While there is no blueprint for making a breakthrough album, it’s safe to assume that the idea of writing a concept record regarding a relationship with a terminally ill child probably wouldn’t feature very prominently. However that’s exactly what Peter Silberman did when he came through some difficult times to write a handful of songs that looked at the ending of a relationship through the eyes of someone about to lose a child to cancer. Nearly three years have passed since the album was first released but the intensity and bare honesty of the album still remains with anyone that has spent some time with it. Which turned out to be quite a lot of people indeed.
Despite the success of Hospice it was going to be an even greater task for The Antlers to follow up such a unique record. We need not have worried though. Burst Apart, released earlier this year to widespread acclaim, took the insular, glitchy folk of its predecessor and turned it on its head. Swathes of electronica, instant hooks and stunning melodies gave the record a completely different feel to Hospice while still holding on to the mesmerising, fragile beauty that made us fall in love with them in the first place.
With Burst Apart looking set to top every end-of-year list around, GoldFlakePaint had the pleasure of sitting down with Pete Silberman to find out how he went about following up a record like Hospice, his thoughts on that albums success and what Burst Apart means to him…
Good evening! How are you? Is the tour going well?
It’s off to a rough start to be honest.The shows have been good but we began the tour in Portugal and on our way there all of our gear got lost by the airline. We ended up getting it back over the course of the first couple of shows but that was a little bit trying. Apart from that it’s been great.
Do you enjoy the whole touring process?
I really like it. I think it’s very complicated, it screws up your life in a major way. You say goodbye to your life at home for a long time and it can be tricky in as far as maintaining your personal relationships and any sense of normalcy. Touring in itself is great though and we’re all really happy to be doing it and to get to play music every night and to see a lot of the world at the same time. I feel very lucky.
What do you like to do in the down-time between shows?
I read and listen to music and I try and write a bit. We dont tend to watch movies. Over the summer I was reading as many Kurt Vonnuget books as I could. I think I got through about four of them in the end. They were great, they really changed the way I was thinking about the way that I write…and the universe… (Laughs)
And what have you been listening to recently?
I was listening to Yo La Tengo today. They’re a weird band for me because I’ve been listening to them since I was a teenager. They were one of the first indie-rock bands I ever listened to but I never really think of them when people ask me my favourite band, I don’t know why. I feel like I’ve listen to them more than any other band.
Moving on to Burst Apart, you must have been pleased with the reaction to it?
Yeah. Very pleased. Very surprised. We really love the record but people have very strong feelings about Hospice and that can make it hard for people to accept something that is different and a little less clear regarding what it’s about. Its just a very different record so I was not expecting things to go as well as it has.
It seems to have have great reviews pretty much across the board…
Yeah. I can’t believe it, honestly. I’m so happy that people are prepared to go with us.
Do you follow your reviews? A lot of bands seem to block out that whole side of things…
Yeah I do actually, I pay attention to what people are saying because I think to block that stuff out completely is kind of arrogant. It doesn’t allow for the dialogue that music should have. Also you can read something and not have to change the way you feel about it. I find it interesting to write something that makes sense to me and find out if it makes sense to someone else or be relatable to other people. Live reviews I tend not to read because they can make you a bit neurotic. Its like talking about the guy with the stutter…
Was writing and recording Burst Apart made easier or harder due to the breakthrough success of Hospice? I guess it could go either way?
It made it tricky. It was very different than recording a record with no expectations. With Hospice nobody had heard of us, we werent a touring band. There was past work but nobody had heard it. Also when I made Hospice, I felt pretty zapped of energy at the end of it. I thought that if this doesn’t take me to the next step then I dont know what I’m going to do becasue I didn’t have anything else in me at that point.
I think that comes across when listening to it…
(Laughs) Yeah I think so. It felt like I was putting everything out there and saying “this is everything I have!”
There was so much that happened with Hospice in that period of time. The way that it just caught on. So when it came to Burst Apart I personally think we were against the odds to some degree. I thought it was unlikely that we were going to make a record that people liked. I felt there were a couple of different roads we could go down and none of them seemed like a good idea. We wanted to make something personal and relatable and surreal but we didn’t want to make a sequel to Hospice. I think what Burst Apart ended up being, in a way, was about Hospice. It was about my relationship with that record and with all the leftover feelings from that time in my life when the actual story of Hospice happened. It’s the cleaning up afterwards.
The songs on Burst Apart are very textural, was the music written before the lyrics or did you build upon the bones of what was already there?
Well thats how it was with Hospice, having the bones of it and then putting a blanket on top of it. With Burst Apart we really went into it with no plan, so there was lots of experimentation with textures and then building songs out of that, letting them reveal themselves over time as we worked on them day after day after day…
I wrote a lot of Hospice songs just on an acoustic guitar but I just got fed up of playing it. I was getting much more interested in texture and sound and an acoustic guitar only ever sounds likes an acoustic guitar. So I started writing on an electric and started getting into old vintage guitars. Weirdly there is a different feeling of writing a song on an older guitar than a brand new fender or something. There is a different warmth to it that led to me writing differently for this record.
What I love about Burst Apart is the perfect flow it has. Did you play around with the track listing a lot?
We did a little bit but I think that as we were writing the songs we could tell which songs belonged where. We all have a good sense of where certain-sounding songs fit in to a record. We always knew I Dont Want Love was going to be the first song and Putting The Dog To Sleep was going to be the last song and then we kind of worked inward. We wanted Roll Together to be the end of Side One and then the rest of it was pretty clear.
The second half on any record is always really hard to make. The 3/4’s mark in an album always requires more patience but it’s always worth the extra effort and it tends to have more meaning. It’s also the point where people will switch of because they’re bored.
That must be a difficult trick to master though?
Yeah. I guess the issue comes if you don’t have the songs that become the thesis. Or the point of the record. I can’t think of a better way to describe it but if that doesnt reveal itself then the whole thing just becomes boring.
Everything seems to be building towards Putting The Dog To Sleep and you said that was always going to be the closing song. What can you tell us about that particular song?
It was actually the first song that we wrote for the record. It was written around the time we were touring Hospice. We had all gotten into a lot of soul music so that was our attempt at writing a Percy Sledge song! It’s the most Hospice-referential track I think, it’s about closing up and finishing.
More than I could ever have expected Hospice, and what it was based on, ended up being this pivot point for my entire life. In kind of a fucked up way. At times I felt like I had exploited my terrible relationship to create a career. But the point of it was to find out if other people could relate to what had happened. It sent my life off on a totally different track of just touring all the time and then when I came off that I just felt very confused and drained and unsure as to what I was doing and why I was doing and what I was going to do next.
Did you ever allow yourself to think that Hospice would have that effect?
No because I really didnt expect it to catch on the way that it did. Looking back on it now it makes sense to me, I guess. It really always felt like an underdog. When it really did transform my whole world that was really surprising and I guess Putting The Dog To Sleep is about acknowledging that and moving on.
Going back to Hospice briefly. How did you find writing a concept record in that style? Is it something you would like to try again at some point?
That was the way I learned to write albums; to start with an idea and write songs based on that idea. It helped me to focus I guess. It’s certainly fun, it’s like a project in that way. One that required research and outside source material. It was fun. I don’t know when I would do that again but it could be the next thing we do, I don’t know…
Have you begun to think of the next album?
Yeah, I’ve been writing and thinking and sketching out ideas. I don’t know what the hell its going to turn into, but it’s starting…
Do you have any idea of when you would like it be done by?
I’m really not sure. I think we’re going to get home from touring and then record for a long time and see what we come up with. It could be an EP next year or an album in a year or two. We’ll have to wait and see what happens…
By Tom Johnson
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Burst Apart is out now and you can purchase it here.