Interview: Peter Silberman of The Antlers

We got to talk with Peter Silberman of The Antlers about our album of the year, Hospice.

Interview conducted by Evan Kaloudis
Transcribed by Brent Koepp

BPM: Hey Peter, first off I’d like to congratulate you. We’ve named Hospice our Album of the Year.

Peter: Thanks so much, I don’t know what to say. *laughs* It’s an honor.

BPM: The pleasure is ours. Let’s get started, shall we? How much is the album based on your real life experiences?

Peter: I mean, it’s entirely based on that. But it’s kind of a different retelling – it’s kind of telling it through a different avenue. It’s not literally “here is a story of something that happened to me.” It’s like me taking a true story and turning it into a fictional one.

BPM: There have been a lot of interpretations about the patient dying from cancer in the story. Is it just a metaphor for the relationship ending?

Peter: In a way, yeah. It’s basically a metaphor for a failing relationship. It’s not necessarily lamenting love lost. It’s sort of about a very hate-filled love, a relationship doomed from the beginning that just had no chance of ever working. In a way, it’s just about relationships in general. It’s not an uncommon kind of relationship to have happened, but it’s just not talked about as much as it should be.

BPM: To take this further, do you personally view the album as a concept album?

Peter: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s hard not to. It’s because it really…I don’t know if that is entirely the best word for it. But at the same time, it’s a story, its events told from start to finish, it’s revolving around this idea, turning one thing into kind of an allegory for something else. And all the songs are interrelated. They can be separated from one another, but they make much more sense as part of this whole. I guess calling it a concept album is closer – rather than just calling it a collection of songs which most albums tend to be – just kind of a collection of songs that maybe sound like they belong together but aren’t related to one another.

BPM: So how long after your real life experiences did you start writing these songs?

Peter: It was directly afterwards and then we spent about a year and a half making the record. But it was directly after the facts.

BPM: You went into this originally just as a solo project?

Peter: Yeah. At the time the record was started it was just me, and then not long into the recording the process is when the band started getting together and that is when we started collaborating on it. You know, I would be coming to the group with these frameworks of songs – these kind of washy ambient things and they were kind of giving them some structure, making them make more sense to everyone else, and also to me. And it was kind of a stronger work, because I think sometimes I took on too much and would get lost for a while. And it really gave some focus, it made a big difference.

BPM: Sharon Van Etten sings on a couple tracks…

Peter: Yeah, she is most recognizable on the track “Thirteen.” But she is actually on a bunch of different places on the record, but just doesn’t always sound like a human voice.

BPM: She is on “Kettering,” “Thirteen”…

Peter: Yep. She is on “Kettering,” “Thirteen,” “Two” and “Shiva.”

BPM: How did the collaboration come about? Did you just know you wanted female vocals for the album, or was it a spur of the moment kind of thing?

Peter: It was probably about halfway through the recording process that I met her and became friends with her. Just through us going to each other’s shows, and just hanging out. When I heard her music, it just felt like something was missing from the record. And when I met her and started hearing her music and her voice, I just knew the record needed that element. It just needed those beautiful female vocals. And she really is just an incredible songwriter – and has a great voice. I love what she did for the record. If anything, I wish it would have been more with it. I wish she was singing on more of it, because I think that is my favorite part of the record is when she is singing.

BPM: Yeah, they are incredible moments. Would you plan on having her back for your next release?

Peter: Yeah, hopefully. The other thing is, it’s very different for both us as a band, and her as far as career-wise. We are all touring a lot. Sometimes our schedules really don’t line up. So hopefully she will be in town when we are recording. But I would absolutely love having her singing again. And she’s actually..the next show we are playing – which is actually the last show of the tour – is at home, she is going to be playing the show also. And she is also going to be singing with us. Whenever she is in town we ask her to sing with us at our shows, and it’s always really nice.

BPM: Was The Antlers originally a quartet at one point? You have a fourth member listed in the liner notes, Justin Stivers.

Peter: Yeah, actually basically when the band first formed it was a very different configuration. There was like five of us, and then when the record started getting recorded there was four of us. We had a bass player, and that was Justin. He laid down bass tracks for about half of the songs. Um, and then left the band shortly thereafter. He had his own band called Pet Ghost Project that he was wanting to focus on and we were getting ready to start touring a lot, and I think when you tour as much it’s really hard to be involved, or at least be heavily involved in a lot of projects, and so once we started touring Darby started playing keyboards and synthesizers and Justin left. So at first we started thinking if we needed to go find a new bass player, but as far as the freedom it’s allowed us it’s been much better. We decided we just weren’t going to have any bass in the band and we were just going to cover that ground ourselves, just among the three of us. I think that Darby doing keyboards and synthesizers as far as the low end, there is a lot more room for growth and expansion. And I think that has made a big difference for the live show.

BPM: When you first released the record, it was a self-release? When did Frenchkiss get involved?

Peter: Yep. We self-released it in March, and then basically we were putting the albums together ourselves, shipping them out, taking the orders – all that. Kind of acting as a production house and a record label. But we started touring at that time too, and we were kind of struggling to keep up with everything. We started out okay, but then we started running out of supplies, we had our first pressing and it was gone quicker than we realized – and there were still orders coming in. At the time when we first self-released, we weren’t really interested in a record label. But in May we met Frenchkiss, and we just felt they were exactly what we would be looking for. They really understood what we were trying to do artistically, and just career-wise, and we all saw eye to eye. They are just a really great record label full of wonderful people, and so we just felt really comfortable with them and thought it was a good match, so we signed with them in May and they re-released it in August.

BPM: Who made the choice of remastering it?

Peter: Yeah, it was kind of weird, but it was kind of everyone’s decision – but separately. We definitely wanted to do it from the get go. We wanted to have it remastered in a better way, more professionally. And we proposed this to Frenchkiss and they were like, “we were about to say that,” so we were on the same wavelength. And so someone named Greg Kelby remastered it and he is sort of like this legendary masterer – and it was really kind of an honor to have him master it. It sounded worlds better, and it really brought out certain details in the sound of it that had been lost. Elements of the record we forgot existed – things that kind of gotten buried in the first mastering job. I’m really glad that we were able to get that done. I really think it made a big difference.

BPM: You guys just got back from touring in Europe, right?

Peter: Yeah we’ve actually been out for about six weeks and we just flew back from Ireland yesterday, and we are in Georgia now. And we’re driving home over the next two days. The tour is over until our New York shows. Yeah, it’s been a lot of touring this past year, especially in the past few months – we are just never home. It’s been really good and we are really happy about it, and we actually have a bit of a break now until February, which is the longest break we’ve had all year I think. *laughs*

BPM: Did the European audiences react to you guys any differently?

Peter: Um, it’s hard to say. I think European audiences maybe talk less during shows….like that’s just a weird thing that we’ve noticed. Overall it’s been a really enthusiastic response, something we were totally not prepared for. We didn’t really realize there was a fan base there, and it’s a really strong one. And it’s really exciting to go over there and to see that – to feel welcomed from a place that is so far away from home. It makes us want to keep going there, and keep seeing these new places and meeting all these new people – it’s really exciting. It’s so surprising that you can go so far away from home and people will know your music. It’s really..I don’t know, there is sort of nothing like it.

BPM: Your live performance, it seems to be quite an organic process – has it always been the same, or did it evolve into that?

Peter: Um, it took us a little while to figure out how to turn the record into a live show. From the beginning we decided we didn’t want to re-create the record. We wanted to try to make the live show different. I think if we had tried to re-create the record live it would be very quiet and mellow, and I don’t know I think it might just have ended up being kind of flat. I think the more we enjoy the live show, the better it will be. It’s definitely a sort of vigor even though it’s fewer people playing. We are filling up a lot of sonic space and the songs are kind of looser and a little more open-ended, but also much much louder at times, and much much quieter at times – there is just much more dynamic overall. I think it helps keep everything fresh, it keeps us from feeling like we are playing the same set every night.

BPM: Did you guys play any of the songs live before going into recording?

Peter: For Hospice we didn’t, because of the way we kind of formed around recording. Now we are actually heading home and we are going to start work on new stuff and start recording some. I think the process is going to be very different. We are a very different band than when we were recording Hospice – we’re kind of an entirely different band. In the future, it’s anyone’s guess how that will work and what it will sound like.

BPM: So have you started writing any new material while you were touring?

Peter: Yeah, we started writing on this tour. It’s hard, because we have been gone so much we don’t really get a chance to set up our stuff and write together very much. But what we made an effort to do this time was even to just bring in a little equipment into the hotel at night after we are done driving, and just set up and try to work on little sketches of things. I think we have an idea of what the next record is going to sound like and we’re definitely looking forward to the recording and just ready for the new songs, ready to start trying out new ideas – to make something that is potentially very, very terrible. *laughs*

BPM: I doubt that. After Hospice, we are very excited to hear what you guys have next.

Peter: Well hopefully. I think there is obviously pressure. Like if you have a well-received debut. It almost makes it more exciting to work on it, because you are like, “okay, well I know we have to try really hard on this,” but also I know we are the kind of people that don’t want to make the same record again, we want to make something completely different from it. It’s a challenge, and I think we are up for the challenge.

BPM: You guys have toured with a lot of great bands – Au Revoir Simone, Cymbals Eat Guitars – do you have a favorite?

Peter: Um, that’s a tough call. Au Revoir Simone was the first time we toured with another band, and they really showed us the ropes. And they are just wonderful people and we really fell in love with their music, and with them and it was a really great experience. And then Frightened Rabbit, they had one of my favorite records of the past couple years so it was really awesome to get to see them every night. Sometimes there were some really pleasant surprises like Holly Miranda, who we just toured with – where we liked her record, and it just grows on you so much to the point where you just know all the songs. I don’t know, the thing is we’ve come to be friends with all the people we have toured with. Camaraderie is really important when you are traveling. Especially because you are rolling into these towns where you don’t know anybody and it’s just good to have some friends as you’re touring.

BPM: Clearly the album is emotionally draining from a listener’s standpoint – gut-wrenching even. Was the process of making the album or playing the songs live have an emotional toll on you?

Peter: Honesty, I don’t know…I think the recording and the writing of the album was definitely difficult, I was definitely spent after finishing it. And I was really ready to take a break from writing and recording and thinking about all this stuff. But the live show, I don’t know, it’s not difficult to get through. Especially as people have made the record their own – decided for themselves what it is about and how it relates to them. We are playing for other people and that’s a much better feeling. It feels much less narcissistic and much less self-involved. It’s a good feeling, it really is. It’s energizing actually.

BPM: What are some of your favorite releases from 2009? The decade even?

Peter: There has been a lot. I really love the Dirty Projectors record, the Phoenix record – both albums I have listened to a lot this year. That Fuck Buttons record I’m totally crazy about. The past decade, there is so many good records released this decade; some of my favorite albums of all time were. Kid A and Amnesiac by Radiohead, all those Microphones records….

BPM: Speaking of which, does your band’s name come from the Microphones song “Antlers”?

Peter: Yeah, it kind of does. There really isn’t like a good story behind the name, but that’s probably the truest version of it. That’s probably where the word “antlers” became appealing to me from. I was really listening to the Microphones all the time like four or five years ago, and I was just digging through all of their stuff. And I loved that song in particular. And I was like, “oh, well Antlers, that would be a good band name.” And yeah, I guess that is where the name came from.

BPM: Do you think you have a lot of Phil Elverum influences in your music?

Peter: Yeah, I don’t know, his records really changed the way I hear music. I’ve never heard albums like his. His recording techniques are so unusual and so much panning and so intricate – and also difficult. But it’s also really honest and very much about metaphor and allegory. The first two years I was listening to The Glow Pt. 2 I just thought it was about nature, and I thought it was about wilderness. Only recently I started to realize it’s a breakup album. It’s just dense, I love the way he is able to construct stories through sound. You listen to his albums, and its entering into his world. I think if you can make a record where you are entering into a another world and you listen to it – it’s the most amazing thing. That’s what I would love to be able to do.

BPM: Hospice is up there, as far as creating it’s own world and being atmospheric. I guess a way to describe it is that it’s epic.

Peter: Oh well thank you. It’s a record about overcoming difficult shit. I think when you kind of find yourself free from that – releasing yourself – it’s a very epic feeling. You feel like you are triumphing, even if it’s difficult, even if everything is kind of damaged afterwards, it’s still like a very grand triumphant moment or something. I think making the record that just sort of happened naturally – it was about trying to express that sort of, by the end of the record trying to express that feeling. And I think the best way to do that was try to make something that sounded like it was reaching for the heavens. I wish there was a better way of putting it, because “reaching for the heavens” sounds really fucking stupid. *laughs*

BPM: What are you looking forward to in 2010?

Peter: I’m really looking forward to the new Beach House record. I’ve already heard it, and think it’s incredible. I’m really excited to see where it takes them. They are just a terrific band, and I’ve loved them for a really long time. And hearing that record, it’s like hearing a band you’ve been crazy about for a while and just seeing, “wow, they are capable of so much more then you could have ever expected.” I’m also excited for us to start recording a bunch of new songs. We are going to do a bunch of more touring, which, honestly I am tired right now, but I know once I rest a little bit I’m going to be very excited for that. I think 2010 will be an interesting year.

BPM: Do you guys have any goals for 2010? A new album release by 2010?

Peter: It’s hard to say when it will come out. It’s going to take some time to do. It’s possible we will put out an EP before then. We are going to just take our time with it, make sure we don’t rush it. I think it’s pretty common for bands to rush their second official album. Part of that is because they’re on tour all the time. They don’t have a big window for recording, or there is a lot of pressures from other places and they get set up in very expensive studios. We don’t have any of that – we do all the recording ourselves, we don’t have a producer, or an engineer. We are completely self-run. We are going to be in control with this. We aren’t going to put anything out until we are 100% behind it.

BPM: Are you guys locked into anything with Frenchkiss?

Peter: Yeah, it depends how the next record goes. We’re still going to try to release another record with them. That’s in our contract – that they have the option for our next record.

BPM: Thanks a lot for talking with us Peter. You put out an incredible album.

Peter: Thanks for putting up with the phone cutting out.

BPM: We both had our shares of technical difficulties. But we made it through. *laughs*