I need a weather forecast, but for the multiple emotions I felt during The Antlers new album, Familiars. It goes back and forth like this: peaceful and painful, subtle and spiritual, wild and wise. It acts as an unadulterated exploration in self-reflection and growth, encouraging an input from the listener, I for one find unfailingly difficult to ignore. Like an invisible tether where the more you tug at it the stronger it feels, it's music that allows you to uncover what is hidden under that little trapdoor at the top of your skull. If there's a band with a more bewitching appeal, I don't know them.

This Fall marks seven years of music making for Peter Silberman, Darby Cicci and Michael Lerner and it's hardly failed to escape our notice that The Antlers have reached a seminal moment in their artistic trajectory. Cicci likes to think of each record as its own little film, which explains why Familiars to him, "doesn't sound like we're trying on costumes or anything" but "feels like an extension of the work that we've done and how much we've grown over the years." How fitting then, a self-fulfilling prophecy almost, that "antlers" in the animal kingdom are shed and regrown each year.

From their Brooklyn studio just days before the band begin rehearsals for their upcoming tour, the ever-engaging Cicci talks about their new found sound, how they are still a rock group at the core, and of course... horns.

You certainly engendered some mystery in the beginning with the cover artwork. What was your thought pattern with the two figures?

I made this list of all the things I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be some kind of person, not a definable human being, I wanted it to have this feeling of duality and twins, and I wanted this feeling to feel like a cemetery without it being sad. I think the minute someone sees a cemetery there's all these connections with death, so I thought how do I make a cemetery feel alive? I stayed up all night looking on Google Earth trying to find this one specific monument that I saw the picture of somewhere. It resonated with me - this feeling of compassionate figures that look more like a symbol of love than a symbol of death and I like that concept.

With the first record it was like a broad meditation of mortality, hope in the face of hopelessness - so where do you see Familiars in the 'family' of your albums?

If something feels like its part three of a story then it doesn't hold its own enough. I like thinking of records as little films and them being their own little worlds. This doesn't sound like we're trying on costumes or anything, it feels it's an extension of the work that we've done and how much we've grown over the years.

I also don't get a sense of desperation or urgency of a band who realise they might not get a chance to make another record. Does it feel that way for you? How confident were you this time around?

I try not to think about what happens after you make something when you're making it, that's sort of the most toxic element. It changes it from being an expression to being a construction. If you make music for other people it's the same as living your life for other people, it never works and at best it does work and you feel hollow inside. I like to push myself every time I work on anything and take risks and it may not always be apparent in the recording but that always helps me grow.

"I still listen to lots of Alice Coltrane pretty religiously and every day when I get to the studio I lay on the floor and that's the first thing I put on Journey in Satchidananda."

For me it was odd how quickly such an unusual sound like yours became so overfamiliar for me. Did you ever stop and go - shit - should we stick to what we know or move away from that sound?

You know we don't care what we used to sound like, we can do whatever we want, but there is a flipside to this. The word that resonates with me is to find growth and to find change.

Last year you mentioned something similar when we were talking about your solo work and how your approach is always more natural.

The thing I find too is that you can make a record that is totally different from your previous records and people will still say you sound the same. I think that this record has an incredible amount of growth to it but you'll have this kid saying "they sound the same on every single record!" and I'm like well those people have a limited experience of palettes and sounds, not to put anyone down but people see similarities when there are really a lot of subtle differences.

I definitely think that this album proves you can be as demonstrative and gripping on a pure sonic level too, so tell me about all these horns we spoke about briefly last year, what led you there?

I've been listening to so much jazz for 2 years that I got so used to hearing trumpet being apart of a sound. It feels weird to me if something doesn't have horns right now. For this record I was really focusing on the trio of trumpet, straight piano and bass. It really gives it an earthy organic vibey sound and instantly takes the rock band concept into things more like jazz and country and older blues and I think that sound is really something that has taken a long time to develop. We're still a rock band at the core it's just been decentralized with this record.

There are jazz elements but more the spirit of that era. Who were the artists that made you think, "Here's a good way to have a life in music".

I still listen to lots of Alice Coltrane pretty religiously and every day when I get to the studio I lay on the floor and that's the first thing I put on Journey in Satchidananda. It's like my warm up music and it's very peaceful. When I listen to jazz and soul it feels current - there may be something wrong with me. When I listen to pop radio now it doesn't feel like it's 2014, it feels like it's from an awful period in the past somewhere that I don't want to live! When I listen to Charles Mingus or any Miles Davis records I feel the presence more of people playing I feel the most connected to the thought process that are going into that and the emotions that are going behind it.

"So this time the challenge was to see how quickly I could work to write and record in a really short amount of time and a lot of that was improvised, but I'm caught now stuck figuring out everything I played and trying to relearn it."

I think the concept of instant gratification in society could potentially make it difficult for you guys because your music needs to be mulled over and considered a little bit more instead of being instantly absorbed.

Yeah and they don't play 6 minute songs on the radio.

Maybe, but there's a space for the listener on Familiars where you almost give us time to reflect and think about our own life.

I don't want to make tight constructed produced tracks anymore, I just want to make noise and ambient music and play jazz! You know when we made Burst Apart and Undersea we were touring and playing lots of festivals and you start thinking about music in a different way. I think taking a good yearlong break from that was good to cleanse ourselves.

I'm trying to imagine how the live and studio process works, how much control do you have over what happens moment to moment?

Well for the first three months all we were doing was I guess, jamming, even though I hate that word and then once we had song ideas and structures then basically for the next five months Peter was working on lyrics. I feel like in the past I would work on something over a long period of time and it takes the energy out of it and makes it feel stale. So this time the challenge was to see how quickly I could work to write and record in a really short amount of time and a lot of that was improvised, but I'm caught now stuck figuring out everything I played and trying to relearn it.

I'm sure people are going to ask how you're going to translate this live especially because you play a lot of the instruments - unless you've got a secret talent where you can play them all at the same time.

[laughs] You know I've actually tried that and the hardest part is that if you play your trumpets in a different key so in my brain, everything is transposed. I can play keyboards and bass and synth all at the same time but I have someone whose going to be touring with us and he's a way better trumpet player than I am!

How important are the interpersonal relationships in the band?

We're not exactly enemies and we don't fight very often and we all have a high regard for work over personal relationships. I think if your whole success hinges on your personal relationship then it's hard to do a lot of things especially for as long as we have! Seven years? When did I join the band? 2007 - so yeah seven years this Fall. Over time our relationship has definitely changed a lot but I think the consistent thing is that we've always been able to make strong music throughout.

"Familiars are little animals that witches trained and they'd help training witches learn their craft [laughs] and if you've ever played Dungeons and Dragons it's a part of that as well!"

How autobiographical is the narrative that Peter's singing about? On songs like 'Revisited' and 'Hotel'.

There's not really a storyline, it's more about a feeling. Revisited is about feelings of guilt - of how to take personal experiences and put them on display for the world to see and eventually make money off of. I feel like the exploitation of your own life for your work is a strange feeling. As an artist to be selling your personal emotions is like saying here are my feelings... buy them! On 'Hotel', the feeling of cleansing, of being in new places all the time. If you don't have all your junk that you've accumulated over your life in piles all around you in your house, then what do you have as far as memories go? Where did you come from if you're sitting in a sterile completely reclusive environment and what does that mean about your identity?

Do you ever chat to Peter about the lyrics?

Sometimes he's super protective of his lyrics when he's working on them, so when I get to see them they're generally in a state that he considers totally done.

How does the title fit within the context of the album?

Well its familiars so it's not meant to be these are things that are familiar. Familiars are little animals that witches trained and they'd help training witches learn their craft [laughs] and if you've ever played Dungeons and Dragons it's a part of that as well! I like that the word basically means family of liars, which represents the record in an interesting way. To think about this comforting warm feeling but yet there's this dark and sinister quality.

I've noticed you like to go down that horror route.

I'm way more drawn to darker music in general but naturally I think if I only made horror music then I should probably just go score horror films for the rest of my life, which is a really good idea. I watch lots of horror movies, I read lots of horror comics, I take pictures of creepy dolls I think about blood and gore pretty much constantly!

Well thank god this is over Skype then.

I had a job at a photo shop when I was 12 and the sheriff's department would bring crime scene photos in to get developed and I would collect them. It warped my brain.


The Antlers' new album, Familiars, is out today on Transgressive (June 17th in the States on Anti). You can listen to it by heading here. Check them out at the following dates:

  • Wednesday 22 October – Brighton – Old Market
  • Thursday 23 October – Birmingham – Oobleck
  • Friday 24 October – London – Hackney Empire
  • Monday 27 October – Bristol – Trinity
  • Thurday 30 October – Dublin – Olympia
  • Friday 31 October – Manchester – Ritz
  • Saturday 1 November – Glasgow – Oran Mor
  • Sunday 2 November – Leeds – Belgrave Music Hall