Anberlin: Frontman Stephen Christian Discusses Art and Faith
Florida rockers Anberlin have been together for just over a decade, and what a ride it's been. After starting out small with Tooth & Nail Records and experiencing great success with Blueprints for the Black Market and Never Take Friendship Personal, they soon were playing on the Warped Tour and found themselves signing with Universal Records. Four of their albums have charted in the Billboard Top 20, they have scored a number one Modern Rock single with "Feel Good Drag," worked with major record producers, and toured around the world. It would appear that life has been pretty good for them.
Perhaps more interesting, however, is that Anberlin is one of a rare number of bands -- Switchfoot, Mute Math, P.O.D., and Flyleaf among them -- to move from the Christian music industry into mainstream success.
For years they fought against being labeled as a "Christian rock" band because of the assumptions -- right or wrong -- that the phrase encourages. But that tension has slowly decreased in recent years, and now the band is more at peace with its situation than ever.
Lead singer Stephen Christian spoke on the phone about how the band has grown and evolved throughout the years, what helped to make their latest release so fresh and invigorating for him, where the inspiration for their music comes from, and what the intersection of art and faith looks like for bands like Anberlin.
Up on the Sun: What was the songwriting and recording process like for your most recent record, Vital?
Stephen Christian: Vital was different from previous releases for a couple reasons. One was that our drummer, Nathan Young, started writing songs for us. Typically, the writing process is just Christian (McAlhaney) and Joey (Milligan), our two guitarists. They submit their musical ideas to me. I'll write the lyrics, give them to everybody and then everybody decides on the songs. This time, Nathan submitted three songs and they all turned out to be amazing. It gave us a spark and added some fresh air to this record.
The other major factor was teaming up with Aaron Sprinkle again, who produced our first few records. We'd worked with Neal Avron and Brendan O'Brien on our last two, and they are unbelievable award-winning producers, but we felt like we had learned so much from them that it was time to go back with Aaron. It had been five years and it felt like it was time. It felt like a homecoming. Our pre-production experience in Seattle was phenomenal. In 10 days not only did we pre-produce the entire record, but we had already begun working on two songs, so it was like we picked up where we left off.
How much of the content is autobiographical and how much is observational?
I think it's both. I try not to rehash old ideas or old music because I feel like each record is a snapshot of whatever progression I've gone through or the world has gone through in the previous two years. Whether it be the Egyptian Revolution or families, friends, and relationships, it's a quick snapshot of whatever's happening in the world around me. I think the majority of it is autobiographical, for sure, but that doesn't discount what's going on in the world around me.