There are those moments in life when a piece of art can touch you so completely, its shocking resonances with your own life pushing through the artifice and straight to your emotional core. Peter Silberman, the Greenpoint resident who is the creative helmsman of indie rock up-and-comers The Antlers, experienced such a moment on the eve of recording the band’s debut album, Hospice, when a friend passed on a copy of Leonard Michaels’ Sylvia.
“The record as a whole is somewhere between loosely autobiographically and completely autobiographical,” Silberman says of Hospice, a narrative piece about losing a loved one to the ravages of cancer—a woman, it seems, with whom the narrator may have shared an affair not wholly unlike the one Michaels’ narrator did with the depressed, maniacal, suicidal heroine in his novel Sylvia. Hospice is a far-reaching concept album, but its first and fullest proclamation of itself as a story of ill-fated love is in the third track, “Sylvia.”
“Right at the time when a lot of things in my life came to a close I was given that book,” Silberman says. “It mirrored a lot of things in my life. It creeped me out how similar it was to what I was going through. I read it four or five times. In a way, the name Sylvia on the record is both (Michaels’) Sylvia and Sylvia Plath.”
Plath, cancer, hospitals—these don’t sound like the ingredients for the ultimate summertime jam. But The Antlers are on the cusp of indie rock stardom this season, nonetheless, thanks to the anthemic, unflinchingly dark Hospice.
The band has been gathering momentum steadily since self-releasing the bedroom recordings in January. Since then, it has been named the #1 best album “so far” of 2009 by a critic at NPR, garnered rave reviews from influential blogs and music publications, and won a contract with Frenchkiss Records. Frenchkiss will re-release Hospice in August (on vinyl as well as CD), with a proper promotional push that will surely cement The Antlers’ foothold in the music world.
For Silberman—who is just 23 years old—Hospice was a yearlong labor of love spent recording, piecemeal, in a Williamsburg apartment he was living in at the time. He spent several hours a day layering in the intricate vocals, warm analog boom box playbacks, and wall-of-sound guitars that make Hospice the sprawling, tsunamic thing it is. Sometimes, the recording sessions themselves—several hours of each day for a year, Silberman says—would dictate the course the songs took.
“Songs didn’t make a lot of sense until they were totally done,” he says. “I had the basic outline of the story. The specific way the story unfolded took a while to figure out. It was a lot of throwing it all in there.”
And to throw it all in there, Silberman needed some musical support. After putting out two releases under his own name, Uprooted and In the Attic of the Universe, he brought in Michael Lerner (drums and percussion) and Darby Cicci (keyboards, trumpet, bowed banjo, and bass) to help bring Hospice to life. While Silberman remains lead songwriter and singer, the band is orienting itself to make more collaborative music in the future. Touring Hospice has been a step in that direction, because the live interpretations of the songs involved a lot of tweaking—producing “higher highs and lower lows” than the recorded songs, Silberman says.
Hospice has garnered many favorable comparisons to the outsize anthems of Montreal’s The Arcade Fire—a kind of ultimate indie rock coup, given that group’s near-impeachable reputation amongst critics, public radio moms, and uber-pretentious hipsters alike. It’s all the more notable that this is the touchstone comparison because Peter and The Antlers pulled off Hospice with just three people and two microphones in a bedroom in Brooklyn, whereas The Arcade Fire use no fewer than seven, and as many as ten or twelve, members on stage and in the studio.
While still in the process of bringing Hospice to the world through a protracted tour junket, the trio is in the early stages of conceptualizing future recordings. It will be their first true effort as a unified band.
“Once it became the three of us we felt really comfortable,” Peter says. “We knew: this is going to be a long-term thing.”
The Antlers have a scheduled record release show at the Mercury Lounge on Aug. 21 before striking out on tour. The Mercury Lounge is located at 217 E. Houston St. #A in Manhattan.