Interview with Anberlin singer Stephen Christian
How are you doing?
Doing wonderful. Iâ€™m here in San Antonio, Texas on our New Surrender headlining tour.
Whatâ€™s the meaning behind the new album name?
Well, New Surrender for me was more of like a motivational speech in two words as best as I could. What it is basically for me is that I think that in everyoneâ€™s life there is something thatâ€™s holding us back from achieving or being what weâ€™re supposed to be or pursuing our dreams, or thereâ€™s something out there. Or maybe itâ€™s something thatâ€™s holding us back and we need to surrender from it. It could be something as mundane as television or cigarettes. Or it could be something as deep as like insecurity or fear but thereâ€™s always something thatâ€™s holding us back from something that we know we need to be and so for me thereâ€™s a lot of lyrics especially on the song, â€œBreatheâ€ that just talk about surrendering from the life that they had once lived and so I think thatâ€™s basically the title for New Surrender.
What lyrics are you most proud of and why?
On this record, I think that Iâ€™m most proud of â€œMiserabile [Visu]â€, the last track on how I weaved it around a story. Also, I really love â€œBreatheâ€. â€œBreatheâ€, â€œMiserabile [Visu]â€, and â€œRetraceâ€ I think would be my top three.
How has New Surrender been taken by critics as opposed to your prior albums?
I really donâ€™t know. I really more stay away from critics but I do read iTunes reviews because critics to me, they donâ€™t buy records, they donâ€™t go out there and purchase the record, they arenâ€™t the fans, they havenâ€™t been with the band for years, they donâ€™t know the back story. So for me, I really pay more attention to iTunes or Amazon ratings because those are people that actually bought the record, and had listened to it or listened to a couple songs and then theyâ€™ve written a review and so for me those mean a lot more because those are people really close to my heart.
You said before New Surrender was your best album hands down, why do you feel that way?
For several reasons, I mean with production value alone, I feel like we had an amazing new producer named Neal Avron whoâ€™s worked with every band from like Fall Out Boy to Wallflowers to Linkin Park to Yellowcard. He just really came in and really just dug and tore apart my lyrics and the music and just made it the best it possibly could be so for me, right away the production. Also, we got a new guitarist named Christian McAlhaney from the band Acceptance. He came in and just kind of shot us with new life and he was just phenomenal on this record, great songwriting and great music that he came up with. Also I feel so confident about the individual songs. I feel like we put so much work into this record, which is the hardest weâ€™ve ever worked for any record, ever. And so those three merits alone I feel like I can walk away and be the most proud of this record.
Iâ€™ve read that Neal Avron has worked with Fall Out Boy and New Found Glory, is he very respectful to your individual style or is there any pressure to drop similar singles?
As far as any pressure from the label to create a single, no not at all. I was so surprised, because Iâ€™ve heard war stories even on Universal Republic where people had come and the label would go and listen to the record and they would shelve it or they would say no, youâ€™ve got to write more singles. But Univers al Republic did not do that at all, not once did they even come to the studio and critique and say no youâ€™ve got to cut this, or thatâ€™s not right. That was incredible, we just handed them the final project and that was it. They loved it and they were so stoked about it. They very much let us go and be Anberlin and we could not be happier for that.
Whatâ€™s been the biggest change going into Universal Republic from Tooth and Nail?
To be honest itâ€™s allowing us the finances to go with a producer like Neal Avron. That was it, because we never could have afforded him on Tooth and Nail Records, and so Neal Avron is the biggest difference between Universal Republic and Tooth and Nail.
How has being stereotyped as a â€œChristianâ€ band affected your audience?
I donâ€™t know, I would hope that the audience would just keep an open mind and just hopefully it wouldnâ€™t matter, they wouldnâ€™t judge us for that. Itâ€™s a sad stereotype because even though a couple of us in the band share a common faith, we never set out to be a Christian band, we donâ€™t play youth groups, we donâ€™t preach on stage. And the negative about being typecast is that when people hear â€œChristian rockers, Anberlinâ€ it kind of turns people off, they are like, â€œyou know what, Iâ€™m not even going to give this band a chance.â€ We could be Led Zepplin, which we arenâ€™t but we could be Led Zepplin but if somebody said, â€œChristian band Led Zepplin, coming to your town, nobody would even check them out online or check out their song on iTunes. Even if they have the most profound music, if you put those two words in front of any band, people are just not going to care. Thatâ€™s what hurts and thatâ€™s what sucks is that thereâ€™s some people that are closed-minded out there that wouldnâ€™t just give Anberlin a chance.
Tell me more about Anchor and Braille.
Anchor and Braille is a side project that was kind of songs or things when I would write them that I knew that they were definitely not Anberlin. And so I wrote up a bunch of songs on piano and guitar and I took them to a producer who is actually also the singer for the band Copeland and he kind of helped me arrange the songs and work on them and we recorded an entire record and I love it and can not wait for it to be out but we have to kind of wait for New Surrender to fade a little bit and as soon as weâ€™re off the touring cycle, maybe next summer we are going to put out the record so that I can tour on it. And so, Anchor and Braille is kind of like the antithesis of Anberlin whereas Anberlin is kind of very much energetic and passionate and like a giant rhino raging and racing towards you whereas Anchor and Braille is very slow and meticulous and very much kind of like what you would listen to if you were in the background of a coffee shop.
Who else is on that project with you or is it just a solo effort?
Itâ€™s just me but I have a plethora of different musicians that live in the area in Central Florida. John Bucklew whoâ€™s also in a local band called Denison Marrs and Copeland and this guy, his nameâ€™s Louis DeFabrizio, heâ€™s in The Kick and Gasoline Heart, which is from the local area. And a whole bunch of singers, female singers that were solo artists. So I try to use a collection of local central Florida artists. Thatâ€™s where Iâ€™m from.
Who has been your biggest influence musically through each of the albums?
I think for the first one I was really into a band called Sense Field. I think without the band Sense Field, Blueprints would not have been around. [Tonight and] Forever is a huge record to us, I mean that was like the staple. With Never Take Friendship Personal, I think for me it was the Cardigans. Thatâ€™s all I was listening to was the Cardigans and the Rolling Stones that time. For Cities, I h ad taken a huge jazz kick. I was listening to blues and jazz everything from B.B. King to Nina Simone to Sonny Stiff. There was Robert Johnson and John Coltrane. And so thatâ€™s all I was listening to for Cities. And then for this one, it was very different. This is the first time Iâ€™ve ever listened to music around my genre, not just specific to my genre. But they have like Bloc Party, The Rogue Wave those are my big bands coming up into this record.
Obviously for each album you put out the whole overtone and the whole mood of the album is changing but what is the biggest thing you want the fans to take away from New Surrender?
Hopefully they take away motivation. They take away a soundtrack for their year. But not only that, I hope they take away inspiration through maybe the lyrics, or through the music. Already people have come up and said this song or this song has gotten me through this situation and that means the world to us. That means so much to us. Two people last night in Houston, our first show came up to me and said, â€œI have cancer and your music and you r record is really helping me through.â€ And that was huge because what is music? All music is, is we are just puppets on a string, we are an entertainment business, we are just simply to take you away from your current position, wherever you are in life we want to take you into another dimension and give you a sigh of relief whether itâ€™s economic hardship or whether itâ€™s something as huge and as heartbreaking and wrenching as cancer. Anything we can do just to make everyoneâ€™s life just a little easier that means the world to us.
Do you feel like with this album you have had more personal relation for fans than with any others before?
Not yet just because itâ€™s simply so new, it just came out. Itâ€™s Friday right now and the record came out Tuesday. So I donâ€™t know if itâ€™s going to hit fans as hard as the other records because I know that Cities, fans felt very much a part of that record, they felt like it was their record. So, I want New Surrender to become that but itâ€™s very much too soon f or me to make that judgment.
Whatâ€™s been the biggest influence on the change of style from album to album?
Definitely from Cities to New Surrender I can say again that itâ€™s Christian and Neal Avron. I think they were two driving forces. And also we wanted to experiment with a lot of different types of tempos and ranges and instruments on this record. So with those three things combined, I think thatâ€™s the biggest difference.
Whatâ€™s your favorite stop on tour?
My favorite on this tour is going to be Los Angeles, getting back home for me; my new home is Los Angeles. Central Florida, thatâ€™s where weâ€™re all from so thatâ€™s going to be great. And in New York City weâ€™re playing an incredible venue so for me those are the three places Iâ€™m excited for.
Where is the craziest audience?
San Diego, without a shadow of a doubt. San Diego is insane. They are incredible, they are always so fierce. And Salt Lake City also. Those are the top crowds. Dallas is going to be incredible, those are the top three crowds of all time for Anberlin.
How long ago did you move out to California?
I moved out there for the record in February. When we started to record the record I just up and moved. I felt like I had lyrically hit a glass ceiling living in central Florida. I had tapped it to its max as far as inspiration and I just needed something new. Honestly, I donâ€™t like LA and I knew that I wouldnâ€™t going into there. But I did know it would give me a different perspective on life, and it would kind of push me another way. I love the nature there. Itâ€™s just awesome with the mountains and the valleys and the hills and the oceanâ€™s right there. But I knew there was a lot of plastic people, thereâ€™s a lot of hardship. And the song â€œDisappearâ€ would not be on the record if I had not lived in LA because the song is about homelessness and each day driving past tent cities and homelessness, it really got to me. It really affected me. I tried to absorb the city as much as I could, and homelessness is a problem LA has, and the homelessness is an underlying theme. And it really came out in songs like â€œDisappearâ€.
Did anybody else move out there?
Nope, just me.
Those are all the questions I had for you, is there anything else you wanted to add?
Great, no thatâ€™s it. Thanks so much! I appreciate it.
Thank you, we look forward to seeing you in Cleveland!