The Antlers’ Hospice is definitely one of my favorite albums of 2009, but I’ve only heard it twice. That’s because this ambitious, risky, ultimately beautiful piece of music also happens to be depressing as shit. The lyrics describe a lover’s loss to bone cancer and — even more devastatingly — the painfulness in continuing a broken relationship out of guilt and obligation, in rich literary language (the liner notes read like a prose-poem collection). The story reportedly has some personal resonance for head Antler Peter Silberman, but he doesn’t really like to talk about it. Silberman began recording Hospice by himself in his Brooklyn apartment but later got help from drummer Michael Lerner, Darby Cicci, and Sharon Van Etten, whose duet with Silberman on “Thirteen” has to be one of the most hauntingly beautiful sounds recorded this year. The album, the Antlers’ second full-length has rightfully been hyped by NPR and Pitchfork, and countless bloggers have showered/cursed them with misleading Arcade Fire comparisons (where Arcade Fire opt for grand emotive instrumental outbursts, Hospice mourns with a contemplative minimalist drone), and the Antlers are currently touring as supporting acts for Minus the Bear. They play White Rabbit Sunday, November 8, so we called Silberman for a brief chat about touring on a potentially depressing album, sharing his work, and (at the request of Art Director Chuck Kerr) one of his favorite jokes.
I saw a story on Pitchfork the other day about the XX, who were canceling tour dates due to exhaustion. The headline said something like “the cost of being a buzz band.” Are you guys getting tired from all the touring you’re doing?
It is exhausting, but also it can be really great if you just do it the right way and make sure you are mentally prepared.
It seems like the heaviness of the album might start to wear on you.
It’s a good release. We spend a lot of the day driving and just kind of like in our own heads, but the live show is a little more bombastic and a little more atmospheric and different from the record. … We really still like playing these songs and are still happy touring on this album. It doesn’t feel like this really weighty heavy thing or reliving like difficult stuff at all. It’s really about playing for other people now and that’s really enjoyable. … I think it’d be difficult to be bummed out while touring all the time, not enjoying it because of, like, dark subject matter. It’s cool because, as we’ve developed a fan base, people are developing this connection with the record and it makes the live shows feel like we’re connected with the audience. That keeps it going for us, for sure. … It was recorded and written a long time ago, so in a way it feels pretty much in the past. … I wouldn’t say I’m disconnected from it, but I’ve definitely developed a different relationship to what the record’s about. Part of that had to do with other people taking to the record, so it feels less like my thing, and I’m happy about that.
Did you worry that people might get kind of bummed out at your shows?
The point of the record definitely wasn’t to do that, and the same with the live show. It definitely is a concern, being like, “I wonder if people are going to hear this record and just think it’s just depressing and see the live show and be like ‘It’s depressing or it’s boring, or whatever.’” But the way people have responded has been really cool. Even if the record makes them sad or has them thinking about difficult shit in their lives, they’re taking something from the live show that’s just different from what I expected.
Will you tell me a joke?
I have a horrible sense of humor, like it’s all really corny jokes and puns. … A mummy walks into a bar. The bartender says, “You look like you need to unwind.” •