Turn the question of what's familiar around and it becomes an examination of what's different.
For The Antlers' fifth album, Familiars, vocalist-guitarist Peter Silberman found himself writing in the middle ground, searching for what's changed and what's stayed the same in his own life - and in the band's sound - and what that means.
Sonically, The Antlers have crafted a more open, organic sound on Familiars, with multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci's trumpet serving as a counterpoint to Silberman's vocals, but still within the realm longtime listeners of Hospice, Burst Apart and Undersea have come to expect.
Lyrically, Silberman looks both outward and inward, centering on those particular moments and emotions in people's lives that are weighted with meaning.
"Over time you develop a relationship with yourself and that relationship changes," Silberman says. "I was trying to explore a lot of that throughout the songs. It's kind of a tricky subject to write about. It's putting a mirror up to yourself and describing what you see and what you feel."
Silberman says he kept the themes of The Antlers' past records - lost love, fear, doubt - in mind as he wrote for the new one, almost as if he was looking at a map of where those past emotions stand in his life and the distance he's come.
"Examining your own relationship to yourself is an interesting process and I found that I learned a lot about myself. That definitely informed the way the songs developed. With Familiars, sometimes I'm approaching things I've written a long time ago, from a different perspective," he says. "I'm circling back to some things I've thought a long time ago to see if I still feel that way. With time having passed, I'm able to see a bigger picture."
As he was examining his life, Silberman says he found the process of songwriting changing, both his own approach and how he, Cicci and drummer Michael Lerner worked together to construct The Antlers' songs.
"There's sort of an inevitable change that's happened over the years as the band has continued to write songs together," he says. "This time around I was very interested in seeing how an idea changes over time. For some of these songs, we began working with them and sat with the ideas for a long time and got to know them. But we made very subtle changes to the arrangements and the chord progressions and the way we were playing our parts. Those minor changes that lent a subtlety to the album."
The subtlety - more expansive arrangements, more instrumental details and flourishes - reflects the band deciding to hone in on what they were doing already rather than make any radical changes.
"For me, I wanted to simplify things in a way," Silberman says. "I'd done a lot of guitar overdubbing in the past and this time I was much more interested in creating one guitar part that could have a fullness in itself and would be its own voice on the record. Each one of us in our own separate ways took an approach to finding our individual voice through the instruments, not dressing things up so much and trying to get to get down to the natural sound. It ended up creating a lot of space. The arrangements are less dense and things feel wider and bigger."
The Antlers focus has always been on presenting albums as listening experiences that use the songs together to build a story, a journey of shifting moods if not always a direct narrative.
"It's an intuitive thing for us. We've been making records for a while and we can place things vaguely as we go along and that helps us to arrange the songs, it helps me to write lyrics for the song. I always thing of the first half of the record as a setup for what's going to come later," Silberman says. "Especially a record like this where I really wanted to illustrate a change, it's important to me to figure out which songs are prior to that change and which songs illustrate the result of that change."
About halfway through the process, the band starts getting a sense of where songs belong in the album sequence.
"We can just tell that something sounds like a first song or a last song. Having a sense of how the record is going to kick off is really important early on we had the sense that 'Palace' would be if not the first song, close to it. Sometimes a song doesn't make sense anywhere else but in the beginning and that one in particular did," Silberman says. "And I always love trying to figure out what the second to last song is, because that's usually my favorite one on a record. I think of it like the point of the record is in the second to last song."
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