Interview: The Antlers

Interview with The Antlers

The Antlers


Stars of our Best of 2011, and one of Brooklyn’s finest bands, The Antlers are back with brand new material. Front man Peter Silberman took time to tell us about the inspirations behind Undersea, his plans for the next album and why death is “a great motivator”.

Questions and answers

You’ve been touring extensively since you released Hospice. How are you coping with life on the road?

(Laughs) It’s complicated. I think it’s a constant readjustment. It’s pretty easy to let the fact that you’re never home to screw up your life back home; for you to not really think or even care about it sometimes, because you’re always elsewhere. Your life goes on without you when you’re not there and it’s the kind of thing that can be awful but I think I’ve gotten much better at maintaining friendships and relationships. But it definitely takes work.

What do you enjoy most about touring?

The best part of it is seeing all these places in the world. It’s something I never expected in my life, and I feel so grateful to be doing it. It’s overwhelmingly awesome.

Burst Apart and Hospice were both massively acclaimed. Have you found that you’re drawing much larger crowds now, and does it feel like you’re on the way up?

I’ve felt like it’s been on the way up since we put out Hospice; it’s felt like it’s been a pretty steady growth. Which is good because it’s given us time to get used to what we do and to get to know the world we’re making music in, and feel more and more comfortable and confident.

I think when it all first happened it was extremely confusing, and I don’t think we knew what we were in for. If there is a next stage of things – if this career’s about to get much crazier – I’m glad there’s been some time where we’ve been able to get comfortable in our skin.

Getting such positive feedback from the music press must instill you with a lot of confidence. Do their opinions matter to you?

They do. It’s a very tricky thing because I can’t enter into a release feeling unsure, or like there are things I would do differently because when people review what you make, or even just describe it, it can really easily infect the way you think about it, and change your relationship with it. Even positive press can leave you feeling weird, depending on the way that they phrase it, or the way they perceive what you’re doing. So those opinions matter to me because I know that they affect me.

Well, the Undersea EP’s gorgeous.

Thank you!

Where does it fit in your back catalogue? Is it a stand-alone release, or sketches for the next album?

I’ve heard a lot of different interpretations, but I think of it as a total seachange. Sonically, it’s hard for me to gauge. I think it’s us being more aware of what we’re doing but I think the intent is also completely different to anything we’ve written before.

There isn’t as much of a bleeding heart to it: it’s not as angsty or confessional, it’s more exploratory. For me, it’s really important to be approaching songwriting for a different purpose. And that purpose isn’t always to mine the wells of difficult emotions and pain, but to explore positivity and beauty and life; to not start from a negative place but to start from an open place, an accepting place.

When did you actually find time to write and record it?

We got back from a lot of touring last December, and the tour was full of all these crazy, bad travel situations. Driving through Denmark and Germany in winter, it felt like we were really being tested, having another van break down, or getting broken into or getting really sick. And when we got back from that trip we had two months that we could either have spent taking a total break or trying to release something – not like a record, more like a sigh of relief about coming out of 2011 alive.

So in January we started working on this thing that had a very calm feeling to it. Maybe it was us really wanting some calm in our lives; to not feel stressed or pushed or tested, but to say, “Ok, we are the ones building this world we are in, and what kind of heaven would that world – that paradise – sound like?” It was about it being patient and taking its time.

I think in the past it was this race to get out as many words as urgently as possible within four minutes, but I learned that that doesn’t need to be the way it is; you can take your time getting to a point, you don’t need to spell everything out for people, and sometimes it can be a little bit stronger to withhold something.

And it was about it feeling natural – like you’re in a forest or underwater – to reflect the peace of mind and contentment that I think we’re all looking for in our lives.

Ah, we thought the undersea conceit might have been inspired by the cruise you went on with Weezer

That pushed it a little bit, actually, ‘cause when you’re on a giant boat for that long you still physically feel it in your legs when you get off it. I remember not being able to stand up for a couple of days. (Laughs) You just felt everything swaying, and that’s the way our brains were – kinda woozy but also refreshed and invigorated at the same time. I think that just started playing its way into the thing that we were already working on.

It almost sounds cinematic. Is scoring films something you’d be interested in doing in the future?

Yeah, definitely. Darby’s really into old, classic, Italian horror films from the 60s and 70s but I tend to gravitate towards things like the Virgin Suicides soundtrack. That’s one of my favourites, just because it’s a band changing gears and making something that totally fits the mood of a very weird, hazy, mysterious movie.

Were there any specific musical reference points for the EP?

We all listen to a lot of old dub-reggae which is just some of the most beautiful music that I’ve ever listened to: just really warm, peaceful, beautifully-produced records that don’t necessarily move in a particular direction. It’s this weird, time-distorting music that simultaneously feels like it’s from the past and from the future. Darby’s been listening to a lot of Alice Coltrane and I think Michael has just consumed so much music in his life that it could be any number of things. I know he really loves Rihanna though… It’s weird how all those things end up coming together for all of us. It’s like these deeper, punctuated beats that have this hypnotising quality.

Do you all share similar musical tastes generally or is there anything you disagree over?

We agree about most stuff. We don’t all listen to the same things but I think we have a good gauge of each other’s tastes. I think dub music is the thing that we can put on and everybody’s happy about it. I like a lot of electronic music too. I like Warp Records’ stuff and Modeselektor and Ellen Allien. We consume a lot of music. (Laughs)

What’s been your favourite record of the past 12 months?

I’m starting to get into the Dirty Projectors’ record now. I’ve been following them since before Rise Above and and the fact they’ve become so popular is really interesting to me, because it’s been pretty uncompromising the whole time. But it also kinda makes sense if you’re optimistic about music and the way it becomes popular: some things with real artistic merit and ambition do strike a chord with people.

Lyrically, you’ve always been pretty uncompromising, tackling issues that some people find difficult to even talk about. Why do you think you’re drawn to the darker side of life?

I think I’m drawn to the dark place because there’s a lot to write about and a lot to be learned there. And I’ve always come to better understand the things that I appreciate in my life through getting to them by overcoming difficult things. That was a big part of what the last two records were about but I don’t think that’s the way it always needs to be.

I don’t necessarily want to make people uncomfortable but I enjoy calling out the elephant in the room because there’s certain truths about life and the universe that are hard for me to ignore. A lot of our material is focused around death and how that plays into the way that your day and your life unfolds.

Sometimes I think it doesn’t play into it enough; people mostly put the fact they’re gonna die someday out of their mind, because they are afraid of confronting that. And I totally don’t blame them because it’s definitely heavy sh*t to get into when you’re trying to get up and eat breakfast. But I also think it’s a really great motivator too, to do unconventional things and live your life as an adventure: you really have one chance to do it so you might as well make it as interesting as possible for yourself. That was kinda how Antlers got started; that knowledge that “now is the time”.

And I want to continue in that vein but not be so pessimistic, because with Hospice and Burst Apart it’s like optimism deeply rooted in pessimism and insecurity. It’s a huge, very complicated universe so to focus on little, dark problems sometimes seems a bit funny. I’m trying to branch out...

So when can we expect the next album?

We’re gonna get started on it fairly soon, probably in about a month or so and we’re gonna work on it for a while, so I would think sometime next year. That’s what I hope anyway. I want to take our time with the next record and I’m really excited to start working on it but I also don’t wanna rush it. The new MO for Antlers is “don’t rush it”.

Ok, if you had to pick out one song from your career that you’re proudest of which would it be?

I keep coming back to ‘Hounds’ from Burst Apart, and it might be my favourite song of ours because it achieves a really perfect balance for what we wanna do. It’s repetitive and it’s simple, but it’s textural at the same time and it’s got this emotional weight to it, without it hitting you over the head. And I think there’s also something very harmonious about the fact that Darcy and I are both singing on it, going back and forth as we do and then singing together at the end. It’s a very peaceful song for me.