The Antiques Listening Party/Interview
Rick Taylor | Oct 10, 2008 | 9:38AM |
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Photos by Bill Jenne

I’ll always remember my first Antiques show.

I might not remember the exact date or who they played with. But I haven’t forgotten the details that matter the most (at least to me).

It was a few years ago at the old Warehouse Next Door (the mighty Scott Verrastro did the booking for the venue; what lucky sods we were!)

I went specifically to hear The Antiques that night because a friend of mine kept mentioning their name to me every time I asked him what he’d been listening to.

“The Antiques, man. The Antiques. I’ve been all about The Antiques lately.”

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Though describing their sound as “moody and introspective,” my friend had a hard time explaining in further detail what this DC-based band sounded like. I asked if their sound could be described as shoegaze (a genre we shared a mutual affection for). “Not really,” he said. “There’s more to them than that.” Of course, this inability to find the right words to sum up what they were doing only peaked my curiosity further.

So there I was at the Warehouse, waiting for this unusual group to take the stage. When they finally did, the first thing I noticed was how shy and out-of-place their singer/guitarist (and songwriter), Greg Svitil, seemed to be. Coming across as a sort of younger, indie rock version of Crispin Glover with a dash of Andy Warhol, Greg spoke softly, gently and a little awkwardly into the microphone to thank the audience for coming and the other bands for playing. And then, striking the band’s first thunderous chord, Greg did something that not enough singers do when they perform live: he became emotionally vulnerable.

It’s not an uncommon sight to see Greg collapse to his knees during an Antiques live show. And there is zero artifice about it. This is a man who simply and purely surrenders himself to the music he makes, re-living all the emotional experiences which served as inspiration in the first place. It may sound a bit odd, but I sometimes feel a little guilty for listening to The Antiques and watching them perform. I can’t help but feel as though I’m invading his (and the band’s) privacy. I’ve found the proverbial diary unlocked and I’m flipping through the pages.

That night, I walked away a happy man with the band’s two CD-Rs and 7” split single. When their debut album, “Sewn with Stitches,” arrived via the Safranin Sound label in 2007, it became an instant favorite of mine, containing a number of songs that are among my all-time favorites (“You’re An Act That Can’t Be Followed” and “Tied to Nowhere” are just two that come to mind.)

And now, the band is here with its second album, “Awake,” an even stronger collection of songs and an overall chillier feel. Trust me, you need to own it. Lucky for you, the band is throwing a new album release party and show tonight at Velvet Lounge. For BYT’s interview/listening party feature on The Antiques, Greg Svitil was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about his mysterious, ever-evolving band.

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BYT: The Antiques have been around a few years but are probably new to many BYT readers. I know there’s been several line-up changes since the band formed. Can you tell us who does what in the band currently and talk a little about the members’ other connections to DC’s underground music scene?

Greg: Sam Chintha plays the drums, Craig Garrett plays the bass, and I play the guitar and sing. Sam is also a member of Torsion Fields and Space Whales, and is the primary member of Vacuole Eyes. Craig plays with Kohoutek and is a part-time participant in Kuschty Rye Ergot. On the new record, Sam also played a lot of guitar, and Kevin Buckholdt played a substantial portion of the organ and drum parts. Kevin is also the primary member of Prom Concussion and a founding member of Parlor Scouts.

BYT: The cover image of the new album, “Awake,” is quite striking. Did you find it somewhere or was it created specifically for The Antiques? Also, can you talk a little about the artwork included inside the cd booklet?

Greg: I spent a lot of time sifting through photography archives and web pages. Over the course of several weeks of looking, there were moments when I was struck immediately by force of the images, and we were very fortunate that each of these artists said “yes” to lending their work to our record. The cover that you mention is a piece by Stephen Carroll called “Travertine Sunset,” which to me conveys a sense of calm and contentment in solitude, or comfort in quietness and even isolation, which is one of the central themes of “Awake.” Similarly, Liz Kasameyer’s “Mother’s Father’s Sweet New England” resonated with me as soon as I saw it. There’s a quiet power to it. Carolina Mayorga’s “Anatomy Study,” from my point of view- and she may have a different take on this- continues and expands on her “Untitled” piece that played such a critical role in the aesthetic of “Sewn with Stitches.” Her insect that we culled for “Awake” carries a similar feeling of transition and growth as the butterfly that she graciously allowed for us to use for the first album, which is also referenced again inside of “Awake.”

BYT: How long did it take you, from the initial songwriting process all the way to the recording, mixing and mastering, to bring your new album to life? Looking at the finished product, how closely does it hew to what you wanted to achieve?

Greg: “Awake” was recorded in brief bursts over eighteen months. It began to take shape while we were still piecing “Sewn with Stitches” together. The first song recorded was “Paper Lanterns.” It was very new, and rather than hone the song over time and allow it to age and evolve, we wanted to commit it to tape while it was still fresh in its infancy and felt emotionally immediate. I knew that I wanted Hugh McElroy, (of Hand-Fed Babies, Equinox, and numerous other projects), Alexia Kauffman, and Jamie Rimmer (from DC-band Five Four) to sing it with me, and I knew that I wanted Alexia to play the cello arrangement. We recorded it at Swim-Two-Birds over a weekend, save for a handful of arrangements that were added later. Every other song on the album was recorded in our homes over this past winter and into the early spring. The album does come quite close to being as I’d envisioned it, which is in no small part the result of recording it in our home environments. The comforts of being in our own spaces proved to be invaluable, as did walking into the recording process with the overall lyrical narrative in mind.
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BYT: In my view, the “Awake” album has a very specific feel––one that is less warm than your debut, “Sewn with Stitches.” From the glacial keyboard lines, Sam Chintha’s skeletal drumming, the tempered guitar and forays into funereal sounding organ-led numbers, this is an album with an overwhelmingly insular atmosphere. And regardless of where you take the listener musically, there is a deeply affecting emotional vulnerability that ties all the songs together. Can you talk a little about how you see the band’s evolution taking shape on this record?

Greg: I think we’ve become more self-sustained and that our process has become more focused. Recording at home changes everything, because you’re in your own element and are without time constraints. Sam and I both record in places where the streets are virtually silent at night, and where we’re able to make some degree of noise at fairly late hours. The quietness coupled with the dead-of-winter outdoor temperatures lent themselves to an insular recording atmosphere. We were able to totally immerse ourselves in what we were doing with almost no external distractions.

BYT: The track “The Procession” is a key example of the band stretching its musical wings and not relying on previous musical approaches. I have to say I find this song to be simply breathtaking and it’s my favorite moment on the new album. I’m very curious how it came together. I understand that you worked with Kismet, a local all-female a cappella group as well as Chris Connelly from Soft Complex on saxophone and cellist Alexia Kaufman on this song. What were the logistical challenges involved with recording it?

Greg: It could have been a logistical challenge, but in the end it was completely the opposite, which is a testament to the musical drive of those who were involved. It was the last song written for the album, and it needed the choral arrangements as well as the saxophones and cello. I attended a Kismet show earlier this year and was just blown away by the beauty of their voices and the incredible sound that they produce on stage as a whole. I knew that their voices would be perfect for the song, and figured that all they could do was say “no,” and that it couldn’t hurt to ask. I approached Catherine, the woman who handles their plans and affairs, and she took the idea back to the group. I was surprised to learn that several members of the group were indeed interested. They treated the song with the utmost care and executed their arrangements flawlessly. I’ve played music in the past with both Chris and Alexia, and I remember that on the days that they recorded their respective saxophone and cello parts, I did very little other than press the record button and make coffee. They are highly skilled with their instruments and treat music with a lot of care, so the whole process of recording that song was particularly exciting for me as I was able to sit back and watch it take shape with such heavy contributions from people outside of the group.

BYT: I’ve always wanted to know what a bee’s nest would sound like if you were to use a tiny, hyper-sensitive microphone to record with. I think you may have satisfied my curiosity with the album opener, “Blackout.” It’s a fascinating sonic prologue and sets an unsettling tone for the songs that follow. What can you tell me about it?

Greg: It’s one of the simpler pieces on the record. It consists entirely of backwards organs and a collage of guitars that Sam developed in an evening. It’s meant to pick up where the last album ends.

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BYT: This striking opening then segues directly into the first proper song, “The Microphone Died.” I’ve seen The Antiques perform this track live many times and I was a little surprised at the way it sounds on the album. Live, it’s much more confrontational emotionally, with your vocals typically more prominent and the lyrics cutting like razors. On record, the vocals are a bit out of reach…inside a foggy sort of haze. Also, the guitars sound colder and a bit muted on record; the overall effect is that the recorded version is less emotionally direct, but at the same time, offers a chillier, more mysterious quality. Is that a fair assessment?

Greg: I think that it is a fair assessment. I wrote the song around the piano and bass, and it wasn’t until we began to play it live that the guitar became more prominent, by default of our instrumentation as a live band.

BYT: “Faceless Edna” is easily the jangliest, seemingly Johnny Marr-influenced track on the album, yet it still fits beautifully within the overall arc of what is a somber and reflective record. It sounds like the kind of track tailor-made for the live environment…Btw, I have to say that the transition from “Faceless Edna” to “I Know the World Ended Tonight” is so seamless, you had me fooled when I first got the cd—I thought it was one song, not two!

Greg: I’ve associated those songs with one another for as long as I’ve known them. They were both written during the same time period, which coincided with the first time I re-read Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening.” “Faceless Edna” tells Chopin’s main character’s story with very few creative liberties taken. The only detail that I altered was in setting Edna’s drowning in the night time, instead of in the afternoon. The song is very short and quick, and is a bit of a heavy lament for me, so it needs “I Know the World Ended Tonight” afterward in order to calm the waters.

BYT: With “I Know the World Ended Tonight,” you launch into a trilogy of non-rock songs (the other two are “You’re Holding My World” and “I’m Always Living With Your Ghost“) dominated by keyboard/organ playing and your voice. Can you talk about the relationship these songs have with each other and the decision behind placing them together in this way? I have to admit, you challenged my preconceived notions of The Antiques’ sound with these lovely songs.

Greg: All three of those songs were written in different houses in different time periods, but they are connected. “I Know the World Ended Tonight” is partly the embers of “Faceless Edna” and partly autobiographical. The other two are more overtly autobiographical, although “I’m Always Living with your Ghost” comes closest to what I had wanted to convey all along. I wanted for it to be as direct as possible. When a song is that short, there’s no room to mince words or to avoid getting to the point. It was written in about an hour and recorded in very few takes and with very little instrumentation.

BYT: “Paper Lanterns” is one of my favorite tracks on “Awake” and is probably the song on your new album I find myself singing along to the most. I know you enlisted some outside help on this one as well. Can you talk about that?

Greg: It needed a group of male and female voices in the choruses, and I naturally thought of Alexia, Jamie, and Hugh since they’re all good friends of mine and so there’s a preexisting comfort level. I listen to Five Four constantly, and find Jamie’s voice intriguing and haunting. I love Alexia’s singing on Soft Complex’s “Barcelona.” Hugh is also one of my favorite local singers with Hand-Fed Babies. The three of them coalesced brilliantly. Alexia’s cello playing is uncommonly expressive and moving, so she was the natural person to ask to play the arrangement for “Paper Lanterns,” which she agreed to do and carried out expertly. We spent two days at Swim-Two-Birds recording that song, along with “Never Mind,” a song that was completed but didn’t end up on the album, and it was just a really memorable experience that yielded exactly the results that we wanted from the outset. There’s a certain positive energy that Hugh brings to his studio that pours into what’s recorded there.

BYT: You close the album in epic fashion with the near 20 minute (!) title track. I know the song “Awake” has been around a while. What changes, if any, have you made to the song over time? Also, can you talk about using this track as a closing piece to the album?

Greg: There was no question that “Awake” would be the final song on the album. I wrote it three years ago in my old bedroom. I remember there being a snowstorm, and drinking lots of coffee to stay up while writing. We didn’t intend to make any changes from its original form whatsoever.

BYT: As with your debut, the new record comes out on Safranin Sound. What can you tell BYT readers about that label?

Greg: The first time I saw Alcian Blue live was an experience I will probably never forget. I absorbed their body of work ravenously, so I was aware of Safranin Sound as their own DIY label. When Jake and Kim began to really expand the label, it was exciting to see so many bands whose music we admire and who we like as people get involved with it, like Ceremony, The Offering, and of course Screen Vinyl Image. It’s natural for us to work with Safranin since we’re all good friends and we all play music for its own sake and as a basic function of living, rather than having some sort of weird careerist approach.

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BYT: Let’s talk touring for a moment here. What is the likelihood of The Antiques traveling outside the DC area to do shows now that you have this new album out? I heard you went on a mini-tour not that long ago–how did that go?

Greg: We are planning to have a short tour of the midwest in November. We’ll be going back to Kalamazoo and Chicago, as well as other places in Indiana and possibly eastern Michigan. Last November we took a week to play in Akron, Cleveland, Dayton, Bloomington, Louisville, and Kalamazoo. The shows were incredible, we saw friends who we hadn’t seen in some time, and made new ones.

BYT: Final question Greg—You’ve got your album release party/show happening Fri. Oct. 10 at Velvet Lounge––how do you feel about that? Are you excited? A little nervous?

Greg: I’m excited. White Wrench Conservatory is a phenomenal band from Milwaukee who we wanted to play with on our travels last year, but the dates didn’t line up in terms of their own touring schedule. If I Had A Hi-Fi is another mind-blowing band from Milwaukee who have made one of the few music videos that I actually like. The Fordists, a local band whose recordings are ultra impressive and who I’ve yet to see live, are releasing their 7″. I’m looking forward to the whole night.

BYT: Thanks for taking the time to chat with BYT Greg! And thanks for being so dedicated and passionate about the music you make. The DC music scene is extremely fortunate to count The Antiques as “one of ours.”

Greg: Thank you, Rick.
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www.myspace.com/antiques
www.safraninsound.com
CD release show-tonight (Friday) @ Velvet Lounge.