Making your debut album isn’t exactly easy work. Just ask the young Milwaukee folk rockers Antler House. The band began recording its debut "Through The Dirt" in early 2013. Finally, over a year later, the finished product emerged. And for many in the Milwaukee music scene, the wait turned out to be pretty much worth it, as the album wound up on some local Best of 2014 lists.
Now, for the three-man band out of Shorewood, it’s simply a matter of keeping that momentum up – a process that includes an upcoming show at Café Bremen on Saturday night, as well as a gig on Sunday, March 1 at Yield as a part of the inaugural Arte Para Todos local music festival.
OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to sit down and check in with Antler House bandmates Sean Anderson and John Johnson to discuss their last album, their already-in-the-works follow-up and their Oregonian "archenemies" that snatched their original name.
OnMilwaukee.com: How did you guys come together?
Sean Anderson: Me and John McCabe, the dummer, we’ve been playing music together since high school. We played in a couple of crappy bands in high school, just putzing around. I went away to college up north for a year at Northland College. I ended up coming back to Milwaukee the next year, and when I did, I wanted to more seriously get into music. So I started writing my own songs on acoustic guitar and stuff, and naturally we started playing them together.
My dad had just gotten Pro Tools, so we had the Pro Tools setup in the basement, so we started recording stuff as well. I’d say, "Hey, come over. I’ve got something," and then he’d f*ck around. That’s kind of how that started, and by the time we had 10 songs together – really rough – we thought let’s start trying to play these out. We knew Johnson from high school.
John Johnson: We all went to school together at Shorewood.
SA: We were brainstorming, and we were like, "Who can we get to play guitar with us who’s really easy-going and will let us show him the songs we have and get those to performing level." And it was like, "Oh … Johnson."
JJ: That was the spring of 2013.
SA: We were trying to get ready for this one show, and after that, we just started playing open mics and Bremen Café. We still play there all the time now.
OMC: In 2013, you guys started recording your first album?
SA: Yep. We went to Barrington (Ill.) to a factory with Mike Hoffmann, a producer who plays with Semi-Twang and Delta Routine. So we spent a few nights there recording. We brought that back, and it was weird hearing a recording like that after I’d been recording alone in my basement for a year before that. So it was kind of weird for me, and I wanted to maybe control too much of that. That’s when I started added too many overdubs and redoing my guitar part and stuff.
OMC: What in particular was displeasing you about the original recording?
SA: It was my acoustic guitar sound. It was a little weird, so I went through and redid everything. We kept his electric guitar and the drum tracks. Other than that, I did all my guitar and vocals at my house.
JJ: We came up with other back-up vocals and melodies to go over it, overdubbing and layering.
OMC: You were quoted as saying that you almost self-diagnosed yourself as OCD in the process.
SA: Yeah, pretty much. It was a lot of time to do it that probably didn’t need to be that much time.
But with this new one – we’re doing a new EP right now – we started recording in November with Shane (Hochstetler) at Howl Street Recordings. It’s five songs, and they’re a lot boomier. They’re more so what we’ve making as a band since we’ve formed rather than songs that I wrote myself. They’re a lot more energetic; they have more of a live aspect to them. Right now, we’re in the process of doing a little bit of overdubbing, but I don’t want to do too much because I want to leave the raw sounds and everything.
OMC: Was this new emphasis on boominess something you really wanted to work on coming off of the last album?
JJ: I think we just naturally progressed toward that. We started as this little folk outfit with you two guys, and then I came and there was an electric guitar with the acoustic, and I would start to play slightly heavier stuff.
SA: So now we kind of have a balance of the folkiness and the hard rock-ness.
JJ: At the same time, Sean’s almost been writing more folk songs. We’re hoping that, if we do another album, we can put that on there to contrast with the heavier stuff.
OMC: How did you notice your writing change since that first album, since those were older songs?
SA: It’s actually all pretty similar. I feel I’ve gotten a little bit better at it. Maybe the songs are a little more sophisticated, but at the same time, they’re still how I’ve always written songs. But once we start playing them live, that’s when they transform into something a little bit heavier. And that doesn’t always mean louder, maybe just dynamic.
OMC: Do you remember a specific time where a song was coming alive on stage like that?
SA: This song called "Blank Photo Album" that’s from the first record, that’s one I had this really crappy quiet demo of that I did years ago. He was always telling me, "We should bring that song back! We should play that," and I was like, "That song sucks." (laughs)
JJ: I really liked that song. I listened to the demo all the time.
SA: But then, when we started figuring out how to play it live – he started playing with the e-bow, which is an electronic bow, and getting the drums in there and stuff – it evolved into this crazy, cinematic … it’s one of my favorite songs from the first album. That’s an example of how a song went from something I was going to sweep under brought back to life.
JJ: That song’s really special to me because of the lyrics. It’s kind of about our hometown of Shorewood, more like the beach specifically.
OMC: When are you hoping to get this new EP out?
JJ: Hopefully we’ll get it out faster than the last one. (laughs)
SA: We definitely will.
JJ. It took us like a year.
SA: It took us like way over that. We have all the mixed final versions of us three in the studio, so now we’re just going to do some touches, and then we’re going to send it back and try not worry about it too much. If we end up putting some of the other songs we’ve been working on outside of the studio, it might be a little bit longer, but it’ll make the album longer, and it’ll balance the folkiness and the rock.
OMC: Was it easier this time laying off of the perfection?
SA: Yeah, I don’t want to do too much. When we left the studio the first time after recording, we were listening to them in the car, and we’re like, "This sounds great just the way it is." We really don’t want to mess with it.
OMC: Where did the name come from?
SA: We had a name called Elk Attack. So that was starting up, and I really liked that name.
JJ: I liked that name a lot.
SA: I liked that name A LOT. That was when I was starting to write songs and put them on Bandcamp. But at the same time, some other band in Oregon had the exact same name. We were kind of both aware of one another, but all of a sudden, they released an album and they started getting big and touring. So one day, I got an email saying, "Hey Sean. I know we talked about this before, but do you think you could change your name?"
So we were sitting around in John McCabe’s old house, and his roommates had painted this huge thing of a deer skeleton/skull thing. And he was like, "F*ck it, how about Antler House?" We were, like, sure. We’ve talked about changing it early on, but now it’s too late.
JJ: They’re our archenemies. I think we should deem that right now. I hope they see this interview. (laughs)
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.