Interview The Antlers: “The flaws are what make it human”

The Antlers’ new album, ‘Familiars’, sees the band take a new approach to narrative.

“Imagining yourself as multiple people is going to make you insane – especially when it’s in addition to all the sleep depravation and obsessive workload that occurred making this album.” The Antlers aren’t ones to do things by half. Their records are ones of full-blown intensity and detail, records to pore over and get lost in. From the novelistic ‘Hospice’, the story of an emotionally abusive relationship told through the analogy of a hospice worker and a terminally-ill patient, to the breathtaking, emotionally brutal ‘Burst Apart’, they have created albums that demand as much from the listener as the band have poured into it: that is to say every fibre, every sinew of their being. So much so that it can drive the band to the brink.

This time, for new album ‘Familiars’, Pete Silberman decided to write and sing as two sides of the same person. What grew out of this was the idea of a Familiar. “I wanted these two characters to be a creation of the same person, as if they are a manifestation of different qualities within one person’s psyche.” But it also had a negative impact on his mental well-being. “It made the record gel but it also made me kind of insane, because in order for me to write these kind of songs – and this goes for a lot of Antlers songs – there’s a degree of living as these characters and it definitely fostered this duality in my own head. But I don’t think it’s that an unusual thing: A lot of us have these different ideas of who we are and we see ourselves as different people in different situations -like people who get out of control when they’re fucked up: ‘Oh that’s the werewolf version of me!’”

It’s clear this record – as with previous ones – took a lot out of the band. Peter is currently recovering after damaging a nerve in his ear and has been living in a ‘music-less universe’ for a month while he waits for it to heal. “Making this record was an exhausting process but I remember when we finished it - when it got to the point of being unchangeable - there was a real feeling of relief that it was perfect in all of its imperfections. Which is a hard concept for me to wrap my head around sometimes. It’s that point where you can’t do anything and you just have to leave it – because the flaws are the thing that make it human and make it alive.”

“It made me kind of insane.”

— Pete Silberman

If this dismantling of his psyche and acceptance of the imperfections seems to hint at a turbulent record that’s only half the truth. For to listen to Familiars is to hear an album that seems more buoyant than its predecessors. There’s a looseness to the structures and calmness in the sounds which hint at a sense of release and relief. It’s certainly a record that may surprise some people. “It’s definitely not what I imagined we’d create at the start of the process,” admits Peter. It is both complex and lighter than what has come before and it wears its jazz influence on its sleeve – in part a reaction to the limitations that Peter found working within the confines of ‘pop’.

“Jazz was definitely a big influence on this record. Darby (Cicci, the band’s multi-instrumentalist) and I were very much into Alice Coltrane while we were working on it and a lot of the psychedelic, spiritual jazz of the late 60s and 70s – Miles Davis and John Coltrane. There’s a lot of exploration going on and an attempt to connect to something beyond yourself through music. Some of that came about, for me at least, from my own exhaustion at making things that were pop-oriented and feeling that was too confining for what I was wanting to do. I didn’t want to shoehorn my ideas into verse-chorus-bridge structures.”

It meant a new way of writing for the band, and Peter especially. “Lyrically it was a different animal than I’ve ever dealt with before. I start my lyric writing process with a stream of consciousness and this time I did it more than ever – it was about opening a valve and letting a lot of things spill out and seeing what that looked like to write with no filter. After that I started to excessively edit which is kinda new for me but I really wanted to craft something with some kind of story that was going to cross over through each song. It was a bit like working out a puzzle. Some songs went though 20 or 30 different versions before getting to what I wanted it to be.”

All the songs were written simultaneously and there is certainly that idea of a whole, a journey: from the story of the narrators (On ‘Director’ he sings of ‘two twins you can’t tell apart’) to the album’s ebb and flow. It creates an intriguing and enveloping labyrinth of love, loss, mortality and self-reflection, all soundtracked by a complex bed of horns, twinkling keyboards and muted guitars.

“Darby handled a lot of the texture on the record and for him the horns were a crucial part of that and his way of contributing his own voice to this. It comes through in the trumpets and it was important to him they had their own voice and personality.”

It makes for an album of rousing soul and rich textures, with ideas coming into and out of focus, with that captivating narrative thread pulling everything together. There’s the opener ‘Palace’, which Pete describes as sounding as “if someone was trying to remember what an older Antlers song sounded like without listening to it – it’s the beginning of the story on the record.” The constant references to buildings – hotels or houses – hint that this is the story of the architecture of the mind – of walls being built up and then letting them fall away and it’s an idea which seems to come to fruition in the stunning closing tracks Surrender and Refuge. ‘See you’re already home / yet you don’t know where to find it,’ he sings, as beautiful horns cascade over the top.

It’s this awareness of the hurt as well as the reassurance that Silberman and his band provide that make The Antlers so special. As our conversation comes to an end I relay a message from a friend. “Just tell them I love them”, she had commanded. This must be common for a band who pour their hearts out on record? “I think perhaps we hit people in a deep, weird place in themselves where what I’m writing about is from my own experience but they’re taking it and translating into what they’ve been through.”

“Whereas a lot of music serves as a distraction from the pain that is inherent in everyone’s life, we kind of face it head on and that can be disarming – but it’s the kind of thing in music that I find comforting. I feel better confronting suffering and maybe our fans feel the same way or maybe they feel less alone knowing that someone is right there with them – it’s a kind of solidarity thing I guess.”

Taken from the new DIY Weekly, available to download for iPhone, iPad and Android or read online now. The Antlers’ new album ‘Familiars’ is out now via Transgressive.


Get your copy of the latest issue

More like this