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The Antlers

Written by Daniel Clarke on November 17, 2009

Based in what seems to be the creative epicentre of the universe right now, Brooklyn NY, The Antlers released their second album Hospice earlier this year with an entirely new line up. Founding member Peter Silberman recruited two new band mates after running the Antlers as a one man band for a couple of years.

Whether it was the collaborative effort or the addition of drums, keyboards and the occasional trumpet, Hospice became the defining album in the band’s career. It received critical acclaim; the Antlers went on to tour the world and even draw comparisons to Arcade Fire. Not bad for an album they had to initially distribute themselves, before it was picked up by a label.

Daniel Clarke talks bedroom recordings, overnight success and drops his Muse analogy theory on the Antlers’ drummer, Michael Lerner.

Music Feeds: So what’s been happening? What have you been up to lately? Have you guys been touring?

Michael Lerner: Yeah, we’re on tour now. We’re in Chicago tonight. We’ve been busy, busy. We came back from the UK a couple of weeks ago, it was really great. Honestly, we’ve been having fun and things have been going so well that we’re a bit tired from all the good times, but it’s been great, really.

MF: Are you used to doing big tours? Were you in any band before The Antlers, where you went on big, international tours?

ML: Yeah, I actually have. I mean, nothing for like months and months on end, but more like weeks on end. I used to play in a band, we toured Europe a few times and we did a couple of shows in Japan, and went around the States a couple of times and did other stuff in the UK, but nothing as intense as what’s been happening with us now – it’s really starting to get quite crazy in a good way.

MF: It does seem like guys have taken off quite quickly, the album only came out earlier this year and already everybody’s been talking about it. I think it’s made “the best of” lists a couple of times already.

ML: You know, I saw that. Obviously we’re taken a bit by surprise as far as the attention, but I think we’re all pretty excited about this record, we’ve put a lot of ourselves into it, something that we’re all really proud of. So basically, anytime that anybody puts out a record wants to get a good response, this one is beyond our dreams that people would respond that way, so it’s been a really cool experience so far.

MF: Now, I want to talk a bit about writing and recording the album, but first, let’s go back a bit. Were you in other bands before you joined the Antlers? How did you come to music?

ML: I’ve been playing drums since I was a kid, since I was 6 years old. And I’ve been playing in a couple of bands before this one. But it’s kind of like when you’re a kid, maybe you find something that you just somehow feel an attachment to it. And my whole life, it’s just been about the drums. And, you know how it is, for a lot of us musicians, you feel like music takes priority or has a special thing most other things in life don’t really compare to. So I always felt that way about the music. And my whole life, it’s pretty cliche, but I just wanna be around music. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it, it wasn’t ever really about wanting to be famous, it was more like about artistic expression, or whatever you wanna call it, having fun and enjoying it, get into that place of just playing music, writing music and creating music – it’s the most satisfying thing for me really.

MF: So how did you come to be in the Antlers? How did Peter seek you guys out? Had you been friends before or had you played around, seen him around?

ML: Peter was doing singer/songwriter, solo stuff before, performing as the Antlers for a while. He caught my attention when I saw some blogger was posting about one of his acoustic shows and I went to check out the music and the first and the main thing that I noticed was, of course, his vocals, it really had some quality to it, that I was just really kinda…

MF: Taken by?

ML: Had an attachment to, yeah. And I think for me also, playing in bands is always about the singer, if it’s mediocre singer it loses my interest very quickly. But anyway, I also found that he was seeking out musicians at the same time that I was coincidentally looking for a new band. The timing was right, I just kind met up with him and we started playing the old material from the record before that. And it’s all good; he and I have a lot of similar qualities so it’s been a good fit.

MF: I was listening to the new album, and I must say, with the new Muse album dropping recently, it struck me – it has that same kind of ambitiousness to it, that kind of sense of grandioseness.

ML: Yeah, thanks.

MF: It’s definitely got that scale to it. Was that a difficult thing to try and pull off in the studio? Did you spend a lot of time layering and working up the arrangements?

ML: There definitely was a lot of mulitracking and layering, as far as trying to achieve a certain sound or whatever the aims were in the studio, Peter was writing and different band members came in at different times to record work. There wasn’t any time that we were all in the studio together. And so he had somewhat of a clearer, if not a general direction, that he wanted to go. So as far as the actual sound quality of the record, I think his vision was achieved. We discussed a couple of influences as a point of reference. It was pretty easy for me just kind of line the basic tracks that he had and lock in to. Like I said before, we have a pretty similar aesthetic, musically, so he would just be like, “I’m thinking of something like this”, and I tried something I loved and a lot of things were done in the first or second take. I think the sound quality of the record can be contributed to the recording process itself, which was more of a home recording, bedroom recoding, which I think, if you were in a proper studio with tonnes and tonnes of expensive equipment you’d probably get a different sound. So whether it was a happy accident or the fact that we were free to spend a lot of time during the mixing, that’s how we contributed to it as well.

MF: Actually it’s interesting that you bring up the point that a lot of it was recorded in bedroom studios, because going back to the Muse analogy, well I guess the new Muse album is kind of grand narratives and the bigger picture, where obviously, Hospice, is more about an individual’s journey. I guess, that’s kind of the difference in aesthetic, they would have a huge studio to work with on these grand ideas whereas you guys are a lot more focused on the individual, so I suppose the recording process reflects that .

ML: I would think so. Just strictly speaking sonically, I think just going through studio, you really have to have a trusted engineer, I mean one piece of gear that somebody’s excited about means nothing if it’s in the wrong hands; there has to be a general understanding of the sound you’re trying to achieve, so if you go in and get it polished, that’s cool, if that’s what you’re aiming to do, but for us, we shy away from that, what I call “major label sheen”. As far as the comparison of individual versus grand scope, my opinion is, whatever the record means or meant during the writing process, once it’s out there, it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. There is the individual journey that is sort of mapped out in characters in the record, definitely is that, but also like a universal quality to it or whatever the emotions are that they’re getting from it, could be anything from tiny to a more grandiose thing as well.

MF: So how do the songs come across live, because like I said, it’s a very grand album. The average song is probably something like 5 or 6 minutes. I was surprised that I didn’t at any point get tired of the songs, I didn’t wanna skip, I wanted to experience it to its logical extension. I’m wondering live, do you go the same scale or do you try and cut down the tracks into the playlist. How does it work?

ML: We don’t scale them down or cut them down by any means. I think the record had a specific life of its own and there’s a real focus quality to it, at least from my perspective, that the very low, lows and the high, highs, whatever they are, are mapped out pretty clearly. When we play live there’s a difference – we let ourselves be more of a post-rock band, there’s definitely more energy, more like a rock band, little bit louder and little bit freer, we let ourselves incorporate moments of improvisation. The translation for stage, for us, has also been also really, really exciting. We really get to be free within the songs, we’re not interested in specifically reproducing them on stage because for one thing, I don’t know if you read into it, but the really delicate parts of the record, would be almost impossible to do live. But it’s not even like we couldn’t do it, so we opted to take the second option, we though “let’s bring some energy into the stage”, this is really where I’m most comfortable anyways, I like to really sweat a little bit, and at the end of the night come off the stage satisfied rather than feel towards the other end of the spectrum. We do, like I said, we let ourselves play some songs for 7 or 8 minutes when we play live, it’s totally not unusual.

MF: I was reading somewhere Peter said that the next album’s probably going to be more of a reflection of you guys as a whole band. Do you have any idea of where the band is going as whole? Or is it something you’re going approach once you get into the studio? Have you got a feel for the aesthetic so far?

ML: I think all those things you just said, because right now, it is really difficult to pin it down because we’re so focused, and we’re on the road, and it’s about that right now. Writing is happening in our heads and sort of we’re talking about what direction we’re likely to take it in or whatever influences might be a part of it. But I don’t know if it’ll be a really different direction but we’re going to let ourselves take advantage of how we come as band; communicating in the studio. I think people are gonna bring in ideas or we’re all probably going to sit and jam out ideas and see what feels good. But, I think it’s gonna flow when we finally get the time to block off a couple of weeks, or whatever we have, in the studio. We’re looking forward to new material because of all these ideas that are flowing. It’s probably going to be too much material as opposed to not being sure what we’re gonna do. That can’t be a bad thing.

MF: What about Australia, have you guys got any plans? What are you doing over summer? I suppose it’s winter now in the US.

ML: Exactly. I can’t wait to get down to Australia; I mentioned I’ve been to Japan before, but I’ve never been to Australia and it’s very high on my list to get down there. So we actually had a little contact list, I can’t remember one of the promoters or one of the people who was, but at any rate, there is plan on our horizon to come down to Australia. We’re going to be between going back to the UK and Europe and other dates in the States till mid-December. And then I’m hoping whatever festivals are down there, or whenever it can happen. I can’t wait to get down there, because for all the obvious reasons – Australia is a place that everyone in the States wants go and check out.

MF: Get up close and personal with some kangaroos and koalas while you’re down here too.

ML: Yeah dude and I surf also, so I’d really like to get in the water when I get down there.

MF: We’re just starting to see nice weather down here, so if you can make in summer it would be ideal.

ML: Yeah, but as I said, I’m also in the hand of the booking agent, but hopefully they’ll be kind to us.

Stay tuned for more info on that front. The Antlers new album, Hospice, is out now through Inertia. Find it here

[youtube ZsXKa97J6pM]
‘Two’ video clip, directed by Ethan Segal and Albert Thrower

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