Q: Have you read what’s been written about the album so far?

A: Early on I did. Lately, I’ve made an effort not to…not to say that I’m not unbelieavably appreciative of the postive press its received because its really been insanely encouraging and wonderful and I couldn’t have asked for more really. But it’s more about how much is really healthy to read about the things that you’re making and what people are saying about it. Especially with anything you’re making that’s very personal.

Q: It’s like listening to people talk about you.

A: Exactly, it’s like eavesdropping. It’s very surreal. When it’s really positive, the most important thing is to keep one’s ego in check and when it’s negative the most important thing is to not let it get to you.

Q: Ok, going back to what you were reading when you wrote the album. You have a song called “Sylvia (An Introduction)” from an earlier EP and now Sylvia on Hospice. Were you reading Sylvia Plath?

A: Actually, no. The character Sylvia is based on a few different people and characters. There are definitely aspects of it that are about her (Plath) life more than her actual writing.

Q: You kept a blog ( during the recording process and posted things sporadically. What was this like for you?

A: There were certain things I knew weren’t going to be explained just by the record alone. There were things I was finding that I thought were interesting; things I would find online and in books I was reading. I just wanted to document it and include it as supplementary material, I guess.

Q: So many bands are coming out of Brooklyn these days. Is it interesting being around so many people who are making music?

A: Since I’ve become more social Brooklyn has become a really wonderful place to live. There are a lot of really talented people there and people really care about what they’re doing. They’re enthusiastic about what they do.

Q: Where do you think you’ll record the next album?

A: It will definitely be home recorded. It just kind of depends where that home is and where we decide to be for a little while. Right now we practice and record in Darby’s apartment. In talking about the nature of the next album will be like we were thinking we would maybe go to California or something, rent a house there.

Q: Oh, really? What part of California?

A: I don’t know, somewhere sunny, somewhere summery.

Q: Well, you’re coming to San Diego…

A: Yeah, maybe San Diego.

Q: You’re playing at Bar Pink, a small bar here. Is it weird sharing your music in bars? Do you prefer large or small venues?

A: I think we’re kind of accustomed to playing in bars at this point, whether or not that’s good or bad for what the music is. It’s been kind of more mind blowing to play big places with bigger bands, to play real concert halls. I think we really like playing on a big sounding sound system. I don’t know, we’re enjoying it a lot. We’ve gotten to play a lot of nice places. It’s kind of a dream come true.

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