"Sorry, I lost my train of thought - I'm in this weird Arcade Room at the hotel that I'm staying at and there's all these video games around me blinking lights, but it's actually kinda nice?" Even in a sub-lucid state, it's apparent that Darby Cicci from The Antlers possesses both intelligence and a healthy streak of curiosity. During our banter-ridden conversation about his new side-project School Of Night, it's quite clear he is a musician exploring his cerebral talent and doing everything to cultivate it.

Solo albums are invariable the introductory toe-dips into the foggy pool of individual success. Although unknown territory, these waters are most often found very welcoming for singers to dive into. Quite fittingly, there's been a shift in the generic approach here; a 'detour' as Darby so modestly puts it. He is but using his new side project, School Of Night, as a legitimate pressure valve to let off his creative steam by pulling compelling threads of sensation through the 'fog' and cleansing himself from a personal purgatory.

With buoyancy, he's matured gracefully, growing into his once awkward and dysfunctional pre-determined set of rules. This self-titled EP finds him reigning in the unwanted bloated apprehensions from his childhood and washing the last belched words of sour chagrined confusion down his past, hell, hole. Sound the trumpets!

Whilst occupying a similar typhlotic model of myself, it seems rather appropriate that Darby opted to base the concept of his new album around a robust appraisal of a newly invigorated sense of self. It's within this context that remarkable and vertiginous sets of ideals have now formed. For the love of melancholy, true to form, it still transcends lyrically and musically, amplifying the sentiments of the listener from their inner, naked core. If this EP is intended to allude to Darby's relationship with The Antlers, it's simply an erudite as to how influential he has been toward the success of the group.

He makes music that has the ability to transport and yet, quite severely, albeit non-fictionally, strike a chord. This muso-dabbler revels in many a 'pie', whilst wearing many a 'hat'. After producing The Antlers' last two critically acclaimed records, Burst Apart in 2011 and Undersea in 2012, and engineering Porcelain Raft and Yellow Ostrich's albums - the list of instruments he's able to wield is counter-productive to count, it's still growing.

From the darker-set ideals of atheism to growing older, he then segues into his inevitable magnetism to dolls, being barefoot for five years and of course... more horns!


You know, I read somewhere how perfect your songs are for 'autumn', but it's spring where I am and it feels just as light and impactful. What was the concept for School Of Night?

Ha! Well a couple of years ago when we (The Antlers) did Burst Apart I had been writing a lot but I'd start, then go on tour, get back and never finish anything. These 5 pieces of songs always felt like they worked together really well and I guess the concept is sort of, without offending anyone, me figuring out my spirituality and religion, a new found realization I had about the world. Sorry I'm being so damn vague about it, I'm still sipping my coffee...

Well indulge me!

I sort of gave up religion and spirituality, now I'm an atheist but it's not really what it's about. It has to do with trying to make peace with getting older, the greater concept of the world and changing feelings of life and death. The time I was working on this, I was going through a pretty self-destructive period in my life, like there was some greater purpose to the world you know?

Suddenly this weird cathartic change happened and we finally had a break to sit down and start thinking about everything that was going on. I realised my entire life had been totally flipped upside down. It's weird to travel around the world so quickly, meeting people from different cultures and countries and not feel some kind of existential crisis! I had to push away that destructive 20 something year old person, let go of those feelings you have when you grow up, guilt, etc.

What were you brought up as?

I was catholic when I was a kid, but I wasn't an intense religious person. I think I just kind of came to realize that I needed to rely on myself instead of live my life just as things happen to me. You really trust in yourself, as you get older. Sorry this conversation got really intense, really quickly!

Haha! I know. Look, it's obviously where you're at right now, from touring I can imagine it feels super scattered. How do you manage to ever find that grounding?

It's definitely tricky! You don't have the friend-support system around you all the time and no real routine to give you any sense of normalcy. If you're the sort of person that goes along with the flow, more of a 'pack' mentality you can get really lost really quickly. It's dangerous out there.

I think the reason why you have such devoted fans is because you don't make the music for the cover of the magazine

Right? I know.

So it's coming from a 'different' place, which is why it's a rather big deal that you're coming out with your own kind of 'story'

Yeah I mean it was something I needed to do for my personal identity. When you travel and tour in a band, everyone has a strong idea of what they think you are. It confuses you about what you feel about yourself.

You're watching these people hypnotized almost?

Right, and to find that grounding I guess that's the sort of process I was struggling with. It took me a long time to make this EP, not because of the music or being really picky about it, I couldn't really decide how I felt and wanted to make work that resonated with me.

How old are you now?

I just turned 30 in August

Happy birthday! I nearly said congratulations

Ah well you know it's a weird number to turn. I turned 30 and the next day I announced my EP. It made me really excited and optimistic for the future. Which is how I feel in general right now I'm really ready to do more in my life.

How did you land on the name School Of Night?

It kinda sounded perfect. School Of Night was basically a secret society rooted in the 1500's/1580 centered in England - you can totally Wikipedia it if you want to. Also referred to as the School Of Atheism. I think a lot of those thematic elements have been prevalent in this EP. That idea of pushing away religion and spirituality (laughs) was a good thing at least for me, maybe not for everyone. Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and a lot of famous literary people were apart of that society. For a long time making it, it wasn't a secret but it felt like a secret something I was doing at night by myself. You know I spent a lot of nights working 'til I passed out on the studio couch. It just made sense you know - the combo of secret society and religious. If we had a big long conversation about it - I really do respect religion and people who believe it.

Well, what's quite crucial to the standing appeal of the EP, is also the imagery, did you do it?

I did! I knew I wanted to have a church on the cover so I went through about 400 different churches and I decided I needed to have a church from Alabama.

I've read Peter once saying that you guide the aesthetic of the band...

I'm sort of the design and production department for The Antlers. I'm really protective of every element of the visual package so I'll do everything, down to placing the barcode and putting the legal lines on CD faces. It's just that final step of a record - the object people will hold in their hands - I really like that sort of personal connection.

You took on a more handsy role and did everything for this album. You're actually always called a multi-instrumentalist too...

Whatever that means! I don't know if I'll do anything like this again as I've really started liking working with other people more, it's helped me grow as a musician. Other thing is that I really like wearing these different hats, I'm just as interested in singing as I am playing all these different basslines or programming synths all day is just as fun as playing piano or guitar. This year I've been working on my trumpet playing a lot every day. I think in the future I want to work more as a producer.

Lyrically, it's more direct and deeply personal, what's your writing process?

It might be strange coming from the band that I'm in, but I don't write lyrics in terms of a story. I have a more of an abstract approach to the way I use words. I'm trying to represent a complicated emotional state in a sort of descriptive abstract form. What is most important to me, are the sounds of the words. I write songs that start off as gibberish and I have to playdoe them into a puzzle. Every time I find the perfect word or phrase that fits into that exact sound, it's like "ah that's what it was all along!" You're looking to discover what's in your head the whole time. I try to be playful and not have any heavy conceptual story I'm trying to drive into someone. Just knowing that it's constructed in a way that's meaningful is all that matters. If that makes sense?

No it does! I wasn't going to psychoanalyze you lyrically, but in the song 'Lying' you've got this recurring theme of dolls; "but dolls hearts don't heal"

Well then I should probably tell you I have an obsession with dolls. It's totally healthy. I've been photographing them around the world for a long time; I have thousands and thousands of photos of creepy dolls from a lot of different countries.

You should come down here there's loads of them!

I would love to! They're everywhere. When I'm really tired on tour and walking down the street in Paris or something, there's always this little doll in the window staring at me! I think in a way I identify with these toys, they seem kind of scary and it makes sense why no one is sitting there playing with them but its got this element of innocence too? Maybe I identify with that sort of loneliness. As far as 'Lying' it's about feeling guilt for something. I think you should accept that being human is lying to yourself or to others. But in the end, lying to yourself is a much more dangerous thing.

Have you played on stage alone yet?

I opened for Porcelain Raft in Brooklyn for the first School Of Night show ever. It was great, went smoothly I think. It's a little weird standing on stage by myself. Wearing shoes too. I haven't worn shoes on stage in about 5 years.

Why!?

No one should wear shoes let's throw them out!

Well you've also never had a beer spilled on you on stage. When you play an outdoor festival and it's rainy and the stage is wet and your socks get totally soaked.

Your obsession should be in socks and not toys you know that? You should get some human second skin.

That's totally awesome I would love to do that. Some sort of hybrid flippers

You know those excited hikers that have those weird socks that go around each individual toe?

I've tried those on before and have a couple of friends who wear and swear by them but I just can't. They feel creature like, like I should be spinning on a lilypad.

So other than being a human barefoot creature on stage, what is your game plan playing live?

In The Antlers I have 10 synths on stage and I play 4 at once you know? I have to do something like that. In solo people go one of two directions, either really simple, straight down soulful, or a laptop and a ton of pre-recorded tracks - seems kinda lame. I have an analogue drum machine that's programmed with patterns from the different songs; I can turn on or off various elements and start improvising on the beats in real time. It feels like a very natural and interactive instrument. I play piano through effects and vocal effects and I have another synth running concurrently with the piano too. I hope I can add in more trumpet at some point! It's a little tricky to do both but one of my friends has been coming over and playing trombone so I'm going to see how much I can do at once. Try to make sure I'm singing well too.

Multi - is clearly, the operative word here. How does it feel writing the new (Antlers) record and releasing this one at the same time?

The good thing is that I finished this EP in the Spring before we started this record so its been sitting done. It's really helped to see where I'm at as a musician, to think of the differences and see how I've influenced the band. It's weird, do you "sound like your band" or "different" - there's no real answer. I'm not going to stop using my favourite synth just because I'm doing solo stuff.

It must all be quite surreal?

It's weird in that, the whole identity thing we were talking about earlier. I'm not an egotistical maniac but it's nice to have something that you can kind of put your name on, your own stamp, and know that it's your baby. It's nice to take a small little detour from the band for a second. I'm not detaching from the band and going solo.

It's also something I want to clear out. Sometimes when a member of a band does solo stuff it's like the bands breaking up. I even saw on some message board after my announcement some kids were like "oh yeah, I was worried this would happen The Antlers haven't had a record in a couple of years I guess it's over now" and I'm like "no wait man!"

C'mon! You guys just came out with an EP that yes, in Internet time, was like 10 years ago but it was only last year?

I try to absorb that stuff as 'market research'. You have to ground yourself. The harsh stuff sometimes sounds a lot like the stuff you say to yourself. So I try to not let it feel like that.

I guess what you were saying earlier, the whole theme of where you're coming from; if you are grounded as a person and in it for the right reason then you've got a good formula already

You can understand your audience and make music that they will understand, but you can't try to make people happy with what you're doing. You have to feel like the trendsetter I guess. This is what I like and this is what I'm going to make.

"you musssst listen to it"

... and if you don't like it then FUCKYOOOOO. No, you gotta' keep your shit together. I don't think you'll be disappointed with the EP/new Antlers!

If you are I'm okay with it.

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School Of Night, riddled with darker undertones, is really, as clear as day. With boundless talent, Darby detours for the sole purpose of creative cleansing as he unclutters the way for his band's brand new album. The EP's joyous internal mêlée blends enchanting wild immediacy with subtle lyrical depth. Sound those trumpets!

Buy the School of Night EP, out October 15 via Transgressive records and catch him live in London on the 31st October