When Anberlin was in town for their Chicago show at the Metro back on April 10, 2006, I got a chance to sit down with lead singer Stephen Christian for an interview. Anberlin started in Florida and signed with Tooth and Nail Records back in the summer of 2002. Since then they have had all kinds of success, including selling over 100,000 copies of their latest CD, 'Never Take Friendship Personal.' Anberlin just finished up the Tooth and Nail Tour with Emery, Far-Less, and The Fold on April 26, 2006.
To avoid the ever-infamous first question of the interview by asking Stephen what their band name meant, I figured I would include this tidbit of information before the beginning of the interview. I found from an earlier interview with bassist Deon Rexroat that, "We were all just talking one day and I think Stephen was trying to say "and Berlin" but it came out "anberlin." It was about the same time we were trying to come up with a band name, so we used it."
Stephen, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to meet with UnRated Magazine.
Yeah my pleasure.
You like Chicago?
Oh I love it, one of my favorite cities for sure there's so much to see and you never ever get tired of it.
How's the tour so far?
Awesome, I think all but 4 shows have sold out. It's been really a lot of fun.
That's got to be encouraging...
Oh yeah! The most encouraging part is when people sing along, that's when you can tell you're making a difference. Ticket sales are one thing, anyone can go see a show, everyone wants to be entertained, but it's great when people want to sing along and dance and stuff like that. That's when you actually know you are breaking some ground.
Let's start off by taking a trip down memory lane... When you were a kid playing and writing music, did you ever think that you would sell a couple hundred thousand CD's, have headlining tours, and have people embrace your music all over the world?
No Way! That's so funny my first guitar experiences and singing were like horrible Nirvana knockoffs, they had a song "I think I'm dumb", and my first song was like "people think I'm stupid" I don't even know it was such a bad Nirvana rip-off because all I knew how to do was play one chord at a time (makes guitar noises), they were like one-note songs.
Does the success as of late get you to take a step back and look at how your musical career has gone to this point?
It's exciting, but I don't think we take a step back and pat ourselves on the back as much as people expect us to. Our family members are like wow I saw you on here, or your friends will call and say "dude I just saw you on this commercial" or something crazy like "I just put in a new video game and you had one of the tracks on it." People expect you to kind of step back; well we don't look at it like that because this is our everyday life. I'm not saying it feels like a 9 to 5 job by any means. We just want to go out in each city and put on the best show we can. We don't want to sit back and be like "dude, we finally made it! Someone go get me a cigar." It feels really cool just to be able to do this because your whole life you hear if you pursue your dreams you can make it. If you work at it you'll make it. I guess it really doesn't even dawn on me that we are in a tour bus... like it just doesn't even hit you. This is all so brand new to us, we've been on the road pretty much 10 half months a year since we started, so you never really have time to sit back you know. I think I'll realize it more when I'm like 50 and I do a Google search on Anberlin and I see all these hits and stuff like that. I think that's when it will dawn on me like, oh crap we actually made some ground or we actually did something.
I've seen from other interviews that you come from a musical background and family. Was there anybody who supported you more than others?
No, I had a best friend named Heath Brigette. We came from a very gospel background. He was from my church and he was always so good at singing and everyone always told him oh you are going to get a recording contract; you're going to be huge. He did end up getting signed by Atlantic records, but he never ended up putting anything out. So he always influenced me to not necessarily to get into the record business but I was forced to harmonize...because if you want to keep up with Heath Brigette you got to learn how to harmonize. There wasn't like a specific family member that supported me more than another, my family just as of late came by my side and was like oh you are doing something with your life...because my two brothers are both studying in law school, and my sister is studying to be a doctor of psychology. So we have three doctors, and like, me.
Yeah that is right along the lines of my next question... what about the naysayers... was there ever anybody who told you to give up the music thing, and do something that they might consider to be productive with your life?
My mom tried to give me a list of jobs, and a list of girls I should settle down with because she just wanted me to live the 9 to 5 life with her. But as of late, I really think that they kind of appreciate what's been happening. We were mentioned in an interview for some magazine that my mom reads, and she flipped out. Then our song was on Regis and Kelly about a week ago and my mom pretty much had a conniption and she called me and now we're her favorite band. Now everything is hunky-dory because we were on Regis and Kelly. Once here circle of friends knows, then I'm in.
311 had much success with the cover of Love Song... Did that get under your skin at all that you guys had what I consider a much better version, and released it before 311, but they seemed to get amazing play and publicity out of it?
Well thanks Dan...It didn't because it's a good song and the Cure did it...obviously they are phenomenal. We did it about 8 months before 311, but they were on a major label, so obviously ours would never see the light of day. But I guess the thing that I found crazy was the fact that not only 311 did it and that it got voted most horrible cover song of the year... but when random people would come up to me and be like dude I can't believe you covered 311... at shows because we used to play it live. We were like oh do you not know anything about music at all. Please don't tell me you're serious. You're joking right... it was sad.
Who were some of your musical influences or idols when growing up?
Growing up actually in my family, for being a bunch of musicians, we didn't listen to a lot of music. My mom was really into classical music, and you know we had to take piano and stuff like that, but anything that was on the radio we would listen to. I remember being out in my back yard pretending to be some grunge rocker, probably Scott Wylan. I remember doing a Stone Temple Pilots song with a broomstick in my hand. That was the first time I felt like that would be such a rush, I felt like wow that could be really cool to one day to do that. But nobody ever influenced me to put my drive into music. But now that I've gotten into this band, I definitely want to try and be a connoisseur of music. I don't want to be naïve to every aspect of music. Jazz to Blues to Bluegrass... I would like to think that I'm an aficionado. Though I'm very ignorant as far as depths of any one type of music, lately I've been getting into a lot of Blues, like Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and B.B. King. I just want to explore their fathom of music. There was such depth and emotion in it. There is something so appealing about what came from something as hideous as slavery. And when you walk out of slavery, what's the first step/natural progression in music is Blues... there is something that draws me. Because I think a lot of times artists and lyricists write out of our hurts and our tragedies, and things that have gone awry in our lives. But my awry and tragedies could not even compare with slavery. So it's like, if this is my depth, and this is my tragedy and I can write this music... and then to think what is there depth, and to hear Buddy Guy sing, 'I live the life I love, and I love the life I live'...knowing full on well what the word persecution means, there is something emotionally attached to that.
As far as my personal influences...definitely would have to be Jimmy Gnecco from 'Ours,' Jeff Buckley, The Smiths, Jim Morrissey. There is something so pure about their music to me, it's not for everybody for sure. Again I'm not a music aficionado; I'm just an opinionated rock star.
In the near future, what are some bands you would like to tour with?
I would love to go out with the Foo Fighters, or Jimmy Eat World, or The Smiths reunion tour. I don't know, I think it would just be very humbling to go out with any of those bands. I would just like to stay away one specific genre, from always being in the indie rock scene. I would like to move into more turmoiled waters. I wouldn't mind going out with Aerosmith, or The Rolling Stones. I think that would be huge, so much fun, a whole different dynamic of performing you know. I mean anything would be cool, I just love being on tour. I don't care really who it's with, it's just always a lot of fun.
So the massive amounts of touring and traveling hasn't gotten to you guys yet?
Well I mean it does, there was a period last year where we went on tour with Juliana Theory; that was a month and a half, and then we jumped on with Fall Out Boy for a month and a half; so we were on the road for 3 months... and this was all from a van. So by the last week of the tour I couldn't even tell you what happened. I was in a daze; I was completely out of it. I would just sit in the van for hours on end and just stare at the seat in front of me. I was so mentally gone. Like the movie 'Ground Hog Day,' everyday would repeat itself.
Do you have any idea how many copies you've sold to date of your new album, "Never Take Friendship Personal"?
I'm not aware, like b/c in the world it would be a lot more than just the United States. So I don't know. I know it's over 100,000 ...
Yeah I saw you guys broke that mark, congratulations, that's pretty sweet...
Thank you very much, yeah it was a big day, I think we all went to Quiznos to celebrate or something.
Thanks again to Stephen Christian from Anberlin, and MSOPR for making this interview happen.