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Broke-Ass Band Interview: The Antlers

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The Antlers had a huge year in 2009.  Their album Hospice was included in the year end “best” lists by just about everyone including The Onion, Filter, Pitchfork, and NPR.  Not bad for a band that pretty much didn’t’ exist two years ago.

Last night they played with Ra-Ra Riot at the BAM Sound Like Brooklyn Music Festival and on Monday the 8th they’re playing at San Francisco’s The Warfield with the Editors.  I’d tell you more about all this but I’m a little too hungover from last night’s FREE beer.

Regardless of my condition (previously or currently) I was able to get Michael Lerner, the band’s drummer, on the phone right before a benefit concert for Haiti in which the Antlers were sharing the bill with Patti Smith.  He’s got some great insights into making a living doing music and where to get a good slice of pizza in Brooklyn

Broke-Ass Stuart: So, tell me about this benefit you’re doing tonight.

Michael Lerner: This benefit is a line up that’s um, it’s actually a line-up that I can’t actually believe we’re really doing it. Patti Smith is headlining it and Yo La Tengo is also playing and Swell Season'that is also kinda cool. It’s coo top be playing a show with Oscar winners.

BAS: That’s cool. Where’s it happening at?

ML: It’s at a place called City Winery which is in Tribeca, in New York City, and it’s actually really cool. It’s a place that is pretty out of the ordinary for us because it’s got a bit more of kinda that swanky lounge atmosphere, but I um saw Patrick Watson, I odn’t know if you know him, but he’s a Canadian artist. I saw him a few months ago there. It’s really a nice space. So all those things combined, we’re excited about doing it and just in general to be doing something for the Haiti relief situation, where um we’ve been talking about it and last week when we got the email we all felt really good about being able to contribute, so yeah it’s gonna be really cool for a lot of reasons. And I think they’re also doing a CNN broadcast tonight, so it’s good just to get the word out and make as much money as possible for the efforts down there.

BAS: That’s huge because those are some real broke-asses down there. Those cats are like the poorest people in this hemisphere.

ML: Yeah, that’s true and actually, conversely, whoever is broke-ass will not be attending tonight because it’s super expensive. But you know, aside from us, having those huge names on the bill, you would usually pay a certain amount of money anyway'but yeah you know I won’t get into too much of a diatribe about the situation in Haiti, but it really does basically, no matter who’s like a broke-ass in New York or San Francisco, it really does put things in perspective, no matter what you have or you don’t have, we all should appreciate what we do have because what’s going on down there is really tragic, before the earthquake even. It was just kinda a messed up situation that people have, you know that that’s their day to day life. There’s no way to really put yourself in their shoes. You know?

BAS: Yeah I mean, even a guy living on the streets in San Francisco is still way better off than the poor people in Haiti.

ML: Yeah, it’s ridiculous, that’s why I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live that way day in and day out. But anyway that’s a whole other political discussion. This situation is just something that we feel really good about being involved in and we’re honored to be asked to play.

BAS: Going with that being honored thing, last year was huge for you guys right? What were you doing two years ago? Were you in a band that was touring and was possibly gonna be on the same bill as Patti Smith?

ML: Two years ago?

BAS: Yeah.

This album is really good.

This album is really good.

ML: Um, noooo (laughing), that for sure not. We’ve been together as a band, with this line up, with Peter and Darby and myself for since about spring 2007. We were doing what everybody does. We were playing the circuit for shows with a handful of people, sometimes less, you know. You kind of have to um, that’s what everybody does you know and that '˜s when you get to know that (laughs) you’re really a broke-ass cus a lot of the shows, well you know. Now we feel lucky that we’re getting better opportunities and we’re like able to get money to pay the rent and things like that but before it was certainly common to walk out of a show and not get paid or only getting paid a couple bucks or something. We actually talk about every once in awhile and kinda look at each other in amazement and we’re not really sure how this all happened. And what’s happening next week or next month. It’s all such a weird surreal dram, but it’s not really a dream, so you know it’s pretty crazy.

BAS: So does that mean you’re a musician full time now?

ML: Yeah. Yup.

BAS: What was your last real job? Well not real job, but your last regular job other than getting to play music and doing the thing that you love?

ML: I’ve actually done a lot of stuff for a long time. I used to bartend and then I had my own business for awhile. But the last thing I was doing was pretty boring it was just kinda I was working as and administrative office manager kind of thing but it was a situation where I could work from home or online pretty much so it was the perfect job where I could play music at night and during the day shoot off emails. You know again, not really that exciting to talk about, but it was just something that paid the rent. And now I probably wouldn’t even have time to do it even if I wanted to. It’s just like a weird thing, the hours of the day just kinda fly by and I don’t really wake up early in the morning by nature , but it’s kinda like if you want any personal time gotta try to set the alarm clock an hour earlier.

BAS: Totally. So was it the best feeling in the world to be like, 'œFuck, I don’t have to work this job any more. I can now make my living doing the thing that I love.'? How amazing was that feeling?

ML: It’s a really good feeling. In the past before I was playing with the Antlers where there was a short period of time where there was a tour or some sort of paycheck, but this is kinda like everybody’s dream, you get to do what you wanna do and get paid. The opposite or the flipside of that is that at times there’s a lot of things to deal with and it’s not always just parties and good times, but it’s awesome to be invested in something in which you feel passionate and you know that everything that you’re doing is what you want to be doing. I feel really grateful for that.

BAS: That’s awesome! So you guys are based in Brooklyn right?

ML: Yup.

BAS: That’s dope. We get a lot of readers from Brooklyn and New York in general. So I always like to ask Brooklyn cats this: Where do you fall in the great pizza debate? Like what’s your favorite slice in Brooklyn?

ML: Um'you know I don’t know if I have one particular favorite but I can tell you a couple. There’s one that moved in like a block away from my apartment in Greenpoint where it kept changing different owners and recently it was opened up called Vinnie’s'

BAS: Oh I know that place, it’s right over by the train station right?

ML: On Bedford Avenue in Willimaburg yeah, and so they opened up another one here and it’s actually great because, obviously the pizza really good, but also because the atmosphere in there is kinda like, if you walk in and even if you don’t know the dudes behind the counter, you kinda feel like you just walked into seeing you buddies and your best friends. They’re super friendly and it’s just a pleasure to have them in the neighborhood. So that I would definitely say they are a great addition to the neighborhood.

BAS: Cool. Do you have any other favorite cheap eats?

ML: Well I’ve been trying to eat a lot healthier, so that doesn’t always go with cheap eats. But I really like falafel. That’s kinda healthy right?

BAS: I think so. Do you have a favorite spot?

ML: Yeah, I love this place called Oasis.

BAS: The one right off Bedford?

ML: Yeah, that’s the one.

BAS: Oh that place is great! What about bars? Any favorite dive bars?

ML: Well lately I’ve been trying to go to places a little classier like cocktail lounges, but in terms of dive bars, I’ve been going to the Motor City Bar for years. It’s an old school Lower East Side bar that’s been there for a long time. You know, cheap drinks laid back people, that kind of thing.

BAS: Yes I know the place well. Do they still have the girls dancing in the window?

ML: Not sure, but I was never really a fan of that part of it anyways.

BAS: Me neither. Any other bars?

ML: I also used to go to classic East Village spots like Sophie’s and Blue and Gold in lot.

BAS: Nice! I love those places. Do you have any general tips to help Broke-Asses Save money?

ML: Well my personal philosophy is that money is like energy. It’s meant to be spent. That doesn’t mean you should go out there and spend way beyond your means or anything, it’s just that you should treat yourself sometimes and go out and have fun.

BAS: And one last question: Any good tips for how to save money while on the road?

ML: Yeah for sure. Shop in grocery stores instead of just eating carp food all the time. Not only can you save money but it’s a whole lot better for you. Also buy a big case of water bottles for the van. You’ll save a ton of money compared to buying all those bottles individually at gas stations and places like that.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.