An Interview with Stephen Christian (Anberlin)
Interview Date: July 7th, 2010
By Brandon Jones / Indie Vision Music
It has been a year since I last spoke with Stephen Christian, the front man for popular rock band, Anberlin. Stephen also has a side project known as “Anchor and Braille”. In celebration of our 10 year anniversary and Anberlin’s upcoming album “Dark is a Way, Light is a Place” (Due out (9.21.10), I revisit the past, the present, and look into the future of this gentleman’s life. This, my friends, is Stephen Christian.
So tell me a little bit about what you’ve been up to lately, or what has gone down in your life on a personal level the past year or so.
Stephen: I feel so much has happened in one years time, I uprooted from LA where I had been living and headed west, for no apparent reason. On our list of top 5 cities we wanted to move to (Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, NYC, Or Ashville, NC) We chose Nashville. We didn’t know why but in retrospect see that this was the right place for us to be.
I found a great Church here and surrounded myself with a group of guys that are outstanding influences (just last night I went to a bible study with a few guys from Paper Route and Paramore). With so much on the road that at moments puts me at odds with God, it is good to come home to a solid foundation.
On a band level, we recorded the record in Nashville (not my choice, it just happened) at Blackbird Studio with Producer Brendan O’Brien. It was an experience I will not soon forget, I feel luck to have had that chance.
Faceless International is taking off, we now have two full time employees and two part time. It is incredible to watch this thing grow even as I take a step back to pursue the band.
Do all of the band members live relatively close to one another?
Stephen: Christian lives in San Diego, Kyle in LA., Deon in St. Pete, Nate in Tampa, and Joey in Winter Haven. We tour so much we never have the chance to miss each other though.
How has your songwriting been affected by your personal life, or any struggles you may have experienced?
Stephen: They are directly corelated. I have never written a song where I wrote just for something catchy or a pop stick chorus. Each song is a story of my life. This record for me is the most “Spiritual”. It still doesn’t and never will be classified as “Christian Rock” but it’s cathartic for me.
Speaking of the new album “Dark is a Way, Light is a Place” (9.21.10), where did the inspiration for the album concept come from?
Stephen: It comes from a Dylan Thomas Poem called “Happy Birthday”, i put my spin on it but he is at the moment, my favorite poet. Kyle Flynn (keyboards) turned me on to him a quite some time ago and sense then i have read everything i could get my hands on.
What is different about the production level on this new album then compared to your previous 4 efforts? Maybe you could tell our readers a little bit about who produced it and the experience working with him?
Stephen: Brendan O’brien has produced such bands/acts as bruce springsteen, pearl jam, and rage against the machine; he won a grammy last year (producer of the year) for ac/dc’s last record. he is incredible, and i came out with not only our best record of all time but a dear friend (who wanted me to go play halo with him last night but sadly i could not. btw i murder him every time.)
Would you say that this new release is your “Best” album ever or your absolute favorite of the 5 releases?
Stephen: New Surrender in our (the entire bands) opinion is our worst record to date. it just is. its not that the songs were necessarily bad, it was that there was NO SOUL in that record at all. it was stiff, straight, and sterile. at one point while writing the label called me and said basically ‘if this record fails its on your head’. from that point i went a little, well… Brian Wilson. i ran off to new orleans and just fell apart. usually songs come so easy for me, ideas and melodies flow through my head most of the day, but everything in me froze.
i really tried everything i could think of the get out from under the pressure. but nothing worked. this record is different, it feels different and everyone from the label to the people i have let hear the record know it.
this record flowed, it was effortless and felt like the entire world just fell into place every step of the way for me. if this record doesn’t work then i think we as anberlin are going to hang it up, we believe in this record that much.
Fans all have their opinions of which album is their favorite, mine being “Cities”, but which one do you feel most proud of including the new one?
Stephen: the best record is going to be ‘dark’ but out of all the other records my favorite is NTFP, if you listen to songs individually i think they are some of our best to date. i can’t believe we made that record when we did, in a world of sophomore slumps NTFP is currently our biggest seller.
What did Brendan O’Brien think of the new album? Is he a fan now?
Stephen: Brendan is a fan now, but i think he believed in us even before we stepped into the studio or he would have approached us to work with him. i think that is what i am going to take away from this recording process, a new found sense of belief in myself that we are good at what we do. He trusted us and went along with a lot of our ideas, and if BOB thinks it’s a good idea it’s a freakin good idea.
Did you collaborate with any other singers/musicians on this new album? Any duets? I am sure Justin Bieber would love to sing on one of your songs. Hehe. Do you have any collaborations planned for the future?
Stephen: We really really really wanted to work with either Stevie Nicks or Nina Persson on this record but neither worked out. i was so bummed. no collaborations as of yet but i am still waiting for Morrissey or Paul Mcartney to call me back. honestly though there is a song on the new record that we sent to Drake to see if he wanted to use it, the song is called ‘art of war’ and has an amazing beat that totally sounds like something he would use.
What are your favorite tracks on the new album and favorite lyrics? Could you write down a few lyrics to entice fans?
Stephen: down right now is my favorite, its in the vein of unwinding cable car;
feel like a shell of yesteryears gone by
bad decisions like ghosts that just won’t die
im so sorry that i can’t apologize
for what comes next is another long goodbye
Will there be a making of dvd like there was for Cities? and will there be a special edition with bonus songs?
Stephen: yes, all of the above.
Being a Christian like you are, do you find it difficult working in the mainstream when so many people are hesitant to like anything “Christian” related? What has the reception been like on radio stations nationwide that are spinning your songs? I know for instance, Sirius Satellite Radio said some not nice things about you guys being “Christian” guys (I forget the quote). Has this been difficult for your careers?
Stephen: I don’t find it difficult at all, at the end of the day we are entertainers and people simply want to be entertained. a good song is a good song, if people like it they will spin it. the funny thing about Sirius is that we have been in there twice to be interviewed/play live. they can talk all the trash they want about our band as long as they keep playing it. i am not going to back down from anything that i believe because it doesn’t look ‘cool’ or ‘rock’ to someone else. bands and songs come and go but at the core some things last forever.
As a Christian, what hopes do you have for the future and how do want to personally impact culture and the general public at large? Where do you see yourself a year from now, 5 years from now, 10 years from now, and so on?
Stephen: I think faceless encompasses a lot of what you just mentioned above. i would love to get involved with politics to push my abolitionist agenda on a much different scale then what i am currently working at. other than that i think i have the same goals as everyone else, figure out what else i want out of life, find a home and have some kids. but all that looks so far off right now.
Your lyrics have always had a sort of thinly veiled spiritual tint to them yet not so bold that they chase the general public off. How has this worked for you as a songwriter and what changes are there lyrically on the new album? What words of wisdom do you have for Christian youth that may have taken up issue with your ambiguous lyrical content?
Stephen: Oh, i have no words of wisdom or remorse for christians or anyone, when it comes to my lyrics, writing, or beliefs i can only be myself and remember that at the end of the day i have an audience of ONE (and they are not that ONE.)
How has your Faith played a role in the creation of Anberlin music? Do the other guys in the band share your same vision? I know people change and lives change over the years but do you feel there is some sort of consistency that keeps you guys together and do you share the same outlook on life as a collective group?
Stephen: I think that every single human has to work out their own beliefs or salvation with fear and trembling, so to say that any group has a single unified mind sounds like a drone of robots not a band, a company, or even a country.
We have all found our own routes of attempts to affect our culture for the better. for some it is merely the music, and for others it is starting NPO’s. no one is greater than the other as long as they are attempting to make this world better place, yet keeping themselves unspotted from it.
Speaking of tours or upcoming tours, who will be going out with you guys soon? What bands do you plan to tour with in the fall? Will there ever be an Anberlin arena rock tour sometime next year? Do you see yourselves touring with a band like Kings of Leon or Muse or even Paramore?
Stephen: All of the above! We are planning a headline tour this fall, i think this tour is going to be SO different from anything we have ever done. long gone are the days of playing the same set every night, we are going to be mixing up the light display, and songs every night. we want people to come follow the entire tour because they have no idea what the next night is going to be like.
What would be a dream tour for you guys? Any chance of going back out with Taking Back Sunday?
Stephen: We have gone out with TBS a lot lately, and that is NOT a bad thing. i think if we did another tour with them it would have to be overseas. but the dream tour would be with the foo fighters, kings of leon, u2 or a rolling stones world tour. all sound great. maybe all 5 of us?!
Real quick, name your top 5 albums of the past year and why? Favorite top 5 albums of all time?
Stephen: Ahhhh the pressure. top 5 pandora stations: phoenix 1901, django reinhardt, passion pit, beach house, but for a good summer BBQ on the deck you have to have it set to ryan adams. 5 all time 1. grace-jeff buckley, 2. the queen is dead-smiths 3. let it be- beatles 4. kid a-radiohead 5. weekend in the city- bloc party
What are some of the bands you’re listening to lately? From a lyrical standpoint, who most inspires your writing(s)? Who is the most influential person in your life right now?
Stephen: Devendra banhart, eddie arnold, Patrick Watson, light parade, & micah tawlks. lyrically and even melodically i really love Brandon Flowers, he is a star in the mire of mediocrity. the most influential people in my life are seth cain, my brother paul & my father; i think those three people really impact my world.
Favorite Bible verse and why?
Stephen: the entire book of James. not just one verse, all of it.
Okay my wife is bugging me to ask you this. Do you still hate Walt Disney World (Florida) or Disneyland (California)? Have you been back to either theme park in the past few years?
Stephen: Since leaving florida i am fine with all of it, my dad just took my little sister there a couple days ago and he said they had a great time; that doesn’t mean ill go anytime soon but still someone i know gets enjoyment out of it.
I swore I’d never ask you these questions or dig up the past but is there a chance Anberlin will ever cover your old band’s song (Regrettable Paris)? Could you ever play a secret unannounced gig under a different moniker and get away with it (meaning you’d play Anberlin songs but do it with a secret name that only fans would know). I really want to have a 10 Year Indie Vision Music anniversary gig this year, any chance you’d play it secretly? Hehe. The 10 year anniversary of ….Then I Corrupt Youth is next year, any chance of you, Joey, and Deon reuniting under the Sagoh name to play a few songs off that album?
Stephen: no. ha.
My son would like to see you guys again and maybe have you sign something for him or say hi so he can tell everyone that he really has spoken to Anberlin, any chance you’ll hit up Orange County, CA again?
Stephen: Of course! we will be there in September/October. anything for you guys b!
Favorite 5 restaurants in the world that you’ve eaten at and why do they hold a special place in your memories? I know it’s a silly question but I find little stuff like that interesting.
- chipotle- its my brothers favorite and a tour staple.
- pace’ (LA, California)- only dorian, tess, Julia, and john legend will ever know why.
- marche’ (Nashville)- best food in town, the staple ‘date night’ spot.
- six arms (seattle)- atmosphere, good food, great location.
- Dos Caminos in NYC. unreal guac.
Any plans in the future for the group of Anberlin to move out west?
Stephen: i just moved east!
Will we ever see Stephen Christian as an actor in films? Where do you see your career (personally) heading in the future apart from Anberlin?
Stephen: My brother was the lead in the most recent “the final destination” his name is bobby campo and he is going to be a massive movie star in the near future. i told him that on his next movie i want to have a cameo or at least an ‘extra’ part.
If Anberlin ever breaks up, what do you want to do with your life and what plans do you have in store for the future?
Stephen: There are so many things i would love to do. i would love to work at spring hill camp in MI, or work for a record label or even a publishing company. but i know that my heart will lead me back to humanitarian work, i don’t think i would ever be fulfilled outside of that.
Last 5 movies you watched?
Stephen: Oh man, i don’t really watch a lot of movies so it would have to be zombieland, avatar, and i can’t remember anything else off the top of my head but the local theatre is playing trolls 2 so were going to see it on friday. i am into tv shows and love breaking bad, modern fam, office, 30 rock, and my favorite MADMEN! (i want to be an extra on that show!)
Well that about concludes my part of the interview and now I promised our readers to use some of their questions for the rest. Thank you for your time and for always granting me the opportunity to interview you over the years. Can you believe it’s been almost 10 years since I booked Sagoh for my old little Church in San Juan Capistrano? Wow time flies man. I wish we could stay in touch more often but life is hectic sometimes and you know how that goes. Hopefully we’ll meet up at one of your local shows around The OC. Take care and God bless you brother….
Fan Submitted Questions:
Are you still journaling? If so, what’s something awesome you’ve written about lately?
Stephen: yes! always. how small we are in this galaxy. we think our lives are so grand but we are so small and insignificant and the fact that i cannot believe a God cares about us leeches sucking off planet earth, it blows my mind.
What has God been dealing with you about lately, and can it be seen at all on the new record?
Stephen: Nothing is held secret from God, nothing at all. (listen to Pray Tell off the new record)
Also, are there any limitations regarding expressing your faith as opposed to your days at Tooth & Nail?
Stephen: Not at all, i actually feel more liberated because there is not that pressure. in a way i felt like people just expected us to be a ‘christian band’ when we were on t&n but now i feel no pressure at all and i can be whoever or whatever i want. labels want to make money, i could sing mary had a little lamb 12 times on an album and as long as it sells a lot the label wouldn’t care.
You’ve stated that Blueprints… was about a man’s relationship to the world, that Never Take Friendship… was about interpersonal relationships, and that Cities was about a man’s relationship to himself. In a sentence, what would you say Dark Is The Way is about?
Stephen: Self, selfishness, and salvation.
Would you or the band be interested in doing an indie movie with Anberlin music featured in it?
Stephen: Yes. have your people call my people.
And would you like to do a dvd chronicling the history of Anberlin?
Stephen: Yes, see above.
When do we expect to hear “Empires” the New Anchor&Braille song?
Stephen: On the vinyl, that should be released in fall, 2010.
Will you tour Anchor&Braille again in the future?
Stephen: As soon as Damien Rice, Ryan Adams, Tom Petty, Duncan Sheik, or Feist calls. (yes, yes i will).
When writing songs when do you realize you are writing an Anchor&Braille song as opposed to Anberlin?
Stephen: The mood, depth of lyrics, and instrumentation usually dictate.
Favorite song to play live? Least favorite song to play live and why?
Stephen: Whatever the crowd is singing along with, that’s my favorite song.
What has been your proudest achievement as a musician?
Stephen: Being able to create 5 records in my life. less than 1% of all bands sell more than 1,000 copies of their record i have been lucky enough to sell enough to make 5.
Did you purposefully try to move in a very different direction from New Surrender with the new album or did that just kind of happen on it’s own?
Stephen: No, it was an awkward wave of self doubt. but we are over that now and back to anberlin.
Any word on progress of a new book, an Anchor & Braille album, and Faceless?
Stephen: They are all progressing, at different rates. i wrote a book for my mom called ‘you are safe here’ i may just stick it online because i don’t think it is good for mass consumption. faceless is going to blow up (no thanks to me, we have some AMAZING people that have come on board to help), and A&B is on hold until ‘dark’ has completed whatever it is going to do.
Have there been conflicts with writing/performing for Anchor & Braille?
Stephen: Not yet, (knocks on wood).
When will preorders for the album be up? Any chance of touring with Switchfoot in the future?
Stephen: We have long talked about going out with switchfoot, only time will tell. preorders for tickets and albums will be up by the end of july or so i am told.
Any idea if future (indie) movies will be using your music? I know the Christian horror film “House” featured some of your songs.
Stephen: It’s up to our publishing company. I am excited to see what they come up with. In the meantime we are currently the theme song for the x games this year and a bunch of video games.