Peter Silberman reflects on the 'strange energy' of breakout album 'Hospice' 10 years later
In 2009, Peter Silberman of the Antlers led his band on a tour through the Midwest, stopping at Cafe Bourbon St. on a Thursday night in late March. The band performed as a trio, and the number of people in the audience just barely outnumbered the Antlers.
“That pretty much epitomized early touring days for us,” Silberman said recently by phone. “We were fortunate to have some nice write-ups from blogs and whatnot … but it was interesting to see how little that translated as far as people showing up.”
The band was touring behind Hospice, a concept album centering on the relationship between a hospital worker and a terminally ill patient in a children's cancer ward. Silberman spent 18 months in isolation recording Hospice, which moves between delicate, intimate moments that highlight Silberman's Jeff Buckley-esque falsetto and epic swells featuring noisy electronics, serrated guitars and crashing cymbals.
Originally, Silberman and his bandmates self-released the album, burning CD-Rs, taking orders on PayPal and shipping CDs themselves. Slowly, the buzz began to grow. Sometime after the Cafe Bourbon St. show, the Antlers played the Black Cat in Washington, D.C., and it felt like a turning point.
“That was the first sizable, enthused crowd,” Silberman said. “The energy of that show felt wildly different than anything we had done before.”
By August of 2009, the label Frenchkiss had remastered and re-released Hospice, and the Antlers were selling out the Mercury Lounge in New York. The band went on to release more music in the next 10 years — Burst Apart (2011) and Familiars (2014), plus Silberman's 2017 solo album, Impermanence — but Hospice continues to hold a special place in the Antlers' discography.
“I think that record has some kind of strange energy about it that seems to strike people in a personal way,” Silberman said.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the album, Frenchkiss proposed reissuing Hospice, which had been out of print for some time. That could have been the end of it, but as Silberman worked on rehabilitating his voice after undergoing vocal cord surgery, he realized that doing a short, stripped-down Hospice reunion tour to accompany the reissue would be a good way to get his voice back in shape.
“That's how I was practicing while I was working on healing my voice. I was just playing these songs on acoustic guitar,” Silberman said. “A lot of [Hospice] songs started on an acoustic guitar, so it was kind of connecting back to their inception.”
For these shows, Silberman will be accompanied by drummer Michael Lerner and former touring guitarist Tim Mislock (multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci is no longer with the band). “Michael is just playing a snare drum at all these shows,” Silberman said. “He's incredibly able to re-create the feel and the pulse and the heartbeat of those recordings on just a snare drum. It's pretty remarkable.”
Silberman no longer feels intimately connected to the time in his life that inspired Hospice, but he doesn't see that as a bad thing. “Generally I'm working to keep myself from going back in time while I'm singing songs, which may sound weird because I'm singing about things in the past,” he said. “But it's really so much more a matter of being present for the audience and for the band, and in that sense it doesn't feel odd at all. It feels meditative and focused.”