Brooklyn trio, The Antlers, are headed our way to Perform at the Chevron Festival Gardens on Sunday, February 15. ALEX GRIFFIN reports.
Since bursting out of nowhere with their tragic, rousing bedsit debut album, Hopsice, The Antlers have steadily become critical darlings for their expansive, stately sound, with 2011’s Burst Apart and last year’s Familiars establishing the band as heirs to the likes of Talk Talk.
Following the well-trod path walked by everyone from Richard Hell to Thurston Moore to Lydia Lunch, guitarist and songwriter Pete Silberman moved to Brooklyn in 2006 to start the then-solo project, and he reckons the community in the big smoke has handsomely rewarded the risk taken in moving there.
“My life here has changed a lot, and the creative community has too, but it’s the same,” he says. “As ever, there are a lot of people around here who I consider myself very fortunate to have as friends making really interesting work. I guess the key thing is that it’s convenient; being here is conducive to a lot of collaboration and exploring this constant stream of new ideas, so I get to build a life that revolves around that, which is amazing.”
Even if the overt, desperate emotions of Hospice are pretty far removed from what the Antlers are like now, the ambition and scale remains pretty undimmed. After all, that release was a concept album that intricately wove metaphors of death, decay and the hope of recovery into – heady theoretical work, especially for a record seemingly suited to throwing out an exes’ stuff and crying on the phone to your parents. Talking to Silberman, the idea of having a philosophy in one’s music comes up a lot; the notion that songs carry and reflect a system of pretty well considered thought is one he holds pretty firmly, and one he traces back to George Harrison – a songwriter who definitely wasn’t afraid of making his ideas obvious in his songs. (If there’s anything less ambiguous about a choir singing the name of Krishna for two minutes, then it’s probably a Westboro Baptist Church service). As he explains it, “the spirit of his first two records made it into Familiars in a big way. There was something really enchanting about the way he would sing about disposition and attitude, and kind of include his own pedantic philosophy of what he wanted to say within these pop song structures. That had a strong hold on my mind.”
For a guy who has described listening to his early work as akin to being horrified by an old photo of yourself, it’s not surprising that Silberman is eager to put the past behind him, which might disappoint anyone still hoping for a retread of Antlers Mk.1.
“What we write now is harder to follow lyrically, more twisty, more challenging to grasp. Familiars has more of a sense of generality about it. It’s not so pinpointed to particularities. It’s all about general ideas and concepts I was working on. I feel like I have revised what my philosophy since then but what’s there is the fundamental foundational stuff, this exploration of transformation at that time. I’ll always have Hospice as a document of the beginning of that, but this project has been a constant evolution.”
It’s not just the what of Silberman’s lyrics that mark him as a bit left of centre; it’s the how, too. Like fellow Brooklynite, Cass Mccombs, in the same breath that he makes a biblical allusion or twist out an arcane bit of old slang, Silberman might just drop a string of f-bombs.
“It’s not intentional! It’s just the way I speak and write, I tend to latch onto a lot of older expressions, because I like outmoded ways of describing things. Cass has a way of using those stylised phrases that feels effortless. When that gets combined with having lived in NYC for so long, and grown up nearby, the profanity just comes out! Sometimes there’s no better word than ‘fuck’ for whatever you’re trying to express- the word is the perfect exclamation, qualifier… you name it. It can be so full of hate and also an exclamation of total joy! It’s the most powerful word around.”
Surprisingly, considering how they’ve become a stately post-rock outfit, Silberman draws most of his inspiration from an unlikely source. “I’m like, always listening to a lot of old dub and reggae. I was turned onto it by Darby (Cicci, keyboards) and Michael (Lerner, drums), and we all share an affinity for it; the mood, the pacing. Aesthetically, we share some similarities with in, in terms of the analogue equipment, and the warmer, earthier kinds of sounds we want to make.”
Inspired by the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, Familiars deals with change and transformation, as Silberman’s protagonist battles to escape doppelgangers, negotiates Hotel California-esque dead ends, and generally, tries to figure out how starting again happens. Coming off the heels of Burst Apart, which was more or less an autopsy of a failed relationship, Familiars feels like embracing change and flux. But doesn’t the idea of playing the same songs over and over for a year afterward contradict all of that?
“As time passes, it gets difficult to stay in touch with what inspired a song,” Silberman explains. “Like, it’s been about a year since we finished the record, two years since we started it… a lot of things about Familiars now feel like ancient history to me. A year is a really long time! So two years… can be very long.”
If getting estranged is what makes the Antlers keep thrumming, it’ll be good for everyone if Pete Silberman never figures himself out.