Sometimes your craft develops in ways you never thought imaginable. Sometimes it’s out of our inner darkness and the muck of our lives that leads to understanding, salvation and a greater curiosity towards truth, whatever the hell that means. That’s precisely what happened to Pete Silberman and The Antlers. What started out as a place to create works based on internal and external conflicts eventually grew into a beautiful musical endeavor. Silberman self-released his first nine track album Uprooted in 2006 and followed up with a second release In the Attic of the Universe on Fall Records in 2007. The Antlers then expanded, adding members Michael Lerner on drums and Darby Cicci on synths, trumpet and upright/electric bass. The band released Hospice in 2009 and a remastered re-release was put out by Frenchkiss Records the same year. Burst Apart, the band’s fourth studio album was released in 2011 with critical acclaim across the board, including the likes of The Guardian and The New York Times.
The Antlers bring us their latest release and fifth studio album on ANTI- Records, Familiars. We now join Pete Silberman as he catches up with good friend and Purse Candy frontman, Matthew Ellis.
ELEVEN: Now that you’ve released Familiars and have been touring it, are you eager to write and perform new stuff?
Pete Silberman: Yeah, definitely, I’m already at the point of wanting to be writing more, but I think I was at that point towards the end of making this record. I reach a point when a project is getting into its finishing stages when I start just thinking about making something completely different, probably just as a result of sitting with something for too long. Now that the record has been done for a long time and now that we’re touring it, I’m definitely jonesing to be making new stuff.
11: The difference between writing an album when it’s just yourself, and actually having a band that is a part of it, what are your thoughts on that situation?
PS: I think it’s just two really different beasts. When you’re writing by yourself, you have complete control over every part of it, which is good in some ways but in other ways it’s not so good. I think that’s good if you have a very clear vision of something and you feel like you need to control all of it in order for it to be perfect, but if you’re looking to expand and broaden your own creativity, sometimes it really helps to be working with other people. They’ll challenge you and force you to defend your ideas and you’ll also get different ideas from the ideas that they come up with. I don’t always like being the starting point of a song, sometimes I like for somebody else to present something like a drum pattern or something like that, and then that gives me the chance to [expand upon it]. It’s hard to create something from nothing. I find that if there is a bit of something in place, it becomes a loose framework to jump off of. I think both are really great but it’s all about where you’re at in time and there’s something about developing chemistry with other people and creative chemistry that I think can be really good for your own creativity.
11: Are you reading any good books right now?
PS: Yes, I’m reading a couple books right now. I just finished The Yoga Sutras [of Patanjali] which was very interesting and out there, and now I’m reading a short book by Alan Watts, who has become my favorite author of the moment. I’m reading a book called On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, it’s pretty interesting. He’s definitely got a way with words and a very approachable way of explaining very slippery subjects such as existence and the nature of the universe and non-Western perceptions of the universe. I started reading [Ishmael] and didn’t get super far in it because I was reading something else that I was more into at the time but I was curious what you thought of it.
11: It kind of changed my perspective in a pretty big way. It shows how western culture has this whole perspective on us being entitled to the earth and kind of how it’s a story that has been enacted ten thousand years ago that we own the Earth, that the Earth belongs to us, that we’re supposed to be in charge of saving all these endangered animals and really what we’ve done is we’ve come in and changed the order of the way that the world has been working for billions of years. Every chance we get we kind of curbed death and in that way we’ve kind of stopped our evolution, it’s really interesting and it all comes from the perspective of this gorrilla. *laughs*
PS: Yeah I got to the point of the gorilla and I actually really liked it, I don’t know why I put it down but I’ll have to check it out.
11: What was the book that you were reading at the same time?
PS: I probably told you about some of it when we were hanging out last summer, I think I had just read Be Here Now which was hugely influential on what I was writing and I just read Island which was a [friend’s] recommendation. It was really eye-opening, I love that book. I actually read it for a second time a couple months ago. I was reading some Joseph Campbell, which I feel like that kind of got me started on this track of a lot of stuff I got into after the fact. I think I was learning to meditate at the time so I was reading a bunch of different texts and books about meditation, I don’t remember what they are now but they were the preliminary things that I started reading and then decided along the way that the were not the right references for me, they were a style of mantra meditation that was a good gateway into it but then I realized that style wasn’t working for me and I moved into mindfulness in meditation so I guess that would have been Jon Kabat-Zinn that I was reading a little bit after I last saw you.
11: You pretty much had all of the songs in demo form then, right? And just had to go record them?
PS: Kinda. There was a framework for all of these songs sitting around for a long time and I was writing and rewriting lyrics up until the very end of it. I would think of them as doing a sweep through a song, I would know that there would be this many bars in the verse, because there’s not a lot of choruses or refrains on the record, mostly long verses, but I would go right through it and then sit with that for a little bit and then I would rewrite it entirely again and I probably did that thirty times per song and towards then end started doing these really minute edits on things so I’m not sure back in the summer it probably read a lot differently than it did by the end of it. I got very meticulous with the way that I would edit, because I became sort of obsessive with past tense and present tense and future tense and how changing that in a song, little words and tenses, totally changed the meaning of what you’re trying to say. I think because so much of the record for me was an attempt to become more present in my life, that it needed to begin in past tense and move into present tense as it got toward the end of the record.
11: It’s got a lot of narrative. That’s why I asked about Joseph Campbell, there are little lines here and there where I though, “Oh he was totally on that.”
PS: *laughs* Yup, yup. He had a way of injecting these quick lines of his own poetry into these long passages which kind of cut things up in a way that I was very drawn to. He could summarize a very long point he was making with two lines, which were beautiful and sometimes a little bit saccharine but just enough to get a warmth across.
11: I think the album has that, which is awesome. What is the next thing for you to research and dive into?
PS: It’s really hard for me to say. I kind of feel like I’m on a path now. Once you start getting into Eastern thought or philosophy or religion, there’s just so much to learn. It’s a pretty deep tradition and right now I just kind of find it all fascinating. I’ve been reading some of the sacred texts of Buddhism and Hinduism. I’m finding that stuff takes me a while to parse through but I’m getting a lot from very small amounts of it. I always enjoy reading the Westerners that brought stuff to the West from the East, like Alan Watts being a good example of someone who was very good at translating those ideas that were very foreign to western culture. Things like Zen and The Eternal Now and things like that. Him and Ram Dass, another one of those people who very intuitively knew how to speak about that kind of thing. So, I’m still exploring a lot of that. I’ve also gotten very into reading about… a lot of my favorite writers happen to have been involved in a lot of acid tests in the fifties and sixties and wrote about it very eloquently and I just find it interesting to read Aldous Huxley’s take on that what happens to his mind when he’s tripping on acid, and not in a, “ohh it’s fun to read about drugs,” they’re really describing this other plane of existence, and these other dimensions of the mind and of reality and it’s stuff that’s very hard to describe. Some of these people had a talent for it and they were able to help expand consciousness of that period of time and I think I’m just gravitating toward that stuff because it feels like there’s a pretty major change of consciousness happening at this point in time and I feel like there’s some parallels and I’m trying to wake myself up to it.
11: To me it seems the only way we can progress is by inspiring each other and somehow finding hope somewhere.
PS: Totally. To act on a large scale feels unweildy so I feel like the best you can try and do is just try to be good and kind and attentive to people in your immediate vicinity and however far that can reach, you know, that’s all the better but it kind of starts at the micro level.
11: Career-wise, where would you be pumped to go next?
PS: I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. Something I’ve realized is that I have no desire to cross over into the mainstream. Which is the goal of a lot of, weirdly, that seems to be the goal of a lot of indie music, is to break through into the mainstream and I can definitely see why that would be appealing to a lot of people and on the surface it’s obviously appealing because you could financially do better and make more of a name for yourself, play bigger shows, sell more records, all of that. It opens a lot of doors and opportunities but I don’t think that’s really where I belong. I think what I want to do next is just create and create and create and I want to make a lot of records and make a lot of music and work on a lot of projects and just try and get closer to… I feel like creative pursuits have become this ever changing search for truth (whatever the fuck that means), and I sometimes feel like I’m getting closer to it. And I kind of just want to keep going and keep experimenting and challenging myself.
11: You guys are coming to Portland and playing.
PS: We did Musicfest a few years ago and it was a different kind of festival back then, more of a South By [South West] kind of thing, so it sounds like it’s a bit different now, but I think it’s going to be cool. It sounds like it’s a pretty good lineup and the location is pretty sweet too. »
– Matthew Ellis