After listening to Hospice and Burst Apart, it’s clear that there is more to The Antlers’ music than just a collection of songs that are sonically pleasing to the ear. Between the elaborate instrumental arrangements to the backstories behind the albums, the Brooklyn indie rock outfit has crafted a catalog that has not only reached the local music scene in New York City but also taken them around the world. But unlike other bands who admit that the songs come spontaneously out of the studio, Peter Silberman, Michael Lerner and Darby Cicci do the complete opposite—everything is done with intention.
So when The Antlers decided it was time to record their next full-length album, Familiars, (out today via Transgressive Records), Silberman really wanted to take his time with the album in order to get it to the closest to his version of perfect - a luxury he did not necessarily have with the previous albums. “It was pretty different this time,” he says. “I think our ideas were much longer on this record. We’d come up with an idea, hold onto it for a while then keep playing it until it became second nature to us. So that it could be kind of injected with this warmth over time. Once we feel comfortable with something, like you know when you first learn how to do something and you can’t do it automatically, the more we practice this stuff, the more we could play it intuitively. At that point is where you can put more feeling into it and more grace into it. So that was the earlier implications of making this record. I think there’s something about us having as much time as we wanted to work on it.”
Whilst The Antlers were able to work on Familiars at their own creative pace, there was a point when the band had to set a deadline. However that did not mean that Silberman stopped drafting and redrafting his work. “I’ve written songs a 100 times and I can never get it perfect,” he explains. “Most of the time we were working on it, we were intentionally giving it as much time as it needed, assuming it would be done when it was done - so I think that played into it. I also think I worked on the lyrics this time around. I rewrote things over and over again, and I edited things extensively down to every word really. I became a pretty obsessive editor in my own words, with my own words. That was fun because I felt like I was like building a puzzle or something. Having the songs connect to one another and whether they’re past, present or future, if you change one word in the sentence, you have to change the entire paragraph, or in this case the song, that kind of drove me crazy. But it got me closer to what I wanted to say and what I wanted to write.”
With all the rewrites and time spent on getting things right, The Antlers started to venutre into new musical territory and discovered that the soul music of the 60s and 70s as well as “listening to Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, John Coltrane” could take their music to a new level—also giving the spotlight to Cicci’s trumpet playing that added a harmonic layer against Silberman’s voice. “Through this band, and through all this touring together, speaking for myself, I really discover and rediscover my love for soul music through this band,” Silberman revealed. “And it’s become part of my vision of what I think a band is.”
“I look at soul bands and bands behind so many great singers from the 60s and 70s, and listen to the bands,” he continues. “They’re so expressive and so tight. They really bring this heart to the whole thing and are the glue to making those beautiful soul songs of the past so much more interesting. And I don’t know they help you feel it more. With the band, I aspire to have that energy and to have that kind of chemistry among the band. I’ve become kind of less interested in the rock band thing and have everything be as loud possible like powerful riffs and shit. I like that stuff. It’s just what I really look to as a player. I don’t know I just like the fluidity of all those old performances and soul records, and I think the three of us have this kind of natural kind of chemistry between us that’s sort of soulful times. So when we play music with each other, we can tap into a very satisfying feeling of just being locked in.”
One of the songs that took embodied the newer Antlers’ R&B-esque sound is “Parade,” a song that Silberman says celebrates an individual’s moments of happiness. “‘Parade’ is a weird song,” he explains. “It was one of the first or maybe even the first, on this record, that I had any semblance of an idea about and already had lyrics for. It came when I carved out experiences of profound happiness. I think it was the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013, and I just had this kind of energy out of nowhere and started writing. A lot of that song was what came out of it—a lot of those words at least. I think parts of this record is about happiness, which is really good because I think it’s something many of us are seeking out. We want to be happy. We have moments of it, and then the moments in between those moments of happiness are about trying to back to that feeling. I think in some season that song is trying to catch a glimpse of that. And having that overwhelming feeling put me on a path to find it more in life and get back to that feeling. I think part of doing that is by being present, and I think it’s about being aware of everything around you in the moment.”
“Refuge” is another track that takes on the same sound quality or theme as “Parade,” but takes on a whole other story. “With ‘Refuge,’ I was really trying to write what home is,” he says, “what that idea is. Home is kind of a feeling, more than it is a place. It’s a different location for every single person. For instance, someone’s house might not be their home. Home is just created like a state of mind that you carry with you. When feel far from home or that safety, then it’s kind of a scary place to be in life. It’s kind of a scary way of feeling. I think that song was about trying to epitomize that feeling as if it’s something you could bring with you everywhere. You could just be home in yourself no matter where you are, and there’s a comfort there. There’s a pace in that youthfulness. Home is a big, general time. But when you find specific details for it, it becomes too specific. It doesn’t allow it to change. So I intentionally made it vague and strange.”
Speaking of home, The Antlers have all been calling Brooklyn theirs for ages. And although they did record and produce the LP in their studion in the New York borough, Silberman admits that a good amount of the inspiration for the album came during the breaks that the band took from recording and went on holiday away from the Big Apple. “I took breaks while recording the record and split my time between Portland and Northern California. And, especially in California, I would take these day trips by myself - like to Big Sur. And it’s like feeling you’re the only man left on earth,” he says with a laugh.
Silberman added, ““We actually didn’t start working on the record until we got on a break from tour. Most of it was written either when we were at home or elsewhere because we were taking our own personal vacations.”
Needless to say, they do appreciate being in the middle of much of the musical action in New York City, and the brief commute to the studio is not a bad perk either. “We’ve been living here for so long that I don’t really know what really inspires me here anymore,” he says. “We do have a good situation here though where we all live five minutes walking distance from each other and only a 10 minute walk from the studio.”
With the convenience of being able to quickly travel between studio and their homes, The Antlers were also album to focus on the overall concept of the nine-track collection that is Familiars. Despite the fact that Silberman, like other musicians don’t like to be boxed into category like this, he admits that the album is a journey through an individual’s transformation.
“That’s something that a lot of us go through in life as we grow up. It’s kind of an intangible process, and it’s not one you can really see out of the direct change happening [inside of] you,” he explains. “And I think that I wanted to try to give that change its own sound and like its own song cycle where you experience the transformation of this character over the course of nine songs. Ultimately, I wanted there to be a transformation across the record. There would be a change in attitude or a change in outlook from any perspective really. For me, I was trying to have the things I was saying and the tone of what I was singing about, I wanted that to have changed by the end of the record. The music is creating this environment, this world that is allowing for this change to occur. The beginning of this record has some kind of creepy distance, and I wanted it to feel warm and inviting by the end of it.”
But even after all the time they spent trying to get Familiars together and the fine tuning on its overarching theme, there is still one thing that is clear—the emotion that Silberman exudes during a performance. This is key to The Antlers’ music. Album concepts aside, it’s the feeling that people get from their catalogue that entrances fans but keeps them hooked. And Silberman is not shy about conveying his emotions onstage, it is one of the central focuses of the performance and sometimes filters into his songwriting.
“If I was going to put myself out there in some capacity, I might as well do it properly,” he says. “If you’re going to do it with one foot in there, I don’t think it really clicks, at least for me. It doesn’t really accomplish what I’m setting out to do. It’s like you’re halfway there. If you can’t let everything out then everyone’s going to take that at face value. But I guess it’s not always with the listener in mind, it’s naturally just how I do it. If you write something that’s revealing and deliver it with a lack of emotion, it’s not going to click the way you want it to. I think the feeling I try to put behind my voice is intended to be hitting what I’m saying. So I think an example would be that the words ‘I love you’ would totally lose their meaning if you don’t deliver them with conviction, and that goes for a lot of things. If you don’t deliver them with conviction, they’re not going to mean anything. The words are just a representation for a feeling. The feeling is at the heart of it.”