One of the most progressive bands of the last decade, The Antlers may have indeed reached a zenith with their mature and delicately composed fifth studio album Familiars, released last June. Currently embarking on a European tour, which includes a stop over in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, the band’s main musical orchestrator Darby Cicci took some time out to discuss the new record with State, and where he feels they now find themselves at as a band.
“Its definitely a step forward for us creatively’. Darby remarks about Familiars. “We really tried to take our time with this one and explore, not really other styles of music but other ways to influence music we’ve already been making in a new way. I’ve been really kind of obsessed with jazz and different palettes of sounds and different regions of World Music, in Africa, Nigeria and Jamaica of course, without really trying to play any of those styles but trying to influence it with that type of palette. I think taking our time and trying to allow ourselves to make longer pieces and not really put ourselves under any pressure to make any kind of pop structure or music that we would really try to make successful or try to sell records with or get lots of radio play. Its sort of the antitheses to that.”
Having come to prominence as a generally radio-friendly indie rock band, The Antlers have diversified their style as their career has progressed, experimenting with a wide range of different musical genres and concepts, something Darby proceeds to reminisce about. “A lot of things we were working on in (second album) Burst Apart were sort of rooted in pop music. I love the record but, [when making it] we were feeling a little more pressure. It’s a very strange experience to have just one record, Hospice, do remarkably well and then following that up with a consecutive record that’s not based in a conceptual piece, I think we were looking for lots of ways to go.”
“So making this record was the first time we’d really gotten past those hurdles and allowed ourselves to explore the creative side of what kind of music we actually want to make, and get a little past that early career trying to drive yourself to solidify your stake in the music industry and just to keep it going as a career. Its a tricky career to keep going and theres a lot of bands that just disappear quite quickly and I think we were a little worried about that”. The Antlers are no strangers to innovation, but judging by Familiar’s intricate composition and unique sound, you would be forgiven for thinking that recording the album may have been a highly complex process. According to Darby however, inspiration came almost as second nature to him.
“On this record we really worked and it allowed us to explore things we were more interested in emotionally rather than putting expectations on ourselves”. he enthusiastically asserts. “We embraced improvisation a bit more (on the record). Instead of writing parts and practicing them until they felt comfortable I think I really tried to embrace a lot of the idiosyncrasies you get when you just lay off the top of your head and really try to capture those interesting elements, those little sparks of sound or music. When I listen to records I really connect with those more than anything, more than the songs or the record’s concepts. I connect to little moments, little special sounds and melodies that awaken from something inside you and I really tried to push myself to find those in my own work rather than thinking of myself as some some sort of authority on what I’m supposed to write, but exploring enough so I can be my own audience as well.”
Being the band’s primary musical composer, Darby is renowned for his tremendous talents with musical arrangements, but did he get any additional help this time around? “A little bit I would say” he cooly admits. “After doing a lot of the arrangements on most of the songs there were a couple of things that I thought would really balance it out and really fit perfectly. On a couple of songs theres a cello that seemed to fit so perfectly and I can’t play the cello for shit and not going to try, so I brought our friend in to play on a couple of tracks.
“I wanted to add a couple of extra elements, (to the horn arrangements), a little trombone, which I’m also not good at, and a friend of mine John who plays some saxophone as well. It’s not really the bulk of it, but it definitely balances and gets a lot of the trumpet arrangements out in a full way. Adds a little more communication between those sounds.”
Although Familiars, like previous Antlers recordings, has been widely praised for its inspiring lyrical content Darby insists that it’s the music takes precedence during recording. “For me, we really pretty much make the whole record before the lyrics come into it so its one of the last elements that gets added in. All of the music and arranging I do is based purely from a musical perspective and then Peter (Silberman) writes the lyrics based on those songs that are there. There’s not a song written first that I then arrange, its definitely an instrumental piece with little breaks that we know who’s going to be singing and Peter works on that separately”.
So on to the European tour then, which kicked off in Brussels back on October 1st. Darby has already noted Berlin, Amsterdam and Aarhus in Denmark as highlights so far, but are the band looking forward to their Dublin date in the Olympia? “Absolutely”, he exclaims. “Dublin’s just one of the best places. We’ve always had a really overwhelming support from people there. Every time we go except something out of the show and theres always more people, their always more excited, it’s always louder. It gets pretty overwhelming I think, and being at the end of tour it’s gonna be pretty special”.
A sell-out crowd is expected at the Dame Street venue on October 30th, but considering The Antler’s stylistic evolution over the last few years, what exactly can the band’s Irish fan base expect from the gig? “We have a different show now, we’re less of a rock band these days” professes Darby. “Last time we played their we played loud and we had a different member on guitar and were much more of a rock band. Nowadays I play trumpet during the show and our new fourth member is primarily a horn player too. The whole show’s just lighter, more spacious, more delicate and just more evolved for us. We don’t just bash chords away and kick out the songs, its a much more refined show now, theres a lot more layers and texture and delicacy. If you’ve seen us before I think you’ll see quite a different version of us. Still the same band but it’s all just prettier I think.”
“It’s a much more intimate show and having so many different songs from our catalogue to draw from we can get a whole lot more dynamic out of it. It’s definitely more relaxed, we’re all more relaxed when we play this set, we actually play a little quieter now and I think its just more interesting over all”.
The Antlers play The Olympia Theatre on October 30th. To win a pair of tickets email email@example.com with your details by 5pm on Tuesday 28th October.