On the eve of their joint Australian tour, a chat with PETER SILBERMAN from THE ANTLERS and ADAM WILLS from BEAR IN HEAVEN reveals more than a fondness for fauna links these bands.
“Finding a common theme between the bands seems to have come from the label more than the bands,” says Bear in Heaven guitarist Adam Wills breezily about his band’s upcoming tour with fellow Americans The Antlers. ‘We’ve never played a show together before but we’re really excited about this tour; we wouldn’t have said yes if we didn’t like The Antlers. I think there is quite a bit in common between us, I think we’re both quite dramatic, sonically, dynamically interesting bands, for sure,” he says before pausing for thought. “Bear in Heaven are very particular about who we play shows with because a good show is all about bands complementing each other and it’s always good finding a band who really suits your show. Though it can be fun playing with mixed bands, for me it’s always nice to play with bands that play off each other really well. I’ve seen the Antlers a couple of times,’
‘I’ve seen Bear in Heaven once’ pipes up Antlers frontman Peter Silberman in a way that becomes emblematic of the respective band member’s dynamic, Silberman quiet and thoughtful, Wills eager and chatty. Seeming to be the eternal opening band for a more renowned headliner, Silberman counters the suggestion that he undervalues the band. “With bands like Editors and The National they’re far beyond us in terms of sales and the size of gig we could play. We were invited on those shows to open for them, and that happened because I guess those bands liked us. We chose to do those shows instead of our own because people can get to a record any number of ways and playing with those ands seemed like a good way of doing that. Like our bands do when we’re touring, we try to find a band to work well with you, in our case a band that works with Hospice.”
Both bands are known chiefly for one release, both releases were heralded across the blogosphere as being sterling examples of new music in 2009 and the limelight pushed both into a succession of North American tours which lead to similar trials and triumphs. The interview, being one of the first they’ve done together, sees them agreeing with each other on a lot of points which highlights the treadmill many acclaimed bands find themselves on. A treadmill that runs something like this: years of hard work till an album finally breaks through, acclaim, touring, constant interviews, late night TV slots, more touring, festival circuit, European tour, downtime spent recording, and a visit to Australia as an off-season holiday with gigs.
For The Antlers, the process of taking what was an intensely personal album from a bedroom, to a band, to a stage and now to Australia has been a long, challenging and immensely rewarding process, much like listening to their album Hospice. ‘It happened naturally I guess’ explains Silberman gently. ‘It took a while to get to the point it needed to be when we were making the record. The record started as a recording project, not as a live thing at all. We were a band at that stage, but I’d done most of the record myself and I wasn’t thinking of instrumentation. When we began touring we moved our rehearsal space into [keyboardist] Darby [Cicci]’s apartment which gave us time to flesh things out which was different from renting rehearsal space, and we realised that the thing we needed most was time to figure things out. That’s working now, that mentality from the beginning turned out to be what we needed.’
Wills concurs. “For us, it was hard at first because there’s a million ways we could have gone about it. We found there was a big learning curve especially since we recorded the album [Beast Rest Forth Mouth] as a four piece so when we thought about how we were going to play it live, we knew our strengths lied with texture. We didn’t want to strip things back too much so there was a lot of scrambling especially on the part of [keyboardist] John [Philpot] because he’s the most technically proficient in the band. We replaced our keyboard and bassist so our band now is kind of like a computer camp now’ he says laughing. ‘Everyone is connected via MIDI, I’m playing keys with my feet, and John is playing bass with two samplers. It was a month of pure hell trying to work out how to do this’.
Given the proclivity for touring shared by both bands, its surprising perhaps that both groups have done so much recording recently, with follow-up albums due in the next six months, something Silberman is particularly keen to expand on. “We’re just about done with our record. We’ve been working on it since September and should be done in a month. Live, we’re still mostly focusing on Hospice because it’s our first time in Australia and we’re still working out how to play a lot of these new songs. The new album is not like Hospice and that’s something we didn’t think at first,” he says with a sigh. “It’s definitely been a long uphill battle making this record. It took a lot of time to come up with ideas and throw them out. Stupidly I thought I might follow Hospice up with something similar, but once I decided not to try that the process became very different and the songs too. Definitely, the album is better for not trying to be anything and just letting the songs happen as they wanted to.’
Though it seems like a brave effort to even attempt to replicate the diarising of Hospice, Silberman gives nothing more away about the Antlers’ forthcoming release. Wills is more open about Bear in Heaven’s recent activities in the studio.
“We’ve recorded a cover we’re putting out, we’ve been writing and we’re 50% done with two new songs we may have ready when we hit Australia, though mainly we’ve just been working out how to play songs more than write them. We’re so busy with touring that recording has been pushed back to next month. We have another album in the can which never made it outside the States, and we’ve been sprucing that up for live shows which comes across well.” Hmmm…Antlers = reindeer, any chance of a Christmas song at some point? “Uh no, I don’t think so,” Silberman responds chuckling ruefully. “We’re two-thirds Jewish and not religious at all.”
Given a shared penchant for launching into searing sky-scraping soundscapes that could use another person to render, can audiences expect any cross-pollination on stage? “We are going to get up in each others sets,” laughs Wills. “We’ve been backed into a corner on this one, so we have to,” he continues happily with Silberman murmuring his assent. “We don’t know what it’s going to involve yet. One night we’ll play alphabetical, the next night reverse alphabetical but beyond that we haven’t decided on anything.”