Stephen Christian (Anberlin/Anchor & Braille)

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An Interview With Stephen Christian

Frontman for Anberlin and Anchor&Braille

By: Brandon Jones for Indie Vision Music.com

We haven’t spoken in a few years so I think it’s fine time that we catch everyone up to speed on what’s happened in the past 4 years since I interviewed you last..

Stephen: how would i begin? life looks so different to me now, 4 years ago i was living/sleeping out of a van, on 2 dollars a day to eat with, wondering if we would get to tour again soon. now i am living out of my car on this anchor&braille tour traveling with only 2 other people, at least now we have hotel rooms (even if they are motel 8’s).

i got a dog named juneau (a great dane), moved to st. pete, then to los angeles, and now reside in nashville. i started a few projects and signed to a new label. i could keep going, a lot has happened.

So tell me a little bit about Anchor & Braille. How did it get started, the meaning behind the name and the reasons for you doing a side project in the first place?

Stephen: A&B started because i had a surplus of songs written just sitting on my laptop. i have been playing solo for many years with these random songs and i called aaron marsh (Copeland) and asked him if he would produce an EP of a few of these songs for me. turned out some great songs and knew that i wanted to complete it and make it an entire record.

the record has been done for awhile but there were some hold ups, first the transition for anberlin going to a major held the record back, then  i realized that i didn’t want to push a record that i couldn’t tour on.

the ‘stars aligned’ when universal allowed me to start my own label ‘woodwater records’ and put out my first release… anchor&braille; then copeland asked me to tour with them on my time off from anberlin and i knew it was time to drop ‘felt’.

depth&feeling is what i was going for in this side project. hence anchor&braille.

the reason: i needed a little ying and yang in my life. anberlin is one extreme of music, lyrics, live show, energy, etc. i was absolutely getting burned out. a&b gives me the other side, wide variety of musicians and instrumentation, and the tempo and lyrics are as diverse from anberlin as it gets. balance, it all comes down to balance in life, A&B gives that to me.

Anchor & Braille have a new album coming out on August 4th. What label is it on or is it an independent release? How many songs are on the album, who produced it, and what musicians played on the recording?

Stephen: A&B comes out on my own label woodwater records, a subsidiary of universal music. as you know it is exciting to own a record label but costs SO MUCH MONEY.

aaron marsh produced it, and the musicians are john bucklew, louis defribrezio, micah tawlks, ana becker, racheal platting, and a few other brass players from our local community. i like it because it is as close as central florida has ever come to creating something like a broken social scene.

Do you expect to tour much in support of the Anchor and Braille album? If so, where will you be making stops? Any chance of you popping up during an Anberlin gig and playing Anchor and Braille songs?

Stephen: i would love to tour with anberlin half the time and a&b half the time, but i know that is not possible (i would have 4 other very angry guys breathing down my neck). but i will try to tour AS MUCH as i possibly can, on as diverse tours as i can take. i want to create it where each tour i am with different musicians (sometimes Americana, sometimes indie-instrumental heavy, etc.) so i can continue to expand my musical horizons.

i think i will pop into random record stores and try my best to put on a one man show, if someone has a piano i think were golden.

So what inspired you with this set of songs for the Anchor and Braille album? What moves you on a personal level and how does your Faith play a part in the creation of your music?

first off faith in Jesus Christ plays into everything i do in my life, on and off stage. if it were not for the numerous blessings i believe there would be no band, no music, perhaps no life since i, as many people do, have dealt with severe depression in my past.

A&B deals with topics that i normally could not sing about in anberlin. it’s not that i don’t think the broad mass could handle the lyrical baggage, but that the songs themselves call for a lens, if you will, to see the hope in the midst of the failure on this record. i show people my flaws, and a lot of them are not pretty. at all.

the first song sets out with an episode of my life i called ‘rust’ in which a dear family member was hospitalized and due to the medication in which they were allergic to was thrust into a state of amnesia. it was perhaps the most ominous of all the days in my life thus far and the only therapy post was to write a song putting myself in the place of the person on the hospital bed, waking up to the fact that no one in this world looks familiar. i see now that we are a collection of memories, without whom we would be lost. so as you can see these are not cheerful pop song with a catchy chorus, but an unpleasant memory in which the listener is pushed to being my psychologist, not simply a bystander.

So I’ve heard you write song lyrics daily in a journal. One of our readers wants to know how this process works for you and Anberlin? How many songs/lyrics do you write that never get put into song?

Stephen: there are hundreds of songs floating out there, the majority to personal or to jejune to ever be put to music, but for the most part they (the journals) are the source of my inspiration, if you will. i have always said that you have your entire life to write your first record, and from there it is a collection of memories in which you expound on, and you can see why most bands would feel this way to because of the heavy laden tour schedule. i think for me i understood this early and tried myself to expound immediately on massive events in my life immediately through pen and paper.

basically Christian, joey, or I write music and pass it around to each other so that it gets ‘cleaned up’, from there i listen to the music and immediately i can hear what the song wants to say. that’s not trying to be arty or spiritual, it’s a complex way of saying if its poppy i shouldn’t sing about death and if its dark and heavy i shouldn’t sing about hugs and kisses.

from there i go back to my journal and figure out what one liners, or situations in life best fit the song. i try to sing about ONLY what has happened in my own life personally, it would be absolutely hard for me to relate or put passion behind lyrics that someone else wrote for me.

Switching gears here for a moment and back to the Anberlin questions….

What are your general thoughts on the reception of New Surrender among fans? How do you feel New Surrender stacks up against the rest of your discography? Did you feel pressured to write “Hits” or “Catchy songs”?

Stephen: the fans seem to love it, truly it was the most diverse of all our records but i think it gave people a chance to catch their breath after the weighty ‘cities’. we could have continued to write that dark, but we would have soon found ourselves musically where we could never return to our potential of the more pop or ‘ballad’ forms of anberlin. i feel though new surrender may not be the best piece of artwork we have ever put out i do feel that i have NEVER worked harder on any record in my life, nor i have i ever put so much thought, time, energy, passion, into a song. i honestly found the end of myself working on that record, i had my first brian Wilson moment where i felt like i was going to collapse from the pressure of the other band mates, the label, the fans, and mostly myself.

i did not feel pressure to write any sort of songs, but simply to write the best songs of my career. and there are a few i am absolutely proud of and feel are some of the best crafted songs of my career. for instance when i sat down to the piano to write what is now called ‘breaking’ i ended of writing a great song musically but horrible lyrics/melodies. so i re-wrote and re-wrote and rewrote to the point i had changed the song completely (lyrics/melodies/harmonies) three times and still was not satisfied till i/neal avron came up with the end of the song (the three line tag line). that was months and months of work. so as you can see i have learned to be meticulous and calculated, and then scrap it all and let the feeling and reality back into the song to actually make it anberlin.

How do you as a band like your place on a major label? Are you glad you made the switch?

Stephen: yes.

absolutely yes. i have nothing negative to say about tooth and nail, what a great label! any starting out band would be lucky to find a label as supportive as them.

for us, as anberlin, we hit a glass ceiling; we didn’t find ourselves fitting in with the rest of the genre’s of bands that we found ourselves surrounded with. we have to be honest with ourselves at some point, we are a rock-pop band and that’s where we belong, and the best place for a band like that is on the radio. we did not have much luck on the radio front with tooth&nail and wanted to be reassured that we could have another chance on the radio. we were not reassured.

universal is incredible, i like the business relationship of the deal; you do your job and we will do ours. deal. so we write songs and tour our hearts out. they live up to their side too. and then some.

Radio has openly embraced your new album and Feel Good Drag is played on practically every major alternative station in the country. I myself have heard it on KROQ, and Alt Nation on Sirius. What has the process been like for getting your songs on radio and how difficult has it actually been to get a charting position? I notice your new(er) single “Breaking” has taken forever to come out, is there a reason for this? Will there be a third single?

Stephen: well i cannot take much credit for the song besides helping to write it and believing that it had the potential to make it to a broad radio audience. the new single took forever because fgd is STILL in the top 10 after 42 weeks INSANE! so no radio station wanted to push a new single by us till the old one was gone… its still not gone.

we hope there is a third, and forth, and fifth! but it is up to the radio and its audience, not us. but breaking is starting to react and i hope that it climbs high enough that we get a chance to see a third single.

When can we expect Anberlin to enter the studio again and will there be a fifth full length any time soon?

Stephen: yes, actually just got off the phone with mngt. trying to figure out when we can all get together to start talking about producers and such. if i had to guess i would say that it is going to come out sept of 2010, but again that is the stars aligning and the music starts flowing.

What future touring plans do you have for Anberlin? What big bands do you expect that you’ll go out with on tour? Any other secrets you can divulge?

Stephen: we are going international, that is the plan. we want to do internal Europe, south america, and the Baltic region as soon as possible. we leave in 2 weeks to do japan, Singapore, Australia, & new Zealand. a Canadian tour is in the works as we speak.

we are not neglecting the mother land and plan to do 2 more headlining tours before we go back to the studio.

secrets. well one of us just got over an addiction. to coffee. or at least for a few days, im trying to do this detox, after eating fast food for the last few months on the road i need to ‘get clean’.

i think that we are not going to quit before jimmy eat world and the foo fighters take us out. but as far as bands we are taking out on our headlining i think a lot of people are going to be shocked in the best way possible.

What inspires you collectively as a group when it comes to songwriting?

Stephen: i can’t answer for them. for me it is simply sitting down to a piano and basically take ideas from my journal. the last song that i wrote is about a person looking at a fractured mirror and trying to be honest about what he looks like. a lot of people lie to themselves about themselves, to make it out like that they are fine, or the drugs aren’t really taking THAT big of a toll on them. but its just a fractured mirror. we will see if the song ever sees the light of day. i am not happy with it in its current state.

What are your top 5 favorite artists/albums from the past few years? What are you listening to currently? What bands of the past (classics) are you the biggest fan of?

Stephen: past few years

  1. ryan adams- easy tiger
  2. broken social scene- you forgot it in people
  3. devandra banhart-cripple crow
  4. the killers-sams town
  5. rogue wave- descended like vultures

now i like songs from: phoenix, passion pit, grizzly bear, rocco deluca, rufas wainwright, bon iver, & fleet foxes.

What direction do you want to see Anberlin or Anchor and Braille take in the next 5 years? Where do you see yourself as a songwriter when you hit 40?

Stephen: i want anberlin to stay anberlin, a rock-pop band with broad yet positive lyrics. i want a&b to explore new produces, musicians, ways of communicating, and deeper therapeutic lyrics.  when i hit 40 i want to be no where NEAR music, i want to have a garden, roof, and a few kids and wife, all while working in/for a non profit org. if i write music it would be for other people, unless Paul McCartney answers my emails and wants to finally do a duet record.

Knowing that the economy is in shambles and the music industry is suffering, where does Anberlin stand in the situation? How do you as a band make it success wise when it comes to playing your music and bringing in an income? I know it’s not easy being in a touring lesser known band trying to make your mark when you have to compete with so many other similar artists out there. How do you guys stand a part from the pack? What individual qualities set your band apart from all the trendy sound a like clones out there?

Stephen: honestly if i was in this for the money i would have been out many many years ago. Success for me happened when we all quit college/high school/ our jobs and took off to hit the road.

for anberlin i can see that the guys do this for the passion of it, and i really admire that. they believe what they are doing is right and that this is where they are supposed to be in life. i feel that even if i left anberlin that they would go on to do great things in the music world.

i am blessed to be surrounded by good musicians who really look out for each other.

Did you guys sign a 360 degree deal with your label? How is that working out for you?

Stephen: no, thank God. its sad that labels are doing that with so many bands, but here again is another casualty of war when people go out and think they are harmlessly burning a CD. it will get worse, there will be a lot more casualties in this war. i find it so funny when bands tell people to burn their CD’s because someday soon they will want to sign with a label, and then they will be handed a 360 deal. then they will go march right out of that office, get online and write a mass email to their fans to please stop burning bands CD’s. but it will be to late, they won’t be able to afford to quit their part time job at starbucks and tour.

What do you think of the music industry as it is right now? Do you have any advice for fledgling bands?

Stephen: yes. utilize the internet, its free and it is a way to be from anywhere and gain fans everywhere! myspace, twit, facebook, purevolume, etc. you can make it happen. but concentrate on the songs because that is what people are listening to online.

which brings me to my next point, CONCENTRATE ON SONG WRITING! write then write then write some more. when i was 16 i wrote 2 poems a day for years because i wanted to be a writer. luckily for me lyrics are simply poems set to music. SURE! the poems were horrible! but it got my mind working and wrapping its head around words and their meanings, and rhyming. if you are dedicated, prove it. write songs/lyrics/stories/music every day.

So I’m spinning some Sagoh 24-7 right now, specifically the “And Then I Corrupt Youth” album. I know you hate bringing up the past, but is there any possibility for Anberlin to cover “Regrettable Paris”, “Celeste’s Song”, or “Solace”? Did you notice that someone from Rescue Records put the album up on Itunes? Crazy. How do you Joey, and Deon feel about your work in Sagoh, looking back on it now?

Stephen: i have no idea who is selling the record, but i can tell you if i could shut it down i would; saGoh was ripped off by rescue, as they have many of their bands. someone is making money (putting out comps) using our name, and i’m sure that i could get our lawyer involved but we are not. i figure that someday that they will find God and actually do the right thing with their ‘christian label’.  sad.

as i look back i am rather embarrassed, i never really was into the whole punk rock thing, even though i loved the message that we put out. those were some good (&innocent) times in our lives. when i look back i see friendships and memories; not music.

i am not sure how joey, deon, or nate feel about those times. we were all in our teenage years and everyone is entitled to a few mistakes then…

So what are your thoughts on Christian fans that have followed you (Anberlin) since day one? How do they contrast with the general music fan that may have found out about you because of “Feel Good Drag” and/or “Breaking”? Is it tough getting through thick headed “Rockers” who just want to jam to Anberlin alongside groups like Nickelback and Seether?

Stephen: i feel the same as i feel about every fan, i honestly love them all. i am not about to segregate and say that one is better than the other because i am going to perform&write for christians and non-christians alike.

i want to go out there and ‘let my light so shine…’, i am not going to put on one mask for one set of people then hide in the shadows with others.

i am excited that so many people have taken us as ‘their band’, i am even MORE excited that anberlin has granted me a platform to speak my heart and (hopefully) inspire people to change their lives for the better.

Tell me a little bit about your work with the organization Faceless International? How did that come to pass? What inspired your quest to work in impoverished nations? Is Faceless International YOUR organization or do you share that duty with others? If so, whom?

i helped start faceless in 2006 while on a trip to work on farms in haiti, with a dear friend sarah freeman.  the basic idea is to go into all the world and preach the gospel, and when prompted using words.

our main mission is for children, regardless of race, color, or creed. for me there is a special place in my heart for those affected by human trafficking, it hurts me so bad to know that this goes on in our ‘modern’ times.

my inspiration for the work is because the bible says ‘this is pure religion to love the widows and orphans…’ for me this verse alone was one of the biggest reasons for my conversion to christianity.

there are many people who help me, as you can tell i am busy doing a few other things as well. sarah freeman, seth cain, Julia marie, & lori lenz have been vital to the well being of faceless.

What trips do you have planned for Faceless International? How receptive are the kids over there to your missions work?

Stephen: in 2010 we are planning on going to India, ukraine, Atlanta, nyc, mexico, and guatamala. these trips are open for ANYONE to go and if they would like to come they need to check out the info on facelessinternational.com or email sarah@facelessinternational.com

we do more than just build relationships, we help work on projects that the town desperately needs. for instance we are going to India this winter and building a clean water system next to the local orphanage. we want to build relationships but also do our part to see that the towns thrive.

If Anberlin were to break up in the next few years, where do you see yourself as a songwriter, musician, and struggling adult? Do you have any family plans for the near future, like settling down and starting a family, that sort of thing?

Stephen: i have no idea what the future hold but honestly all of the above (except the struggling part) sounds really good to me!

Wrapping this up now. How do you feel about the reception to your book “The Orphaned Anythings”? Will you write another book?

Stephen: at first i thought that the book was just going to be received by a few anberlin fans and that was it, but now i see that there are tons of people who have picked up this book and passed it along. there was even a class in ohio that used it in their classroom as required reading! what an unreal experience.

yes i really really want to, now if i can only figure out how to multiply myself it would be out soon. one of me for anberlin, one for a&b, one for faceless, one to be an author/speaker, one to be home, etc.

Well that about concludes this interview. How can us the fans of you and your band, best support you as a struggling musician? Any prayer requests?

Stephen: pray, just keep praying. please. i don’t think anything else in my life has had such effect, and thank you for that.

Thanks for doing this interview with me, I appreciate it. Maybe we’ll see each other again in the near future. God bless.

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