Daniel Nolan spoke to Michael Lerner of Brooklyn band The Antlers on their recording process, their new album and music as a representation of an artist. “I don’t really think most fans go to shows hoping to see a band recreate a record note-for-note on stage, I think most people would rather have that live experience be something a little different” “I think you see it in a lot artists, that they have this pathos and a kind of darkness early on, and then once they get happy and comfortable everything goes to shit” Brooklyn band The Antlers originally formed as a solo project of songwriter Pete Silberman, who self-released two LPs, entitled Uprooted and In the Attic of the Universe, in 2006 and 2007 respectively. After drummer Michael Lerner and keyboard player Darby Cicci were recruited, the band released 2009’s Hospice. That album was met with critical and popular acclaim, despite being comprised of dark songs concerned with weighty and unfashionable subject matter. It was based around a narrative about a hospice worker and a terminally ill patient. Silberman has generally been evasive on the subject of its inspiration, but has alluded to the concept being a metaphorical representation of an abusive relationship. Now, the band tour in support of new album Burst Apart, and will play The Academy on November 17th. The Tribune spoke to Michael Lerner on how the album has been received so far.
“Things have been really good so far. There’s been a feeling that some fans of the last album might see it as a bit of a departure, but it’s been a really good reception.” The album is certainly a progression for the band, as it utilises the new instrumentation and technology available to them. The songs are also more tightly structured, and there’s an evident development in the trio’s musical relationship As Hospice was essentially a home recording, how did the band find the transition from this style of recording to the more conventional studio setting for Burst Apart? “In terms of the studio, it was a whole different situation- Hospice was literally a bedroom recording. There was so little space that it was usually just one person recording at a time. This time, we were in a proper studio that we have of our own. So before we started recording, there was already the sense that this was going to be a more expansive record. We also wanted to get away from the idea that we were a band who just played this sad music so that didn’t follow us for the rest of our careers. We let ourselves be a little more free when we were writing it.” The Antlers recently toured with The National, another band to have emerged from Brooklyn’s fertile indie scene over recent years. That band is often unfairly labelled with such superficial and clumsy terms as ‘mope rock’, due to the tone of some of their work. Given the darkness and intensity of their early output, The Antlers risk a similar fate. Are they conscious of this in their song- writing? “We try to do what seems natural, but at the same time that stuff’s not lost on us. Even with Hospice, honestly, even though I know it’s a dark record, I don’t feel like it’s just doom and gloom all the way through. Each listener takes away something different from it I guess. With bands like The National, I think there’s just one thing that sticks out, maybe, that’s easy for the press to use, and that sticks with them, even though there’s a lot more to it.” Is there then a degree to which each listener is rewarded depending on the extent to which they’re willing to engage with the music? “Definitely. I think any music fan would tell you that the more time you spend with a piece of music the more things will appear and the more you’ll be able to get from a song beyond the surface.” The Antlers have emerged as a band willing to take on challenging and unusual topics in their song-writing. Are they conscious of trying to steer clear of more well-trodden areas in order to explore this? “I wouldn’t say that per se. I feel like, when we sat down to write what became Burst Apart, we still didn’t know if we were going to explore a kind of concept record idea again or try something different. At the end of the day the important thing for us is that what we’re doing has a sense of honesty and that we’re not doing things for the wrong reason, or trying to do what someone might expect. Once we feel we have that, we’re open to any direction really. While the critical acclaim received by Hospice, The Antler’s first release as a three-piece, may not have come as a surprise, the hugely positive popular reception may have been less expected. Since its release, The Antlers’ audience has steadily grown, leading to appearances at festivals such as Lollapalooza and Primavera, as well as the aforementioned tour supporting The National. They’ve even risen to the late-night chat-show circuit, recently appearing on Jimmy Fallon’s show to perform ‘I Don’t Want Love,’ one of Burst Apart’s standout tracks. Have the band been surprised by the success that has stemmed from Hospice? “At the early shows, we felt like the audience were being really respectful to the music and really listening. Seeing that reaction made us think the record might have more potential to reach a wider audience than we’d thought initially, when we thought it would probably only appeal to a kind of niche audience. So we were really encouraged by that reception, and that eventually developed into the album being much more successful than we’d really hoped.” Was there difficulty in bringing Hospice from the bedroom to the stage? “Well yeah, it was a difficult process in some ways. For me, I was able to rely on past experiences of putting shows together. Then when we toured a bit we gradually got to know each other musically, so we were able to leave a little room for that kind of structured improvisation that makes it a little bit different every night. I think that’s really important in staying engaged and making the shows interesting for the fans. You know, I don’t really think most fans go to shows hoping to see a band recreate a record note-for-note on stage, I think most people would rather have that live experience be something a little different.” One of the central subjects of Hospice was interdependence between two people. Burst Apart seems to react against this, with songs such as ‘I Don’t Want Love’ displaying a caution towards these sorts of relationships. Throughout the album, there seems to be a theme of liberation attained through the rejection of some of the concepts central to Hospice. Does Lerner see a general relationship between the song-writing of the two albums? “Yeah I think there certainly is a connection, and a kind of evolution between the two albums in that sense. While there’s some common ground between them, I think it’s always going to happen that your ideas and values change a little as you get older, and that’s reflected in the songs. More personally, I think our experience together as a band, things like being away a lot and our lives changing more generally, I think that’s probably buried in there too. I think that idea of striking out on your own a little bit more and feeling pretty good about things runs through Burst Apart.” The new album is a far more liberated and confident record than its deeply introverted predecessor. Is this similarly reflective of a development in the lives of its creators, or is it purely to do with the song-writing? “To be honest, I don’t think anyone can really make that distinction. I think everything ends up being processed, either consciously or otherwise, into the songs. I definitely think, as a listener, you probably get a pretty good picture of what’s going on in our heads in a more general sense. The specifics and the details might not be so obvious, but the central feeling is always pretty evident. ” Given that their songs are so concerned with conflict and crises; do The Antlers ever consider what they would use for inspiration if their lives were to move into more settled circumstances? “Yeah I do think about that sometimes. I think you see it in a lot artists, that they have this pathos and a kind of darkness early on, and then once they get happy and comfortable everything goes to shit. I don’t think we’re that close to that stage yet, so hopefully we can rely on that kind of darker side for a while into the future. I don’t think that’s in danger of running out. It’s not that we’re sad people necessarily, that’s just sometimes what filters into the music. I think it’s a mistake when people assume that an artist’s output is a complete indication of what they’re like outside of their work.” Do the Antlers then use their music as a way of accessing and expressing these darker emotions? “Well music has always been that for me anyway, as I think it is for a lot of people. It also provides that bit of escape from the day-to-day. It’s an opportunity to sit down and not think about the problems or concerns that you have to deal with the rest of the time. Then in making music, I guess it’s a way of channelling some of that and dealing with it in a different way. I think, for the band, it’s definitely an avenue for that kind of thing, and always has been.” So what next for The Antlers? “Well at the moment we’re mainly focussed on the tour, obviously. We just finished touring around the US and now we’re doing these shows in Europe, so it’s been pretty busy. It’s been great getting back to playing the shows and getting to use the new songs though. After all this, when we get a little free time around Christmas, we’ll probably head back into the studio and see where we’re at. Since it’s our own studio we kind of have that freedom to go in and do as we please to an extent, and take our time about it. We definitely want to start recording more, but whether it becomes a new LP right away is another story. We just want to try and stay creative and keep it fun as much as we can.” Tickets for the Antlers visit to Dublin next week are on sale now.