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Interview: The Antlers

Words by Scenewave Australia - Published on June 24, 2014

On the eve of The Antlers’ US tour in support of their fantastic new album, Familiars, I got to talk to the band’s affable multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci about band board meetings, helping listeners deal with their problems and… Theon Greyjoy.

Congratulations on the album! I think you’ve done a great job. You’ve said before you were worried how people would react to the follow-up to your first album Hospice. Do you feel less pressure going into Familiars?

Yeah, way less pressure. When you’re a new band you wonder if you’ll be one of those bands that just make one record and after that everyone just sort of loses interest. I don’t want to be that, obviously. When we first started getting recognition (after Hospice) I felt so new to music – I was just starting out – and I’m glad we ended up here, so I can continue to grow as a musician.

Then again, it’s nothing really to worry about… If everyone hates what you’re doing, I’ll do something else. But now I like to think I’m experienced enough to tell if what I’ve done is good or not, or if I’m proud or not, or if we’ll make money off it! But I am proud of this record. I think it came together to be something really interesting and special.

Was it a conscious decision that Familiars would be relatively stable in sounds and emotions from song to song – compared to the more experimental instrumentation and moods of Burst Apart which jumped between rock songs like Parentheses and slow meditations like Hounds?

It wasn’t inherently conscious… but definitely something we’re aware of. Burst Apart tried to present a lot of different ideas in the concept of a pop record. A lot of it was figuring out what kind of band we were going to be, because before that, Hospice wasn’t made in a studio but came together at Peter’s (Silberman, the band’s singer) house over a long period of time. So to have a deadline and a goal to write a record in that context was good because we wanted to push ourselves to stretch every area we could be as a band. Parentheses represented one side of the band we could be and then Hounds represented the other polarity. It was all aimed at figuring out what we are.

We didn’t have any concept of being “poppy”, but kept the idea that we were still a rock band and still played three-and-a-half minute songs. But none of us in our own work do anything under five and a half minutes. So (for Familiars) we embraced that and stretched our outlook. It leads to a record that’s very thoughtful and allows you to take your time as a listener.

I don’t like the idea of identical music… like, forcing it down your throat: here’s a hook, here’s a solo… eat it, buy it and then go throw it away. I like the idea of a record that ages with you – you listen on the day it comes out to the day you give it to your grandchildren… Those are the records I want to make – I like the idea of making something beyond yourself.

The horns on Familiars are way more prominent than the previous two albums – is that your influence shining through more?

Well it is. I’ve been playing a lot more trumpets this year. When I listen to music at the moment, songs actually sound kind of wrong to me if they don’t have horns. So I was really trying to… give it a little bit more of my personality.

It’s easy to just make a band a singer and a backing band. I’ve never really liked those (except I guess maybe Neil Young) I’ve always wanted a band where you feel like you can trust the singer but don’t feel like they’re omnipotent. It’s always bothered me where the singers just always tell the truth. I like when maybe there is another side to it; it becomes more dramatic that way. In a lot of Shakespeare plays you’re introduced to the main character and they tell the story but you find out maybe they’re the villain – and the person you side with might come in Act 2 and kill the king! It’s kind of like Game of Thrones (with us)… your favourite singer might end up getting his dick cut off.

Right! Well, err… obviously the narratives of each record are very dependent on Peter’s lyrics – do you have like a band conference to “decide” what the next album will kind of be “about”?

(Laughs) No, I wish! It would be simple if we did some board meeting where Peter announces, “The next album is about…” and then says, “Darby what do you want to do with the music?” But it’s kinda the opposite– for most of the recording there really aren’t lyrics. We start writing the songs and make sections that are obviously lyrical sections – if you listen to our music there’s generally long verses that pretty much repeat musically. It’s pretty much just making a palette to allow the singer to deliver the words. We spend a lot of time trying to perfect the vibe – just the right amount of perfection and the right amount of sloppiness.

All too often I think The Antlers are pigeonholed as a “sad band”. Did you guys actively try to make Familiars sound more optimistic?

Optimistic? I’m glad you think that. There’s definitely a feeling of relief and acceptance in it. When you start to get into (the album) … it’s like… you’re coming to terms with what you’re going through because you’ve learned enough about yourself… So as a listener, or a character, you’re in a better place at the end where you’re able to deal with your problems.

What kind of vibe do you try and create would you say the band tries to create at gigs? I would call almost all of your newer stuff very “relaxing” – I often listen when I go to bed – but then I couldn’t sleep at all to Hospice… How do you mesh new songs with the old live?

We’ve been trying to figure that out quite a bit. It’s often about pacing… taking the older songs with a lot of heaviness and weight to them and standing them next to newer songs with more heaviness and weight. (So) the audience gets this big emotional experience with a little bit of relief here and there.

Now the question I’m contractually obliged to ask… you were out here last in 2011 for Laneway – can we hope for another Antlers tour anytime soon?

We’re planning for it, man. We’re really, really hoping by the time it gets cold here we’ll be getting on a plane to Australia. The record is just getting released so hopefully that will pave the way!

Familiars is out now. You can read Scenewave’s album review here.

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