By: Gemma Mastroianni
2019 marks the tenth anniversary of The Antler's debut, ground-breaking concept album, Hospice. In celebration and acknowledgment of the passing of time, the band has decided to tour around the world; playing the album front to back. Obviously, I had to be there for this one. I grabbed a ticket to The Opera House performance before it quickly sold out. I was also lucky enough to chat with frontman, Peter Silberman, over a coffee at The Broadview Hotel before the show. We discussed the album and its intricacies in great detail, along with what is next for the band.
We began by discussing why the band has decided to re-release the album on vinyl, and tour around the world. To me, it sounded emotionally exhausting, but I also understood the importance of acknowledging the presence of this album and the company it has provided to so many people, including myself. Silberman explained that originally, he wasn't too fond of the idea. He had just finished his house show tour for his (fantastic) solo album, Impermanence, all while coping with vocal chord issues, and not initially seeing the appeal by the idea of looking back at the album,
"I wanted to keep from diving full on back into the world of this record, or even just wanted to have permission to not do that, so that I could make up my own mind about how much or how little I wanted to do."
After undergoing surgery to heal his vocal cords, he practiced singing Hospice songs as a way to re-train his singing technique. The idea of returning to the album through a live experience, and even performing the songs in a different format, became a reality.
As previously mentioned, I could only imagine how re-visiting this record in a live setting could be on an emotional level, for the original writer. Just listening to the record from start to finish is an emotionally heavy experience for myself, but I wanted to know what it was like from the perspective of the writer. Although most would expect it to be turmoil, Silberman says it's not so bad as he's mainly appreciative that he isn't in that place anymore,
"You know, sometimes I might find myself, psychologically, in a location in time while performing; something that sort of brings me back to a feeling of a time, but I'm not really reliving it-thankfully."
Silberman spoke to me about the writing process of Hospice. At the time he was listening to albums such as "Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven" by Godspeed, "Talk Amongst The Trees" by Eluvium, and more. The experience is a bit foggy as so much time has passed, but he remembered writing the album's finale, 'Epilogue', first. This track was not edited or altered much at all, as it came naturally. From there, he was fixated on concept records, and the imagery of the "insular" relationship that related back to hospital themes, in which it then made sense to crack out a concept album. Silberman spent about a year recording music for the album and working on lyrics, and then just a weekend to record vocals;
"It happened in fits and starts. I would go through periods of time where I would be working very intensely into the late hours, mostly from the late evening into the early morning. I was in school at the time, so I was kind of fitting this in wherever I could."
The project was something that was picked up and put down for approximately a year and a half. While playing shows with the band, being in school, and working on the indulged album, he would sometimes get frustrated. Peter explained to me that he would put down the album for a couple months and work on other projects as he would lose interest, move past it, think he was done with it; but continued to return back,
"I would then come back to it, feeling a sense of responsibility towards it because I felt like it was important that I finished it. Even at the times when I lost interest in it, there was just something pulling me back towards it."
The famous album artwork was created by a close friend of his. It was a pretty quick process, and Silberman told me that there weren't a lot of other ideas in the mix. All he could remember were the hands, and he knew that was the record.
The success of this album was not something Silberman anticipated, and there was not anything to suggest it would become as popular as it did, as the band did not have an audience. The band would play many shows, but not many people would show up.
"I had a feeling with this record where it was like, I don't know what it would take for this to catch on, especially not this because I felt like something was different about this record. It sort of felt like, well if not this, then I don't know what."
Following a release with little confidence and heavy skepticism, the record accelerated. Silberman and the band began to adjust to what was becoming a new reality for them, which included media attention. Considering how personal the album is, Silberman found himself unprepared to answer so many questions about the symbolism and lyrics. He proceeded to set a couple of ground rules for himself, in terms of what he would keep private, "I learned how to be open without being completely unguarded, and it became a really important line for me."Regardless of the album already being so raw in itself, media would continue to pry on him for even more personal details of his relationship, even while interviewing for newer releases such as "Burst Apart" and "Familiars."
Although the album is a masterpiece in itself, I was curious as to whether or not there would be anything that Silberman would change about it, if he had the opportunity re-make it today. He explained to me that there are songs that would not have made the cut today because of his editing and musical advances,
"There were songs I was really kind of pushing them to work and trying to not exactly force them into this record, but there were points I was trying to get across about this relationship and story but I was like, 'it doesn't work without this song in there, and this song doesn't quite work but I'm just gonna force it to work'."
Although he would not disclose which songs that he would opt to now leave out, he hinted to me that it is more popular songs that have become fan favourites. He continued to explain that although he feels this way, it is good that they did end up on the album because it is part of what makes the record so raw and explicit, but he would never do it again today:
"It served the record really well too so none of it was a mistake, but I think I would have a much harder time doing that now. It comes with personal cost and a personal toll. I think at the end of the day, the record is probably net positive in that sense because it seems like it's been a helpful thing for enough people but yeah, in some instances the cost is that somebody else gets hurt."
The show was a phenomenal and captivating performance. The three-piece band captured Hospice in a new light, and while the band approached the performance from a minimalist perspective, it sounded much more than just a three-piece band. They created an ambient soundscape that was unlike anything I've ever heard before.
The Antler's are in the process of recording a new album. The band will be working hard for the rest of the year, and will get it out to the world as soon as it is ready.