Rightly, The Antlers reign as part of indie-pop royalty. Born out of a solo project, which involved front-man Peter Silberman recording mostly in his bedroom, The Antlers morphed into a fully-fledged band in 2009, coinciding with the release of Hospice, the album that brought them to the core of indie consciousness.
While Silberman’s early solo efforts were rather lo-fi, The Antlers’ latter releases are characterized by carefully layered tracks that demand a start to finish listen, it’s the antithesis of disposable pop. They’re also pretty heavy in terms of content. Death is a constant theme and Hospice, ostensibly set in an oncology ward, was actually a metaphor for abusive relationships. While for the most part the album creates a downtrodden atmosphere, ‘Familiars’ comes as something of a relief. Sure it’s bleak to start, but it ends on an almost upbeat note. That doesn’t mean that it’s any less thoughtful though.
Silberman’s quite open about the fact that a “personal philosophy” drives each album. “The goal with this record in particular was to get a better understanding of aspects of my personal philosophy, specifically relating to memory, the value that we place on memory and how much we allow memories to guide our present actions,” Silberman muses. “I think it’s a pretty common belief that you should learn from your mistakes and keep them with you, but I think there’s another side to that. You can hold onto mistakes and punish yourself with them. Where do you draw that distinction? It’s different for everybody. When you come to realize that you’re reliant on your past to inform who you are in the present, it’s not always a good thing. Sometimes you need to begin again or give yourself a blank slate to move forward.”
It was also a painstaking project. Unlike the gonzo lo-fi days (Silberman’s been known to lay down albums in less than a day, and recorded The February Tapein a lazy hour in the bathtub). The Antlers took over a year and a half to finish Familiars, and Silberman tweaked and polished the shit out of it. Clearly, the end product was worth it, but does he ever get a hankering for the ease of the lo-fi days? “Yeah I do,” he admits.
“That stuff is still a part of my life and my creative process though. I don’t spend as much time recording in the bathtub as I maybe used to, but I still do make a lot of lo-fi recordings, the only difference now is that I don’t release them and don’t necessarily follow them through to the final stages of song. It’s usually sketches of things or different recording experiments, but I still love recording the wrong way. It’s kind of a habit that I’m simultaneously trying to break myself free of and also just let myself do for fun.”
Given that the project was Silberman’s baby for the first few years, The Antler’s gradual transition to a three piece band (together with Darby Cicci on keyboards and Michael Lerner on drums), required a mental gear change. “It’s a really different way of operating,” Silberman reflects. “When you’re writing with different people. It’s less about you going completely into your own world, and more about pulling pieces of ideas out from that subconscious place and sharing them in unfinished form with other people and joining your creative minds around shared ideas.
“I find it more challenging to work with other people, than to work by myself, partly because other people hold you accountable and challenge you. It requires more co-operation and tact than working by yourself. It’s been a really interesting ride so far, the way that the collaboration among me, Darby and Michael has evolved over the years. I played in bands growing up as a kid, but it’s a bit like the relationship you have when you’re at high school versus an adult relationship. The layers of complexity increase when you’re older or you’re doing it professionally or when it becomes your life.”
Things have been pretty hectic for The Antlers, Familiars was released in June and the band’s pretty consistently toured off its back since. So what’s next?
“Right now, not a whole lot officially,” Silberman says. “We’ve got some more shows, but we really just got back from a long tour and we’re trying to give ourselves a break and take a little bit of time off before our next moves. The future is feeling pretty wide open, which is cool. It’s nice to be in a fresh place where you feel that there’s a solid amount of work behind you and you don’t necessarily need to go in one direction or another. It feels very open and free right now.”
The Antler’s Aussie tour is amongst the remainder of their shows. They’ve been here before for the Laneway Festival back in 2011. We made a good impression, because Silberman described the experience as a “sublime time” and he’s looking forward to coming back.
“There’s something about the first time you visit a place that can be very magical,” he laughs. “The second time is always completely different, but it’s cool because it’s not completely unfamiliar to you – you have this awareness of what a place is like and it feels a bit like time travel.”
The Antlers are playing Laneway Festival in 2015. For more information visit www.lanewayfestival.com.