Posted Mar 8th, 2010 (1:11 pm) by Tim Gilman

The Antlers were one of 2009's great success stories. Not only did they create one of the year's most emotionally powerful albums, they also toured their asses off promoting it. But despite only releasing Hospice last year, The Antlers have already spent a fair amount of time in their new studio writing and recording music for future releases. Somewhere in between his busy schedule of recording and touring (this time a coast-to-coast trek with UK band Editors), Antlers’ drummer Michael Lerner was able to speak with Inyourspeakers at length regarding the band's past and future. In the interview, Michael elaborated on the origins and inner-workings of the band, discussed the enjoyment present in translating the nuances of Hospice to The Antlers' live show, and teases fans with the possibility of more than one new Antlers release coming in the near future.

Inyourspeakers: I know The Antlers were originally conceived as a solo project by Peter. How exactly did you come into the mix? Did you know him from a long time ago?

Michael Lerner: I didn't really know Peter growing up, although we did by coincidence both grow up outside of the city not too far form each other. It was a situation where Peter was doing his solo performing under the name of the Antlers and I guess he was growing tired of that and was wanting to expand to a full band. I had heard some of his songs and really liked them, then one thing led to another and I got to meet up with and we talked about playing together, and we started doing that about three years ago. Originally we had some different personnel and Justin, who used to play bass, was friendly with Darby, so Darby came in and started to play some trumpet and banjo and those kind of things, and it got to the point where we kind of reconfigured and just decided to move forward as a trio, and I think now it's a lot more open and there's a lot more room to experiment. I think because it's just the three of us it's sort of defined the direction that we've been going musically so we're pretty happy about that.

IYS: So it sounds like you three work together pretty well as a unit then?

ML: Yeah, it's cool. It's funny because Peter's not at all like a dictator or anything like that, it's very democratic. Even before when we were doing Hospice, you know, he had written the lyrics and did some sketches but he's very open to collaboration and there's a lot of trust going on between us as band members. I think sometimes it's good for someone to just take the reins and push things in a certain direction but all that happens with us I think is pretty subtle and the communication is getting better and better every day just because like those kind of things, people can be very protective of their stuff but they have to put their ego aside and decide what will be best for the band. I think that dynamic between the three of us is great. It's one of the best situations I've ever been in and I'm really psyched about it.

IYS: Had you played in bands before The Antlers?

ML: Yeah, I've pretty much been playing my whole life. I started playing drums when I was six so I did the whole jazz band in school. After college, back here in New York I was playing with a few guys at the time but there was something special after the first four times I had played with Peter. At this point in my career I know when there's something - you never know how people will react or how things will pan out – but I had some sense that this was worthwhile to get invested working with him because I sensed something in the music there that I thought was unique and original which honestly is a huge deal because I feel like there's not a lot of music that I feel that way about.

IYS: I read an interview that stated that the recording space for Hospice was in a bedroom so small that drums were recorded one piece at a time. Was that hard to do?

ML: It was actually kind of fun. Even in big, expensive studios, I think a lot of producers are moving towards, you know, sometimes they'll just record specifically, as far as drums go, record just the high hat or just the kick drum, just one thing at a time. We kind of took that approach, building different tracks like that. Just as far as the actual space, yeah, it was literally just Peter's bedroom. When I had most of my full drum kit in there, it would just be that and things like the bed, the computer, me and Peter and that was pretty much all that could fit, so we had to record our parts separately that way. Now we've moved up to a larger bedroom studio [laughs] where we work now, which is more like a studio apartment which is our studio, so there is a bed in there so it's still kind of cozy and comfortable.

IYS: I did just hear that you guys are recording new music. Has that been going well so far?

ML: Yeah, it's been going great. The biggest struggle right now for us is just finding the time between tours to go in there and be able to work. All this month of January we've been able to do that and it's been great, but now we feel like it'd be nice if we had a clone we could send on the road so we could stay here and work in the studio just because there's no way we can do everything at once, but we're really psyched about what we're doing. I guess we'll be able to take some gear on the road sometime and work on our laptops a little bit. Nothing's going to be released for awhile but we're excited to be recording some new material and at some point begin to incorporate those songs into shows

IYS: Hospice obviously received lots of praise from the media last year – it was on lots of 'best of' lists. Are you feeling any stress to make a record that's similar to Hospice since it was so well received?

ML: No, not at all. I think it's awesome to get attention for anything that you've worked on and obviously for us it's preferable to having something just sit and collect dust, but I guess it does open up a situation where there are expectations for the next release. Honestly, there's nothing we can do one way or the other. People are going to react to it however they're going to react to it, just like with Hospice. There wasn't any conscious decision regarding the outside world – we did what we wanted to do for that particular record. I think there's that mindset still intact and we'll hope for the best whenever it's finished, but first and foremost it's just going to be something that we're excited about and proud to released and we'll see where it goes from there.

IYS: I know you've only been recording for a month or so but are there any hints about what the material sounds like so far?

ML: Honestly, we're really not restricting ourselves. There's so many different influences that we've been playing around with as well as what you might consider more traditional-sounding as far as where we've been coming from musically. It's kind of too early to say. I think when things start to develop there might be a situation where there's a specific sound from some songs that might turn into an EP, or maybe we'll just have that many songs that we can just pick and choose and who knows, we might have a whole other record of B-sides or something. I mean, I'm still not really sure – at this point it's as mysterious to me as it would be to anyone else. We're going to have to get more done to see where we're at.

IYS: That's cool that you're just doing what comes naturally and seeing how it turns out and whatever happens, happens.

ML: Yeah, I mean I think there's that sort of stereotype if you're on a major label or something and you had a hit record and they want you to just reproduce that record again which is totally understandable from the business side of things, but we just don't operate that way. I wouldn't say we're fine with a commercial flop or whatever, but it's not like we expect to debut at number one on Billboard as it is anyways. We're just going to do what we do and not worry too much about what other people think.

IYS: Going back to playing live, one thing I really like about Hospice is how layered all the songs are. Is that difficult to replicate when you play live since it's just you, Peter, and Darby?

ML: It probably would be, but we also didn't set out with the intention of trying to recreate the record so much as reinterpret the songs, so to speak. It's like jazz, we take approaches like that. We write the songs so that there's flexibility for them to not be exactly the same every night when we tour so we can change things up a bit. There's some structure improv sometimes where we're just free to insert little musical ideas here and there so that keeps it fresh for us. As far as the layered concept, Peter actually has a really, really full guitar sound. In the past I was surprised at how it sounded so full – I didn't expect that much just from one person. And what Darby's doing, he's playing the low-end and he's got the Fender Rhodes and has a lot of various pedals, so even though there's only three of us there's a lot of things happening on stage that contribute to that fuller sound, towards where the record is, with a nod to it but it's a little closer to a post-rock sound, what we play live.

IYS: So you're about to go on tour in the states with Editors for awhile. I was admittedly kind of surprised to hear that you guys were touring together, since Editors are from the UK and play sort of different music. How did that pairing come about? Did you guys meet before?

ML: No, we haven't met them personally yet. I totally hear what you're saying – we're not sure either. What's been interesting is a lot of the tours we've been doing this past year have been with similar mindsets, like, “I'm not sure if this band is exactly the right band to tour with, or I wouldn't think that musically they'd be a band we'd team up with.” But I think actually that's one of the cool things about some of our shows. If you're a fan of dance music and you go and see three or four dance bands in a row, you know, it's nice to have some variety. If you're a music fan, you have more of an open mind and you can go from one band to a different band and it won't be such a bizarre thing. [Editors] do that sort of post-punk kind of thing, so I think there will be elements from both our live sets that will have you walking out of the show thinking that you had a great time.

IYS: You guys toured a lot during 2009 supporting Hospice – it seemed like you were always on the road. Do you think your live performance has gotten tighter and tighter as you've toured more?

ML: Definitely. It's like the thing where people hear about different bands that have a lot of buzz and they see them play and think, “Oh, they're not that great live.” And that sort of thing always happens because it's inevitable when you're still getting your sound together or you're not so used to playing live. Between now and a year ago there's been a drastic improvement in our confidence and trust in each other, like what I was saying before. I know these songs pretty well now but I still feel like they're pretty fresh, which is very exciting because when you tour as much as we've been touring it's very easy to get tired of the songs, and I think that maybe speaks to the depth of some of the songs.

IYS: Yeah, that makes sense. There's a lot to focus on in all of the songs so I understand that you could always discover new parts to enjoy while you play.

ML: Exactly, and it's still a question of if you actually like the songs that you're playing, which the three of us do. It's working out pretty well for all of us.

IYS: I have to ask, because I'm sort of a food junkie: I was wondering how you guys fed yourselves on tour. Do you go for the fast food or the PB and J or what?

ML: [Laughs] Yeah, we do a little bit of everything. We have a lot of conversations about being health-conscious and trying to eat better which definitely can be challenging on the road, but that's our goal for 2010, to have more salads and less fast food. Of course most of the time in the middle of the night after a show if we're starving, fast food is really the only thing available, but we're trying to have a little bit of self-control and come back from tour not feeling like we need to detox so hard.

IYS: Now that you've toured all over the country and a little bit overseas, do you have favorite places to play?

ML: Yeah, there's a lot of them. On the last tour just by itself, when we were in the UK and other parts of Europe, London was just amazing and we really feel like that's a second home for us. We were in Spain and Barcelona and Madrid were amazing. We also played Ireland and went to Dublin, and the whole time we were in Ireland we felt really comfortable and at home. We also played at a little seaside town on the south coast of Ireland in this church that looked over cliffs, and there have just been so many amazing things like that. Brussels was great as well. Here in the states, we loved California, we're psyched to go back to SXSW in Austin, Chicago is always good, Toronto...I mean, there's lists going on [laughs], I don't think I could pick a favorite right now. We've just had some really great experiences and got to meet some really great bands and really great people who are part of the team. It's been pretty exciting and hopefully it will just continue to be so.

IYS: That's awesome. I went to Ireland once but didn't really have enough money to travel outside of Dublin so I was kind of bummed that I didn't get to see the coast of Ireland. I hear it's really beautiful and it seems like you'd agree with that sentiment!

ML: Yeah, it's amazing. The town we were in was called Dingle which is kind of a funny name, but it's gorgeous. You can obviously see it in images on postcards and stuff, but I would say that if anybody could ever get there I'd highly recommend it, because it's beautiful.

IYS: I have to ask one more thing, which might be kind of annoying: Are you a fan of the other musician Michael Lerner, who's in the band Telekineses?

ML: I actually don't know his music, but there's a random thing that happened to me recently with a friend of mine. There was some Facebook thing where I was like, “Oh, I'll be friends with you because you're friends with my other friend,” and she wrote back and was like, “Oh, I thought you were from Telekinesis,” so that's kind of my real knowledge of that guy, and there's that one actor also named Michael Lerner who's in Barton Fink or whatever. Some article about us came out and they put a link with my name and it was him. But anyway, I don't know that guy, but I'm sure he's awesome.

IYS: [Laughs] I was just curious, I don't know. I would be curious if I knew that somebody else with my name was doing something similar to what I was doing.

ML: Yeah, it's funny because he does play drums, right?

IYS: Yeah, yeah.

MJ: Nah, I guess there's room for two Michael Lerners. America's a pretty big place, as long as he stays over there on the West Coast, or else he better watch out [laughs]. Where's he from, Seattle or something? Sooner or later when we get up there maybe we'll go have a beer. He's got an open invitation to come by wherever I am.

IYS: Alright, we'll let him know [laughs]. So yeah, have a good rest of the day, and you're playing tonight too, right?

ML: Yeah, we're playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music tonight which we're pretty psyched about. I don't know if you know about that place, but it's like, where the Brooklyn Philharmonic plays and it's a really beautiful theater so it's an honor for us to play there.

Photography by Derek Duoba

© Inyourspeakers Media LLC