Released earlier this month, Familiars, the latest Antlers LP, is sweepingly cinematic in some moments and pitch-black in others – more evidence that the Brooklyn indie are not only moving forward but doing so in unexpected ways. Though it’s not as obviously narrative as, say, the band’s 2009 breakthrough Hospice, the record comes together around a story arc about a mercurual spiritual doppelganger of the narrator that runs through each track.
“Before we really had an audience, I was including a lot of really specific anecdotal stuff in what I was writing,” frontman Peter Silberman says of his lyrical evolution. “Once we started getting more of a following, I wanted to continue to connect, but respect my own privacy, too. I’m observing all the stuff that’s happening in my life and transforming it into a sort of mythological thing. I know what the symbols represent, but they don’t have to be such a direct line from reality to the song.”
That spirituality, meanwhile, comes in part from Silberman’s embrace of Eastern philosophy. “A lot of what I was reading talked about becoming a witness to yourself, like you had to step outside of yourself and look at the way you think,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I think we have a way of thinking about ourselves in terms of, ‘Is this person evil? Is this person nice?’ And I think most people are a lot of things.” For him, the record is something like conversation that takes place within himself: “If there was a double in you, it probably would be a lot of things. The concept of a doppelganger is sometimes sinister, but toward the end of the record, it’s as much about love.”
Though it seems that you can’t throw a rock without hitting an indie band that traces its roots to bedroom recordings, bandmember Darby Cicci’s Familiars arrangements– featuring everything from lonesome trumpet lines to lush crescendos – are pushing the band further into the outside world. “I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz in the past year, so I knew I wanted it to go in that direction,” Cicci explains. “Just the amount of double and triple horn harmonies took a little time to sort of sculpt. I wanted to capture jazz’s improvised qualities, so even with the piano a lot of the recorded parts were done in a single take or improvised on the spot.”
While Cicci admits that translating those elements to a live show wasn’t even on his brain when he was in the studio – “I play four instruments per song when I’m recording, it would make my head explode” – Silberman says that for the first time, he recorded the vocals the way he did specifically so that they could translate live. “I knew I was going to be playing guitar and singing, so I wanted to skip the part where I rewrote my parts for the live show.”
Either way, the Antlers have now hit the road, beginning a North American tour earlier in the week and heading to Europe for an international autumn. After they return home, however, the future gets murkier. “I think an important lesson learned this time around was that we need to do things on our own terms, collectively and individually, and not feel any pressure to do something a certain way,” says Silberman. “But I feel good right now. There’s a lot of openness in the future and as long as we’re happy to do it, that’s enough.”