I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Wills of Bear In Heaven and The Antlers‘ Peter Silberman in a delightful (if not at first confunding) conference call just before Christmas. The feature article has since been published, but here is the unedited interview in full.
Where are you guys at the moment?
Peter Silberman: I am at home in Brooklyn right now
Adam Wills: I am at my mom’s house in Atlanta for the holidays
How long have you two known each other?
A: Not very long, I think we met in Texas at SXSW this year. And probably somewhere else at some point too. I can’t remember where we’ve seen each other but we keep crossing paths, that’s kind of how it goes.
So you’ve never played a show together, like the co-headliner you’ll be doing in Australia?
P: Technically we’ve never played a show together.
How did the co-headline shows come about then?
A: Somebody looked at the lineup and said what are the best two bands, and then put them together.
Have either of you been to Australia before?
P: I’ve never been and Antlers haven’t been either.
A: Bear in Heaven have never been either.
What are your expectations for your first Australian visit then?
P: I don’t really know what to expect, I’m looking forward that it’s going to be very warm over there as opposed to over here where it is extremely cold. I think there’s going to be a lot of great music, there are a lot of great bands on this trip, so I don’t know. I’m keeping an open mind and seeing what happens.
A: I’m with Peter, looking forward towards leaving frigid New York weather behind and to come back with a freakish tan back to New York looking way too dark in February. I’m also looking forward to just Australian people, I know about a dozen folks from Australia just from living in New York, and all of them are crazy, in a good way.
Do you like playing festivals?
P: Yeah definitely, they’re really different to playing regular shows and they usually have you in a place that you’ve either never been to before or might never go to again. And also you’re seeing a lot of different bands and crossing paths with a lot of different people and its definitely fun but very different.
A: As far as Bear In Heaven goes, we enjoy festivals a great deal except for the thirty minutes of the day which is the changeover between bands and is the most stressful thing you can go through. I know that both of us, Antlers and Bear in Heaven, have an obscene amount of stuff to plug in, make sure it’s working properly, and it’s not something that’s really done in a 20 minute changeover. It’s not fun, it’s always just bam, bam, bam, bam, and cross your fingers that everything works.
Apart from that festivals are incredibly enjoyable, it’s just that 20 minutes a day that makes me want to pull my hair out.
That’s an interesting perspective, cause most of the time when you’re in the audience, you’re just thinking – ‘Man this is taking forever, get on stage already!’
P: (laughs) I think when you’re in a band you can’t believe you don’t have more time than you do and then from the crowd who is just pressed up against a bunch of people and in the hot sun, twenty minutes is too long, which is understandable from both sides.
So considering both of you released your so-called breakthrough records last year, The Antlers with Hospice and Bear In Heaven with Beast Rest Forth Mouth, what’s changed?
P: We toured for a while after the record came out, for a year or a half or so. From the point we released it onward it was kind of a steadily, sometimes suddenly crazy, upward momentum thing. And we definitely noticed a change going on and then had some time to get used to it and then it got comfortable where we were going to as a band but people were enthusiastic and in turn we tried to play good shows and hopefully that worked.
A: Personally for BIH, we were playing locally in NY for a very long time with no real thoughts of getting any bigger than playing local shows, cause we were just goofing around as a band. And then we put out this last record and it was kind of funny, overnight big shift, to where locally maybe thirty people were coming to shows, seventy people at most or something like that and then record came out, good reviews came in and all of a sudden, 500 people within a month. So it was definitely nice for us and validating and making a band, it’s been a band for almost eight years, we want to stay in a band.
What’s been happening since the release of those records? Touring and I know Bear In Heaven released the remix record…
A: We’ve been touring a lot, both of us have now, I can keep track of what Antlers are doing via Twitter.
P: Yeah same with you.
P: The touring finally died down for us about a couple of months ago and we’ve actually been working on another record since September and its just been the studio pretty much every day, all day since then and we’re finishing it up now, so hopefully some time next year we’ll be getting it out.
Will you be playing any of the new songs at the Australian shows?
P: Yeah definitely, we’ve been trying out a handful of them on the past couple of shows we’ve been playing and we’re definitely going to trying to play more and more of these as time goes on, but on the other hand Hospice is the record, I think the reason, we’re coming over so I think it’s mostly Hospice stuff we’ll be playing, seeing as we’ve never been there.
When I think of The Antlers and Bear In Heaven records, they feel like a complete entity, I can’t just listen to one song I have to listen to the whole record. How do you take a record like that and translate it into a live setting?
P: For us we tried to organise it just the way we thought a live show should be organised as opposed to trying to stay completely faithful to the record. But there were certain things about it that the order didn’t change that, things like the opening and the closing of the record seemed to also work well for live shows so we kept those intact and then we would switch up the middle. But I think the mood of the show ended up being the best way to recreate the album live as opposed to trying to do it note for note.
A: BIH is pretty much the same way, I think for a while, we were pretty much playing our first and last songs from the record first and last live, and that worked really well and then all of a sudden you play a set 120 times, and you think ‘Hmm, maybe it could work another way’. But definitely for us, there’s definitely a lot of thought put into set dynamics; stuff that live we might play a little faster, a little louder than it is on the record, rather than playing the record track listing in order, it didn’t make as much sense and you just want to keep tempo up, so we’ve been switching it up a lot lately, which is good. I wish we had been doing that from the beginning.
What’s been your best show in recent memory?
P: We did a show at Radio City Music Hall here in NY opening for The National. I don’t know if that was the best show we ever played but that was one of the more important shows for us. Not that other shows aren’t important, but it kind of felt like a landmark for what we’ve been doing for the past couple of years.
A: It should be man, playing at Radio City that is totally a landmark! I was trying to go to that show and wound up being out of town for it I think.
For Bear In Heaven, I think it was our last show this last tour, we finished up a full year of touring at home in Brooklyn and it just went off without a hitch, not only did we play super well but all our friends were there. Just hitting my tuning pedal at the end of the last song on the last note, to just go out clean, it was kind of like I was hitting it in slow motion it was a very clear moment that I’ll probably never forget. Peter will attest doing a long tour it’s kind of like jumping out of an airplane you don’t know what the hell’s going to happen. It ended in the town where we’re from on such a positive note, it was a very emotionally overwhelming moment.
P: And that place is such a great place to have your tour ending, such a great venue.
Not to take it to a negative place now, but what’s been the worst show you’ve played?
P: I feel like the nature, any show I can think of in the past couple of years there are things that I feel bad complaining about cause at the end of the day there were a good number of people there to see us and it was a great time, so it would be something like a power failure at a show but I think if you’ve ever been in a band that was not successful at some point in time, sometimes a lot of those are your worst shows.
A: The worst shows for us are some sort of weird technical thing going wrong, which doesn’t happen that often but it’ll definitely be something like; we got a light show we tour around with in the States that’s just like a homemade programmed rig floor light system, and we’ve played pretty big clubs but when you get to different cities, you’re playing a 150 sized room in this dirty bar that might not have all the power, so for me for whatever reason my power on my amps would just go off in the middle of a song, and after that happens two or three times during the year each time it gets more and more and more frustrating. That will always bum me out.
But I can pinpoint the worst show. The worst show I think we ever played was unfortunately played in front of 7000 people, it was the opening night of Leeds Festival, it was like a pre-night thing for it cause we had to come back for a wedding and couldn’t play the festival. Anyway we got on, we were super excited – it was like this UK label showcase night, they put out one song by us. We followed a metal band and then we were followed by some twee pop British band that apparently was huge, so we got on and we were playing and the first song we were playing has got this 4/4 kick drum, almost house beat, leading into it and the entire crowd is clapping and jumping up and down. I was like, ‘Oh my God this feels amazing,’ and then just as soon as John started singing they all just crossed their arms (laughs). Somebody threw a soda at John, the crowd just totally turned on us. All because the band, that’s another weird thing about festivals, it’s that a lot of times you’ll get the crowd for the next band, everybody’s freaking out for them and you’re so different. It was the last show of our European tour so we were like ‘Yeah it’s the last show!’ but yeah the kids at this festival were throwing stuff at us so it was definitely a low moment.
Maybe there was like one person there who was converted to Bear In Heaven post-show.
A: Yeah the coolest person in the crowd (laughs).
Do you get nervous before going on stage?
P: I don’t personally, things like that – big festivals things – they can be a bit overwhelming the first time you do them as far as right before you go on. Sometimes I feel like the bigger the show, the more comfortable it is in a weird way, just because it’s so unreal you have to give into it. I think after you play like 100 something shows it’s hard to keep getting nervous from them.
A: Yeah I agree with Peter, I think the bigger the show, the more detached you can get from it, because he’s right, it doesn’t feel real at all. You look at people and it all looks like, you can’t pinpoint faces, you can’t place yourself there, you’re like ‘What am I doing here?’ And it doesn’t feel real so you can just play music. For me it’s the smaller shows with the shorter stages that you’re making eye contact with people I get shyest in those scenarios, but nerves hit sporadically for no reason whatsoever. For the most part I don’t think any of us get nervous. Once you play so many shows it’s like screw it, if you play a bad one you’re playing another one the next night, it feels more of, I dunno, it just doesn’t hit you as much.
What have you got planned in the near future?
P: Aside from this trip to Australia which is on our minds right now as it’s rapidly approaching, we’re completely consumed with recording so I think the big plan for the next year is to put out a new album.
A: And that is the same for Bear In Heaven, we finished this tour right before the holidays so it’s the perfect time to get back and for John to spend some quality time with his wife and for all of us to get our life in order and take a mental break from music and each other cause we’ve been spending so much time with each other. So it worked out well, we get home in the beginning of December and then we’ve got a nice month to chill and visit family and all that stuff, and then January 1 we’re hitting it hard, start writing a new album as soon as possible. Like any band we’re very much interested in writing new music.
When you play your co-headliner shows in Australia, will there be a BIH-Antlers joint encore?
P: I think now we sort of have to! We’ll learn some Bear In Heaven songs (laughs).
Maybe it can be The Antlers covering BIH and vice versa.
A: (laughs) I think we’ll probably choose a third party and cover someone else.
The Antlers and Bear In Heaven play Laneway Festival in Sydney on Sunday 6 February. They’ll also be at The Annandale Hotel on Thursday 10 February, buy tix here. You can follow both bands on Twitter; @BearInHeaven and @theantlers.