Since Anberlin’s inception in 2002, the alternative rock quintet, consisting of frontman Stephen Christian, bassist Deon Rexroat, drummer Nathan Young, guitarists Christian McAlhaney and Joseph Milligan, have released four albums , selling over 400,00 copies to date. “Yeah, that’s insane,” says Stephan Christians about the band’s success. “You just don’t sit back and pat yourself on the back. You sit down and go, ‘How can I write a better song? How can I put on a better show? How can I sing better?’ We still want to improve. We don’t want to sit back and be rock stars and take life for granted. We want to go out there with all our hearts and put on the best show we possibly can.”
Now with the follow-up to 2007’s Billboard topping hit Cities, Anberlin is currently in anticipation of their major-label debut New Surrender out this fall. “I’m really excited about it. It looks like this will be the best Anberlin album to date,” says Christian.
FanBolt recently caught up with the dynamic singer and discovered why Anberlin are one of the few bands truly in it for the right reason.
You’ve often been praised by fans for your distinct vocals. Who do you admire, singer-wise?
Anthony Green [of Circa Survive] because I think he’s a very inspiring and refreshing singer. Most singers start to sound the same after a while, but his voice just really stands out, like Morrissey or Jeff Buckley. [He sounds] a little more unique. I think that’s why I appreciate him.
Since the band has recently signed a deal with Universal Republic, what is your response to backlash from listeners who claim you’ve “sold-out?”
I think people would be surprised to know how many bands are on a major label. You have everything from Fall Out Boy to My Chemical Romance to Muse to New Found Glory to Jimmy Eat World. The list goes on and on and on…
There’s this really great interview with Dave Eggers. You should Google “Dave Eggers” and “sell-out.” He’s an amazing author and wrote this awesome topic about “What is really selling-out?” I think it will change a lot of people’s minds about selling-out. It’s such a great, great resource. It really tackles the issue well.
Anberlin is openly Christian, so it’s interesting to hear about Christian groups out there who verbally attack the band. What is your opinion on that?
I just don’t think they understand us. They don’t understand that Christians are even in the music business. This is our profession, so we get a lot of flak for touring with bands like My Chemical Romance and Yellowcard. They just don’t understand, and I don’t care. I feel at peace with what I’m doing. I guess you just have to feel that peacefulness in your heart from what you’re doing. I think at the end of the day, that’s what matters.
What do you like and dislike most about the music industry nowadays?
I dislike the fact that image has taken the place of so many great bands. There’s a lot of great bands, but because they don’t have a certain stylist or their hair is not a certain color [people don’t care.] That being the negative. People are more selling the people than selling the music. The positive is there’s been a rejuvenation of artists writing their own music, and that has been very encouraging.
It’s been so exciting to watch the scene grow from a whole bunch of little local underground bands to now – all of our friends’ bands showing up on The Billboard Top 40. That’s such a great feeling. I mean, we started several years ago. Boy bands and Creed were like the biggest thing.
You started the organization Faceless International and went to India last year to fight human trafficking. Why do you think it’s important to give back, and how has charity work affected you?
Well, I think it’s important for everyone to do their part. Not only musicians, but doctors, teachers and lawyers – any profession. They should get involved in changing the world around them.
I think it has affected me in several ways: It has given me more responsibility. When I come back, I can’t just block those images in my mind. You have to set out and make a difference in your community. You can’t just put those images in the backburner. In another way, it gives me a responsibility to help tell people about it, not only about India, but about causes and organizations and rallying for the betterment of the world.
It’s our duty philosophically. But not only that, if you try to live your entire life for yourself, you’re going to find so much unhappiness. I don’t care how much money or how much influence and power you have. You’re going to be very unhappy at the end of your life because you’ll realize that what makes you truly happy is helping other people. I think that’s what matters the most. I think there’s a responsibility for us as humans and also as Americans be we are the super power of the world. We do have a lot of opportunity that a lot of other countries don’t have.
So instead of buying a newer computer even though your old one works, take some of that money and donate it to a cause, go get involved or even start your own cause or organization.
Hopefully we get to a point where this is a normality amongst all entertainers, not just a few. You point out Chris Martin or Bono, but hopefully it will be every single one.
Public figures have often been scrutinized for their activism in other countries, with the argument that the U.S. also faces struggles and could use more assistance. What are your thoughts on that kind of criticism?
But in order to influence people you have to take it to the extreme. Let’s say we went to help paint some buildings in our local area or something. I don’t think interviewers would even care.
Sure, we’ve driven passed impoverished parts of our country. But if you take a band into the Red Light District, where there are 10-year-olds who have children and nine-year-olds who are pregnant; those are the things that completely waken you up. It’s absolute poverty, where kids are digging through trash for their next meal. That’s something we don’t see here in the United States. So I had to shock them into taking a better and more pro-active approach.
And we are involved in the U.S. I’ve worked two summers for Habitat for Humanity. We’re currently involved with To Write Love On Her Arms, an organization to fight depression and internal struggle. I don’t just focus on the rest of the world. I make sure I help my own community, my own state, my own country as well.
What initially drew you to a cause like To Write Love On Her Arms?
If you look at the average fans of The Warped Tour, kids with green hair and piercings, they’re not the popular ones around school. They’re not the ones who are going to be in the fraternities or sororities. I think these are the ones who feel almost ostracized or out casted.
To Write Love On Her Arms caters to those needs; people who are cutting themselves, talking about suicide or struggling with depression. To Write Love On Her Arms compliments Anberlin as whole, on our tours and meeting the needs of our fans. Beyond that, I’m a huge fan of [TWLOHA founder] Jaimie [Tworkowski]. I think he’s an incredible human being and musician. I told him when he was working for a company called Hurley, “Jaimie, you have to quit, man. There’s so much more in this world for you. Just get out.” A year later he called me back and said, “Man, I think I found it!” I stood right behind him and we talked about it. I was like, “Hey, I really think you should tour with us and open up the set every night by introducing your organization.” It was an amazing experience.
Interview By: Jeanette Nguyen