Interview with The Antlers: Peter Silberman

02/01/2010

The loss of a loved one to death, divorce, or breakup is traumatic. An experience singer Peter Silberman of The Antlers decided to share on the group’s new album, Hospice. After moving to Brooklyn, Silberman became lost in an unhealthy relationship. He found inspiration through Sylvia, the fictionalized story of the life and suicide of author Leonard Michael’s ex-wife. As one of 2009’s most personal and positively received albums, Hospice has deeply resonated with indie fans much in the same light as Bon Iver’s secluded winter debut. Before their February 8th performance at The Warfield, SFCritic spoke by phone with Peter Silberman.

SFCritic (SFC): What was it like when you first performed this album to a crowd? What were you feeling?

Peter Silberman (PS): Well, it was very different. We first started playing the songs from the record a while before it came out, but it was a very different point in our career. We didn’t really have very many people coming out to the shows, so it was kind of a strange feeling playing these songs, caring about them, having them be so fresh, and also, sort of fall on deaf ears for a while.

SFC: What portions of the songs were written by you individually?

PS: The story was written by me. As far as the recording, the framework, and the sort of ambiance were done by me. Michael and Darby they sort of gave it shape and structure.

SFC: Has the repetition lost some of the meaning of the words for you? Is it strange now that you’re more disconnected from the events as time has passed, but now the audiences are larger and more connected?

PS: I would have expected it to mean less to me. In a way I do, but it always feels like it’s a part of me. Because of the response we got from the record, the people coming out to the shows, and the sort of the connection we feel with the audience, it has taken on this new meaning because it’s become everyone else’s story. I didn’t want to hold on to this myself forever. It’s not about having some demons in your past it’s more about having a shared experience with people.

SFC: Has the narrative in the way that you see it changed in light of the public and private’s perception and interpretation?

PS: I think people have liberties to decide what the record is about, and I’m totally okay with that. Maybe I could to listen to someone’s interpretation of it and think, “well that’s not what happened or referring to,” but it doesn’t really matter.

SFC: I’m asking more if your own narrative has changed now that you’ve heard other people’s interpretations.

PS: Yeah I’d say, as far as the writing on that record or writing now?

SFC: Well you’re actually jumping ahead of me now. It was a two part question, so yeah, that was going to be the follow up.

PS: In the past, I sort of look at it as a younger version of myself. I’m not much older than I was, but it does feel like looking at a picture of yourself from a few years ago. It’s still recognizably you, but there are a lot of things about you that are different. I look at that record and I can’t imagine making another record like it, but I also don’t want to make another record like it.
SFC: In terms of the future where do you go next?

PS: We’re building our next record right now. Hospice was really an outpouring of pages, pages, pages of lyrics. In order to challenge myself, I’m trying to go very much in the opposite direction to see what can be said with the fewest words. We’ll see.

SFC: I read about how you created the cacophonous bell noise on “Atrophy,” by stringing several bells upon a standing lap and layering the sample. What is your creative musical process like? Can anything become a new instrument?

PS: I think anything can. The trick is to make sure it’s not gimmicky. You don’t want to have a song where it sounds like he’s playing a garbage can. He’s hitting his shoe on the floor. I think that can be the problem sometimes, it’s a little too cutesy when it is household objects like a tea kettle. For me it’s about the sound you’re trying to get from it, and the means doesn’t really matter.

SFC: Are there any other examples you might give? Like you were hitting the tea kettle and were like this will make a great sound.

PS: There’s actually, you can hear this creaking sound, it’s very faint. I think it’s at the end of “Wake,” and it sort of works with the mood of everything, but it was kind of an accident. It was the sound from the chair that I was sitting in that I’ve had for ten years. To me it always sounds like something hanging somewhere, swinging back and forth, for whatever reason that felt appropriate.

SFC: What part of Leonard Michael’s book Sylvia resonated with you?

PS: The weird thing about that book, I was given that book right when I was coming out of the relationship that Hospice is about. Just a lot of similarities to an experience I’d just been through, I’d say two weeks prior.

SFC: How so?

PS: It’s one of those situations that I don’t think is a rare thing necessarily, people often come across books and movies and feel like it’s speaking to them. The end of that book, that part hit really hard. The last page of it is what inspired “Epilogue,” very specifically, this sort of being haunted while trying to sleep by this thing from the past.

SFC: It seems to make sense that “Epilogue” was the first song written on the album. Life usually works out starting from the end and working backwards.

PS: Yeah, I remember writing it and knowing that it was going to be the last song on the album. It was sort of like I had to write the ending to work sort of backwards to get to that point.

SFC: Given that your goal was to create the songs on Hospice during a period of isolation, how did you find a balanced perspective between the protagonist and antagonist?

PS: Well the record wasn’t made during a period of isolation. That quote [about] isolation is referring to the events within Hospice. That’s really about a closed up relationship, a relationship when you cut out the people in your life because you don’t understand yourself anymore, and you don’t know you anymore. As far as finding the balance it was a lot of just digging up memories and having something be so fresh in my mind that could transform into a different story.

SFC: Did the project change after its initial independent release in March of 09 versus the remastered version on French Kiss?

PS: Well the remastering was the only way it was changed. It changed the sound. It opened it a lot. It was a bit muddier sounding before. It had a bit more air this way.

SFC: With all this unexpected success was it ever discomforting sharing these personal feelings on such a public scale, and now that are you are on French Kiss are things different?

PS: It was sort of a situation that I felt that when I was done with it, I could either throw it out or get it out to as many people as possible. The success of the record wasn’t going to be how many people bought it, but it was going to be how many people heard it and actually felt a connection with it. I think it ended up with the best possible outcome because it gave this record a strength that without it was just sort of narcissism.

The Antlers perform at The Warfield on February 8th. Tickets are $23-$25. Doors open at 7pm, and the show begins at 7:30pm.

This article is republished from SF Station.