Peter Silberman is leader of the Antlers, a Brooklyn-based band whose folk leanings have a home-recorded feel — it’s no surprise that he’s been listening to a lot of Jeff Mangum in the past few years. The music is conceptual, exploring themes of aging, loss, and death, and it’s also fully realized. Here, he talks about the foundation behind his band’s most recent album, Hospice, revealing an inspired perspective that bodes well for his future output.
What is the concept of Hospice? Does the title refer to the mental emotional space of the album itself?
The title is where the story of the album is taking place. The songs are the mental state of it, and they deal with the bizarre notion of what hospice is — guiding someone into death and providing comfort. When I worked on the album I thought about it as a very strange kind of institution. It became the framework for what the album was going to be about, and it hit a particular chord with me because of something that had been happening for a couple years in my life. The parallels were similar to me — not literal parallels but that emotional state and the kind of relationship you can have with a person. It matched well, scarily well. I ended up taking off with it and basing the album around the concept.
The album’s tone reminded me a bit of Magic and Loss by Lou Reed. Was that a touchstone album for you? And if not, what albums did provide your reference points?
All I listened to for a while were concept albums and story albums, complete albums with a definite story arc and characters and guiding ideas throughout them, if not a whole plot. That’s not to say that albums as collections of songs aren’t complete albums, but I listened to albums with those distinct characteristics. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was a big one that I really latched onto at some point and has influenced a lot of the records I’ve made over the last few years. When I was young, I really got into The Ugly Organ, the Cursive album.
Something a little more out there that always interested me is the Microphones and how they’re a concept band more than they make concept albums. They’d have the same song on three different albums, similar songs on more than one album that were only slightly different, and scenes that would carry across. Then there was the death-themed album [Mount Eerie], which became the next incarnation of the band, directly named after that. That amount of commitment to music making is really inspiring to me, that sort of intensive process.
Hospice is really an album-length statement that bears repeat listening. What do you think of the audience’s attention span these days?
I think about that in many ways. A lot of people don’t have the patience to really invest in something they’re listening to, but I’m not sure if that’s such a new thing. It seems that way because of the Internet and we’re all digesting so much music all the time that we’ve developed very quick filters for it. We listen to something, and after 30 seconds if people aren’t grabbed they don’t care. But I think at the same time, much more bizarre music is getting through and becoming more popular, and that is indicative of patience and what kind of tastes people are sharing with each other.
Hospice is very personal. What about it resonates with a larger audience?
It came from very personal experiences, but I would hope that someone listening to it wouldn’t want to figure out what happened to me or my specific story or relationship to it. Otherwise you’re making music for yourself. That’s important to a degree, but only to the degree that you’re writing the album that you would want to hear.
I think a couple of points I tried to get across were ideas about emotionally manipulative or abusive relationships. I know a lot of people who’ve ended up in them and were aware of that and how it was affecting their lives and their relationships with other people, and I think it’s an important thing to be aware of. A part of it is what happens during that relationship and how it can change the life you’re living, but also how you come out of that relationship, if you come out. It makes you weary to get involved with certain kinds of people. In a way it’s a break-up album, but it’s not about missing the relationship or the person you were with but how those relationships can damage you and affect you in ways that are stronger than you expected. It’s not about nostalgia but about the result of bad experiences that you’re not really capable of handling.
There’s any eerie instrumentation in some of the music — almost a shoegaze backdrop but with a scary element. How do the music and your lyrical ideas interact?
The music is always important in how it interacts with the lyrics and the vocals. They shouldn’t be separate. As far as shoegaze, I think sometimes the word shoegaze is interchangeable with dream pop, and when I started to notice that and how dreamy all of that music sounds I started thinking of nightmare pop, or nightmare shoegaze, how surreal it can all sound and how negatively surreal and it can be abrasive. It’s usually pretty bright and heavenly sounding, but dreams are disturbing. They can be pretty unsettling especially when your life starts to feel that way at some points. When life feels a bit surreal or foreign to you, like a nightmare, it takes on a total different meaning. As far as the music went, I tried to recreate that idea.
It’s an ambitious project. Were you ever overwhelmed by it? What made it manageable?
For this one I had to work for a very long time on it. I had lot of ideas and needed to filter out the ones I didn’t want, and that took a lot longer than I expected. I pieced together sounds and made sense of them and it had to take a long time. I had to obsess over it, get it all out, and get everything exactly where it needed to be. I’m taking a writing break; I’m glad to do it. I worked straight through for a long time and kind of exhausted myself, figuring out what I wanted to do and putting together the album. Now I can sit with it.
Photo Credit: Bryan Bruchman