Michael Lerner, drummer for The Antlers, talks to Rob Mac Carthy about Brooklyn, dub and life after acclaim.
Sometimes an album can be bigger than the band that made it. Just listen to the Antlers’ acclaimed concept album Hospice. Its 2009 release instantly propelled the Antlers into the upper echelons of the indie world, not only garnering unequivocal critical praise, but equally earning the fawning adoration of a devoted new fan base. All of which is wonderful, except for the fact that a band doesn’t stop existing after the release of an album. Eventually that band has to pick itself up, dust itself down and attempt to write something new. So how do you go about saving yourself from being swallowed up by past success? Simple, you write Burst Apart, the latest intriguing effort from the Brooklyn band.
“Our basic goal was to make a record that we were all happy with and that we would want to listen to. And after that you’ve really got to just let it go and hope for the best,” says Antlers drummer Michael Lerner in an upbeat yet reflective American drawl. “Like anything else you may have expectations, but when a band puts out a new record, you should listen to it on its own merit to see if you like it or not.” Indeed he has no reason not to be upbeat, since Burst Apart’s merit has been widely acknowledged by fans and critics alike.
“You know, the reaction has been really positive. We didn’t know what to expect, especially with Hospice a lot of people felt a very personal connection and we didn’t know if they were going to leave room in their minds to go any other place, but I think people for the most part have been really open and receptive.”
The “other place” he mentions is the new approach that he and his band mates have taken on this ambitious record. Similarly emotive, but with a decidedly different sonic palette, Burst Apart certainly dwells in a whole other world to its predecessor. Whereas Hospice was largely a Peter Silberman (the Antlers’ vocalist) solo effort, Burst Apart is a far more collaborative affair, its mix of creative ideas amounting to a rich and ambitious new realm.
Lerner seems to revel in divulging his influences at the time of recording, giddily citing sources as varied as “dub” and “nineties trip-hop”. “You know the overall environment of a dub record?” he begins, “it kind of sucks you in, drags you along with it. We were trying to get some of those qualities from the music that we liked.”
This category also includes fellow Brooklyn residents The National. The growth of the vibrant Brooklyn scene they both inhabit has proven to be a fairly nifty credential for rising indie bands to latch onto. But before anything is implied about The Antlers’ ascension to prominence, Lerner gives us his say on the matter.
“We definitely don’t distance ourselves from it. [The Brooklyn scene] certainly helps us creatively when we know that all that’s going around us all the time. I think if you’re outside of this area and you tack on that you’re from New York it gives you a bit of extra cool, but then you have to sort of back that up, so if you suck, it doesn’t help you.”
Indeed, touring with The National would seem to be the latest affirmation that the Antlers don’t “suck”, an experience that Lerner describes enthusiastically as “amazing. We’re massive fans of them and getting to do those shows with them was special for us. Every night when they began their set I’d try to make sure that I would leave whatever I was doing and run to the stage to see my favourite song. So I’m definitely a little fanboy like that for them.”
Pleasingly for lovers of their previous record and potential fanboys-in-the-making, Burst Apart shares Hospice’s ornate and emotional lyrical strength. Peter Silberman’s vocals are as evocative as ever and Lerner is quick to acknowledge this.
“I think he has a lot of depth as a person. I don’t necessarily want him to change the things that he’s doing. If he’s got things making him happy and he starts writing good music that’s cool, if he needs to stay sad to write good music that’s alright too!” he explains.
“We maybe get labelled as ‘that sad band’ but we’re not really like that. Peter writes what he seems to care about and from an outside perspective, as a fan, I think he’s a great lyricist.”
Lerner is even coy enough to reveal a tantalising glimpse of Silberman’s inspiration when penning the enigmatic tale of a hospice worker and patient that is Hospice: “It’s not pure fiction; there was certainly some kernel of truth in his life. I think a lot of people can relate to having fucked up relationships. In that sense it was kind of a metaphor but there was truth in there somewhere.”
With a European tour currently underway, it would seem now is as good a time as any to catch the band in the flesh, particularly since they are so eager to reach Irish shores. “Every time we go to Ireland we just seem to have a great time. It’s a bit odd, but I think you guys just have some quality that’s just sort of open.”
Suffice it to say that it looks like our openness will be rewarded. The Antlers have evolved “as musicians and people too,” so that now, it can be said with some certainty that they’re truly becoming as big as the albums they’re making.
The Antlers play the Academy on November 17th. Tickets priced at €18.50.