TAS In Session (Sasquatch! Preview): The Antlers
Brooklyn's The Antlers shot from relative obscurity to breakthrough success in 2009 on the back of their gorgeous, elegiac third album, Hospice. Two years and numerous tours and festivals under the trio's belt, they've shaken off some of their sadness on their new album, Burst Apart.
The Antlers' vocalist/guitarist Peter Silberman, drummer MIchael Lerner, multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci and touring guitarist/bassist Tim Mislock dropped by The Alternate Side a few weeks ago to chat about their self-produced approach, not-so-comfy studio couch-surfing and anxious nightmares, plus they played a mini-session of songs from Burst Apart, including "No Widows" and "Parentheses."
Alisa Ali: I like how on the record how it says, “written, performed, produced and recorded by The Antlers.” You guys did it all. Why were you so lazy and didn’t do your own album cover?
Michael Lerner: Darby did a lot of that too. The woman who designed the Hospice cover also did this cover, although it’s a bit of a different style, you could say. Darby has got a big old hand in all of the goings on with the art direction.
Alisa: So I stand corrected. You guys really did everything yourselves on the record. Why did you decide to take every single aspect of this record into your own hands? Surely with the success of the last record you could have gotten a lot of people to help.
Peter Silberman: We did have a lot of people helping us in different departments but on the creative end we’re really control freaks and wanted to make sure it was all coming from us first even if it was going to be worked on and run by other people.
Alisa: Have you ever had that situation where you’ve written something and someone’s told you to change it?
Peter: We haven’t run into too many problems with that; we’re all pretty firm about what we want creatively and what we don’t. Usually everyone’s on the same page and the people who would be perhaps telling us something like that understand where our preferences lie.
Alisa: Have you not worked a producer before?
Alisa: That’s the goal? You’re always going to do it yourselves?
Peter: Never say never.
Darby Cicci I’ll say never.
Michael: We know what we wanted to achieve and in that way it wasn’t that different from Hospice. We put our heads together. As long as we’re physically able to take care of the engineering side in the studio which these guys do a really good job at. So that’s the main obstacle. If you can do that, I think that was the reason. We just know what we’re looking for and if we didn’t, we’d probably look to other people.
Alisa: Some bands like to put the decision in outside hands because they’re so in it. You need an outside perspective sometimes.
Peter: For sure.
Alisa: So you guys have your own recording studio?
Darby: It’s lovely, it’s in Bushwick and I guess we’ve been there since September. It’s a really nice place and it has a really nice live room. A nicely shaped control room; it’s good for mixing. We have lots of space, amps and instruments and not much else to it other than we don’t rent it by the day. We own a lease on it. We have a studio partner who we split the space with, half and half. But we took it over for five months.
Alisa: Were you basically just living there?
Peter: Yes, constantly. We were in there a lot. I think the funny thing about going from the bedroom project to this one is that we could have used a bed this time to stay over, but now we’ve got everything else except the bed.
Darby: We definitely slept on the couch before.
Alisa: What was one of those songs from those sessions that came the easiest?
Michael: We first started to sketch out some ideas in January 2010, about a year ago. I think the ones that came out of that session were probably “Parentheses” and “French Exit.”
Darby: We rerecorded "French Exit" and we demoed a lot of stuff early on or had alternate electronic versions of them and then re-did them once we moved into this new studio. I feel like “Parentheses” came about the easiest.
Peter: A lot of it was recorded in January around that time. That one and some of “Tiptoe” was done back then but it’s kind of it on the actual tracks that got carried over.
Michael: That way when we began the recording process in our actual studio we had those prett fleshed out as opposed to the other ones where we were doing writing still.
Alisa: Are there a bunch of songs that didn’t make it onto the record?
Peter: I think we pretty much used everything. Definitely more songs are going to be in the works, but there aren’t three albums worth of leftover material write now.
Alisa: You wrote ten songs before you went into record them and that was it?
Peter: We wrote them while we were recording them. Through the recording process of piecing things together and putting down tracks and letting the songs turn into what they turned into. A lot of them had this trance-y quality, a cyclical thing that made it easy to write through recording. We could have something running and keep going. Drop vocals in, drop different parts in. At different points in time, the songs shaped themselves.
Alisa: I understand that this record was more democratic in the creation process than Hospice. Is that true? Michael, you said it in an interview.
Michael: I said it and it’s true. I think that people may probably know that Hospice was written primarily by Peter. Darby and I came in that we wrote in to record. This album was, as a result of touring and being together for a few years now and really getting to know each other, I think it was more fun that way. We all had a lot of ideas. I don’t think anyone was that interested in dictating. In a lot of situations there are, and that’s okay, but everyone had good ideas and you’d be silly not to follow up on them.
Alisa: What were some of the ideas that you brought to this next song we’re going to hear, “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out.”
Michael: My personal contribution? I was interested in this song as well as some of the other songs. It had more of a sense of space, not overplaying and letting things develop. Letting an airiness permeate through the song. Even though it’s the most uptempo song on the record, I wanted to walk that razor’s edge of not playing, but yet driving it through. That’s my spiel.
Alisa: Darby, what was your idea with this song?
Darby: It’s hard to say. We don’t really sit around a table and make songs. We start recording and just layer stuff. I played banjo, synthesizers, all of the bass guitar, did all of the engineering.
Alisa: You were very helpful, so thank you. Peter, did you write it?
Peter: Vocals and guitar, yeah.
Alisa: Do you really have dreams that every night your teeth are falling out?
Peter: I used to, but not so much anyore. Now that we put the song out, I don’t have them.
Alisa: You know what Freud says about that.
Peter: Apparently he says a lot of things that nobody agrees on. I’ve heard some not-so-strange things, I’ve heard some very strange things. He says a lot about it.
Alisa: It could mean that you need to see a dentist.
Peter: I go to the dentist. I had my teeth cleaned recently. I always think of it as an anxiety-related dream. I’ve read that it can be anxiety about having said something, or regretting saying something.
Alisa: Do you have a lot of anxiety?
Peter: Not as much anymore.
Alisa: The last time you guys were here in Studio A, you’d just put out Hospice which was a concept record about a terminally ill patient. So it’s really heavy stuff and I was worried that you guys would would be very downbeat. But the interview turned out being really funny, but is that something that you’re still battling when you’re doing interviews? The perception of you?
Peter: I think we’re working on balancing it out a little bit. As you can tell, we’re not sad sacks.
Alisa: Well, for sure, with Hospice, you must have gotten that so much.
Peter: We’re just getting started with press and interviews for [Burst Apart], so time will tell. But I think people “get it” that it’s not necessarily who we are. We’ll see. I’m sure that I’ll still be reassuring people that I’m okay.
Alisa: That last tour you were out on the road so long. How long did you tour for Hospice?
Michael: It was pretty much non-stop, off-and-on from the summer of 2009 until just this past fall.
Alisa: Are you sick of those songs or okay with them still?
Michael: Personally, I’m not sick of them partially because of the way we explore different things. We don’t always play them verbatim, the way they’re recorded, so that gives us a little more creativity, keeps it fresh. Besides that, I won’t question why, but I still like the songs a lot. I feel good about that.
Alisa: Peter, what about singing the lyrics to those songs now?
Peter: It was a little strange since it was a very long time ago that I was experiencing those things and writing them. Even singing them. I don’t know. I still like those songs and care about them a lot, but it does feel like it’s a different version of myself; me now, singing songs written by me then.
Alisa: You’re reciting these lines instead of feeling them since you’re not in that headspace anymore?
Peter: Not necessarily. I’m not reliving it or anything while we’re playing, but I think also because of the way people reacted to the record and the way the shows are, people have a strong connection to the songs. It feels like it’s more their thing, which is great. So it’s basically singing to them, for them, as opposed to for myself.
Alisa: The songs on the new album are so fresh that you still feel like you did when you were writing the lyrics?
Peter: Yeah, I think so. I still feel pretty connected to these songs and we’re also just starting to play them live, some for the first time. Part of it is concentrating on actually playing, but it definitely feels right, right now.
The Antlers' Tour Dates
May 28 Sasquatch Music Festival George, WA
May 31 Great American Music Hall San Francisco, CA
Jun 03 El Rey Theatre Los Angeles, CA
Jun 04 The Glass House Pomona, CA
Jun 07 Emos Austin, TX
Jun 08 The Loft Dallas, TX
Jun 09 The Marquee Tulsa, OK
Jun 10 Firebird Saint Louis, MO
Jun 11 Metro Chicago, IL
Jun 12 Magic Stick Detroit, MI
Jun 14 The Mod Club Toronto, Canada
Jun 15 La Tulipe Montreal, Canada
Jun 16 Paradise Boston, MA
Jun 17 The Space Hamden, CT
Aug 14 Summer Sundae Leicester, United Kingdom
Aug 19 Pukkelpop Kiewit, Belgium
Aug 21 GREENMAN FESTIVAL Wales, United Kingdom
Sep 17 ACL Festival Austin, TX
Nov 08 Concorde 2 Brighton, United Kingdom
Nov 09 Thekla Bristol, United Kingdom
Nov 10 KOKO London, United Kingdom
Nov 11 Rainbow Birmingham, United Kingdom
Nov 12 Stylus - Constellations Festival Leeds, United Kingdom
Nov 14 Sound Control Manchester, United Kingdom
Nov 15 King Tuts Glasgow, United Kingdom