“I think there’s a moment in everyone’s life where it’s this do or die moment,” Anberlin's Stephen Christian acknowledged, minutes after another terrific performance at Anaheim’s House Of Blues on Dec. 3.
“You have this one chance. Do you jump off the train and try to save the day? Do you go out and create some art you don’t think anybody’s ever seen before? Do you quit your day job and go back into television or producing movies? Who knows when that moment is for you? But you have to decide.”
For Anberlin that time is now.
With long, shaggy hair and a stern face, some might suspect Christian to be shy and soft-spoken. In fact, the singer is quite the opposite. Charismatic and outgoing, he radiates a contagious energy to those around him, making it easy to see why Anberlin’s future is so bright.
The band, which also features guitarists Joseph Milligan and Christian McAlhaney, bassist Deon Rexroat and drummer Nathan Young, is currently nearing the end of their two-month tour supporting Motion City Soundtrack and former labelmates Mae. Then after a break for the holidays, they will be entering the studio with around 20 songs to record for their fourth record and first for Universal Republic.
“Lyrically, it’s going to be more like Cities than the other two,” Christian explained. “As far as sonically, I think it’s going to be a cross between ‘Dismantle. Repair.’ and ‘Paperthin Hymn’… Not too intricate that you get lose it, that you get lost, but a little more…epic.”
If it continues to explore the growth Cities demonstrated — one of 2007’s best — there is no telling what could be in store for fans. However, he is quick to point out it will sound like a natural progression.
“We haven’t changed at all,” he pointed out. “Nobody’s going to be like, ‘Who’s this?’… It’s going to be very, very distinctive.”
After working with Aaron Sprinkle, who Christian regards as “almost like a sixth member,” on their previous three records, the band will be collaborating with a different producer this time around. Although his identity can’t officially be revealed quite yet, suffice it to say he has worked with plenty of big bands and is more than capable of taking Anberlin to that next level.
In the meantime, last month saw the release of the b-sides/rarities album Lost Songs, which should be able to tide fans over until the summer when their new effort is scheduled to drop. In the end though, the release wasn’t something the band was entirely pleased with.
“It was contractual. We didn’t want to do it at all,” confessed Christian, chiming in that he personally has never purchased a b-sides record. Tooth & Nail Records originally wanted to put out a Greatest Hits release, which the band was adamantly against, before finally consenting to the current 18-song collection.
“I love my fans too much,” Christian said. “I don’t want to slop something together just to make some money for Tooth & Nail, me or whoever.”
All of this came in the wake as Tooth & Nail’s major label partner, Virgin Records, questionably opted against upgrading Anberlin to their roster. This was a setback for the band, and Christian described the feeling as though they were “trying to slaughter our careers. We worked this hard and suddenly [they] put the nail in the coffin.”
The band eventually settled on Universal Republic, who coincidentally had been pursuing them before Cities was even released. Unfortunately, once they were finally off Tooth & Nail, they received a less than stellar reaction from their former label.
“It felt like they didn’t care anymore. It’s sad,” Christian admitted. “As soon as we left, they were more invested in the money that could be made instead of the lives that they could have touched.”
While he stated “some of my best friends in the entire industry are at Tooth & Nail Records,” he also recognized that, in the end, it is a business.
“With Tooth & Nail, I believe that there’s a glass ceiling. You can go so far and then you kind of have to stay there,” Christian pointed out. “There comes a chance when you have to step out on a limb, go out and see what the rest of the world has for you.”
For Christian, that doesn’t solely include Anberlin. Over the last year, he has been working on a side project under the name Anchor & Braille, with some help from Copeland’s Aaron Marsh.
“These are songs, either lyrically or sonically, which felt like they weren’t in the vein of Anberlin,” he explained. “I think Anberlin is more of like Foo Fighters/Jimmy Eat World fast rock, stuff like that, whereas Anchor & Braille is very much like Sigur Rós/Ryan Adam-ish… I’m not comparing myself to them, just that kind of genre.”
While a few of these songs are circulating around the internet, the official release won’t come out until Anberlin’s latest offering is complete, which is currently Christian’s primary focus. “Until then, I don’t want to get my head in the clouds.”
Besides music, he has also completed work on his first book, entitled The Orphaned Anything’s. Nevertheless, he is hesitant to call himself a writer, preferring the term “tryer” instead.
“We have a lot of down time on the road, so instead of playing video games all the time, I try to pick up writing and stuff like that.”
The book, set for release early next year, is centered around the line “there’s more to living than being alive,” which was incorporated into the song “Alexithymia” on Cities. Christian described the story as the “monotony of life and trying to get out of the sludge and the cyclical world that we put ourselves into… It’s about turning your life around and going, ‘You know what? There has to be something more than just this.’”
Meanwhile, the band finds it exciting to be among the recent uprising of Christians in the mainstream marketplace, which this year has included the likes of Paramore and OneRepublic.
“It’s cool because we can set a lot of different examples for not only the listeners but other bands. We can go, ‘You know what? You really don’t have to do this and participate in the stereotypical rock ‘n’ roll.’”
While the band isn’t a huge fan of the “Christian band” label, the lyrics aren’t afraid to touch on spiritual or philosophical issues.
“I don’t sit down to avoid the word ‘God,’ avoid the word ‘Jesus’ or something like that. That’s never my intention,” Christian explained.
“If I could have any goal in lyrics, it would be to teach a life lesson. Whether out of failures or out of successes. Out of life or death or hate or whatever it is, to hopefully better people’s lives. I don’t want every song to be, ‘Girl, I want to hold your hand cause you’re pretty,’ and I don’t want every song to be like, ‘Well, the third law of thermodynamics states that everything is in the process of decay’... I want a medium where I can relate to that, I can absorb that and I can apply that to my life.”
It’s this sort of attitude which already has the band considering their career a success. No matter how their major label debut performs, it has encouraged them to dream big and give it their best shot.
“And what if it flops?” Christian questioned. “Let’s say we only sell 10,000 of the next record. You know what? I’ve had some of the best years of my life. This has been so much fun. I’ve gotten to tour with amazing bands and live out dreams that I never thought in a million years would be possible. So it’s like why not take the risk?”
Come this time next year, it’s likely fans will be glad they did.