Anberlin is truly one of the most consistent bands out there. They continue to create incredible music and are never afraid to expand their sound. They started as indie-alt rockers with an edge and have transformed into a major-label rock band with a huge sound. And through all of these changes, they’ve still managed to keep their authentic Anberlin sound. I had the privilege of chatting with lead singer Stephen Christian. We took some time to talk about a ton of things including their current tour with Switchfoot, the writing process, and Led Zeppelin.
Editorial Note: After our interview, Stephen Christian had to leave Anberlin’s tour with Switchfoot to tend to some urgent family issues at home. Phil Sneed and Dan Marsala from Story Of The Year will fill in on vocals for the remaining shows on this tour. In a press release, the band said:”They were available at the last minute and have agreed to help us out. This is sure to be a memorable experience, and we are beyond stoked to have those guys out with us. This is all the more reason to come out and share in this unique show experience! We assure you it will be way too much fun, so come out and do this with us!!”
Pop-Break: So you guys are currently on tour with Switchfoot.
Stephen Christian: Yeah, it’s incredible so far.
PB: A lot of your fans are really excited for that. How did you guys get together to do it? It’s kind of an unusual pairing, but people seem pumped.
SC: Yeah I mean, they have been absolutely incredible shows. I mean, the majority of them have sold out and people just seem to be like blown away. I mean, it’s kind of been years in the mix. We’ve really admired Switchfoot from afar and been friends with a few of them throughout the years. And so every time it seems that we wanted to tour, something got in our way. But finally, it’s here and it’s everything it’s cracked up to be. I was even telling Jon [Foreman of Switchfoot] the other day, I’m like, “Man, we have to do this again, we just have to. Someday, we gotta go back on tour because this is just too incredible.”
PB: Wow you guys already decided that, that’s sick.
SC: They’re such great people, such good, good musicians, such great hearts.
PB: Both bands have a Christian background. Does that have anything to do with the mixing, or is that just coincidental?
SC: I mean, it’s really cool that they are. But, you know, we didn’t choose to go on tour together just because of our religion. If that was the case, we definitely wouldn’t tour with the majority of the bands that we do. But, I mean it’s just one of those things. It’s really cool to have something in common with another band.
PB: Very cool. And you guys also just got off an Australian tour a few weeks back. How did that go?
SC: It was amazing, man. We did what was called ‘An evening with’ … and we basically played about two and a half hours a night. We did only five shows. I don’t think we’ll ever do it again. But man, it was so incredible, yet nerve-wracking, because like we just pulled out so many songs that we haven’t played for years and years and years. So it was really cool, very great evening. And we may never do it again, but it was one of those things that I’m glad we did once in our lives.
PB: That’s crazy. Yeah, I heard you guys played almost like 30 songs and you had an acoustic set in the middle. So you don’t think you’ll ever do something like that again?
SC: I don’t know. I don’t think so because it was kind of one of those things that it was Australia exclusive and that was our seventh time going there. And so, it was one of those things that it needed to be unique for them just because we’ve toured there so many times.
PB: Being on tour, are you guys writing right now, too?
SC: Yeah, we are. We have about 40 songs done musically, and only about eight done lyrically. But we’ should, you know, spend all fall writing and probably get back in the studio next February.
PB: So when do you think we’ll be able to hear something new?
SC: Oh man, actually I’m hoping to play something on this tour. I wanna at least try out a new song here or there.
PB: What’s the writing process like for this album? You guys make the music and then vocals come along? How does it usually work?
SC: Christian [McAlhaney, Guitar] and Joey [Milligan, Guitar] kind of lay the musical foundation and they send it to me, and I’ll put words and music and I’ll send it back to them. You know, kind of revolve the song around the lyrics and melody. And then they’ll give it to the bass [Deon Rexroat] and drummer [Nathan Young] and it kind of, it’s a complete song.
PB: And has it been the same like that pretty much for the last few albums, too?
SC: That’s kind of where we are now. I mean, it’s taken us a few records to get here, but it just seems to be the best for the band as a whole.
PB: With your last album, you worked with famed producer Brendan O’Brien, which is pretty huge. What was that like?
SC: It was incredible. It was mind-blowing, it was something that we could never have thought would be even humanly possible in this band. But Universal Republic was unbelievable to be able to, you know, take a chance on us and allow us to work with probably the greatest name in rock production right now.
PB: That’s awesome. Have you guys decided if you want to work with him again or if you’re going to work with someone else? Or is that still too far away?
SC: He’s definitely in the running. We’ve narrowed it down to about three producers that we’re looking at and he is definitely still in the running. He for sure has my vote, but you know, I am simply one of five.
PB: Being with a group of five guys all the time, going on the road together for long periods of time. That’s got to get hard. You guys have been around for a while now, how’ve you been able to keep it up?
SC: Well, because, I think, we’ve moved from musicians to friends and from friends to brothers. And that’s where we’re at now. I mean, I think that we’re nothing less than just a little family.
PB: When did you personally decide that you wanted to make your career as a singer for a rock band?
SC: Well, you know, it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t want to. I was a month away from graduating college in 2002 at University of Central Florida, and I was working for this non-profit organization that, you know, I was hopefully working when I got out of college. And a month before I was graduating, my boss comes to me and basically fires me for no reason. Just says, ‘Hey you know, I think that our roads are diverging in the woods and we’re going one way and you’re going another, and I don’t think that we want you here with us’. And I was heart-wrenched. Because I felt like I had contributed so much to this organization. I felt like this is exactly what I wanted to do. I felt like I had so many ideas. And a month later, we got signed to Tooth & Nail and I hit the road and here we are nine years later.
PB: Wow. That’s an incredible turn of events right there. I guess that all worked out for the best huh?
SC: [laughs] Yeah. Well, it turns out his son is a fan of mine and I feel like, yeah that’s kind of revenge.
PB: So what’s up with Anchor & Braille right now? Is that gonna be coming around anytime soon?
SC: I’m basically done writing a record and it looks like I got my second band mate. Anchor & Braille has been just me, but now a guy named Mike Attosh from Nashville who put out a record on the same label, WoodWater, is gonna be in the band full time. And then, we are looking to get producer Dave Elkins, who was the singer of Mae, to produce the record this Fall.
PB: Oh awesome. So when are we going to hear that stuff you think?
SC: I have no idea. As soon as the record label says “Jump,” I say “Really? Can I?”
PB: What’s an average day like for you when you’re not on tour and you’re just doing your own thing?
SC: Oh, when I’m not on tour?! Oh, it’s terrible. No, I’m just kidding. It’s just on tour, really we only work for, you know, an hour and a half a day, and the rest of the time is down time. But when I’m home, it’s a lot different. Friends in Nashville are just amazing. You know, we don’t have a lot of restaurants, we don’t have a lot of clubs or venues. But what we do have is back porches. And so we always end up on each others porches barbequing, hanging out, just talking, and having a great night. You know, that’s just what I love to do. Usually in the morning, it’s coffee shops and hanging out and running errands during the day and somebody’s back porch at night.
PB: That’s the way to do it.
SC: Yeah, I love it. It’s the best life.
PB: For bands that are trying to come up right now, in this day and age, it’s really hard to succeed like you guys are right now. Do you have any advice for youngins who are trying to do the same thing?
SC: Absolutely, man. Write a song a day. Just … listen. Write every day. Every day. If you’re a lyricist, write poetry every day. I don’t care how stupid it is or how bad the song is — you’ve got to. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about songs. You can have the look, you can have the label, you can have the radio team. But if the songs suck, there’s nothing you can do. I mean, so just concentrate at being the best songwriter you can possibly be.
PB: That’s good advice. It seems like most people are so caught up in just promoting that they forget that writings the most important part really.
SC: Absolutely. You’re absolutely right.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
PB: Chinese food or mexican food?
PB: Taking Back Sunday or Brand New? Musically.
SC: Oh no. Taking Back Sunday. Those are my good friends, man! Those are really good friends of ours!
PB: West Coast or East Coast?
SC: Aw, that’s rough. That’s brutal. Uh, West Coast.
PB: Ice cream or frozen yogurt?
SC: Frozen yogurt.
PB: Mac or PC?
SC: Mac! What the heck is a PC?
PB: Comedy or action movies?
PB: McDonalds or Burger King?
SC: Burger King.
PB: Anberlin or Led Zeppelin?
SC: [laughs] Led Zeppelin all the way.
PB: Yeah? How do you pick them?!
SC: Over Anberlin?!
PB: But it’s Anberlin — that’s your shit!
SC: I don’t, I know, but! He’s Robert Plant!
PB: I don’t know, you’re pretty close, no?
SC: They created rock and roll, okay? Pioneers.
PB: Well, maybe you guys will be the pioneers for the next generation. Who knows?
SC: I hope so, man. That would be unbelievable.