The Antlers' Pete Silberman Interviewed: "I'm No Saint, For Sure"

Ahead of the release of their new record, the Brooklyn singer discusses Familiars, the vengeance in Hospice and temptations of the road...
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If The Antlers are something approaching indie royalty, then Pete Silberman is the Crown Prince. He made the world take note with breakout album Hospice, a dense, oddly euphoric album that told the story of an ultimately doomed romance between a terminally ill woman and her hospice carer. The concept served as an analogy for Pete's recently failed relationship and this, mixed with excellent reviews and a brutal touring schedule, meant that The Antlers had people's attentions the world over.

They followed up Hospice with Burst Apart, to universal acclaim, gaining album of the year nods from the likes of Drowned In Sound. This cemented the bands's reputation and Pete's own as a songwriter and singer. In particular, songs like 'Corsicana' and 'Parenthesis' displayed his otherwordly falsetto; in a live situation enough to put the viewer into a rolling, languid trance.

There was the Undersea E.P, before this week's release of Familiars. The second album recorded by the full band (Darby Cicci and Michael Lerner joined after Pete had put Hospice together in his bedroom) is, well, you wouldn't say it's most people's idea of a happy album. But it's palpably less tense; less whip-cracking sadness, less manna for weepy, beardy indie boys  to snatch onto during bad break-ups and suicide Sundays.

Would you agree that Familiars is a less tense affair than the previous two records?

I went into this wanting to create a quality, that by the time you had finished the record you would feel lighter than when you began, It starts in a dark place, a tense place, but it think it climbs out of that darkness over the course of the record.

It's sort of a relief to hear this from someone who has spent the last four years singing about pretty heavy shit.

Over the last year and a half I've been doing something along the lines of yoga and meditation. There's so much to be learnt in that world,I think of it as travelling to the edges of your own mind, and then coming back. I find it to be super useful, just for my own peace of mind and my own happiness.

How has that translated with the record? 

It brings you into this zone for an extended period of time, and you can feel yourself feeling different on the other side. It's a long dip you go into, like an intense calm, though it's not always calm. Sometimes it can be a struggle, but on the other side of it you tend to feel like some sort of weight is lifted off you, that there's some kind of release. It can be kind of a confrontation of the things you're dealing with, of facing them head-on and sitting with the things that are driving you crazy. I think with the structure of the album, especially, I saw a parallel between that and a long meditation.

So is Familiars more or less 'Pete-focused?'

It's very easy to write with your ego, very easy. and it's very hard to write without an ego. In songwriting in particular, it's a way to say things you wouldn't ordinarily say in conversation. It can be an amazing tool for being passive aggressive which is a total ego trip. Anytime I noticed myself doing it on this record I pulled it out.

Sounds like in some respects Familiars is the anti-Hospice

Hospice came from a very hurt place, very confused, very isolated, but also very vindictive. Familiars is a very different record. If anything Familiars is stepping back from that, looking back at past output and really seeing what was going on at the time,and better understanding it.

With this hindsight, could you  view Hospice as a punishment for the girl it was written about? 

Yeah, maybe. though it was more of a vengeance thing, I was uncontrollably angry at the time and I also didn't realise the power of doing something like that, partly cos i didn't think anyone was going to hear it!"

This is understandable, as the first two Antlers records made comparitively less impression on the wider world.

It's easy to do these things when you think the only people that will hear it are the person and your friends. But when it gets to the volume that it got to. when you put something out there it's no longer yours...I think you have to be careful about what you're doing and what your motives are.

Looking back, what past output do you perhaps regret?

I dunno, I look back on 'I Don't Want Love' and think the message on that song is so not where I am right now. I was in the midst of Antler-mania, with a lot of things in life changing. I didn't know what I wanted out of life and I had to reconcile that somehow.

Where do you stand on playing songs you are no longer enamoured with? 

Well we wont play something if we're not feeling it, and sometimes we'll catch flak for that.

What about the fact that doing so might dampen the audience's enjoyment?  

For sure, that's not something to punish the audience for. It's our own issue to deal with. But i think at this point there's enough of a catalogue that we can bounce around a bunch of different tracks, and we won't play a set where we don't play any of those kind of songs.

During the live shows, there can be a really intense energy, between you and the audience. It can't be easy to just switch from onstage Pete to offstage Pete.

No, it's not. Not every show is like it, but sometimes it can be overwhelming. I haven't played a show in a while so its hard to put myself in that headspace but i do know that when i first get off i'm kind of unable to talk to people for a few minutes. Not because i don't want to but it's like my brain hasn't switched into conventional mode. It's still in this kind of altered state where I've been transported somewhere else, or I feel like the room might have been transported somewhere else, and i'm coming down from it i guess.

It must be tempting to lean on other things to help the process of coming down.

I'm no saint, for sure. If anything, that stuff becomes more easily available to you as you do this for longer and you see any success with it. It's up to to negotiate your relationship with it, and i don't always do such a good job with that.

What's your relationship with it now?  

I don't have any problems. It's just the nature of that stuff being more available to you that sometimes you need to...sometimes it takes time to learn your limits.

It sounds like there might have been a time when these limits weren't so clear. 

Yeah, sure, It wasn't like a magic thing where i suddenly had complete self control, it takes time. But I'm in a very clear headed state of mind now.

Anyone looking for proof of this last statement need look no further than Familiars.  It's out now on Transgressive.  Get it here