Interview: Stephen Christian of Anberlin


Recently I was able to catch up with the lead vocalist of Anberlin, Stephen Christian, for an in-depth interview about the band’s new EP entitled Silverline. We chatted about the legacy of Anberlin, the memories Stephen has from visiting each city as they go on tour, as well as what the band learned about their storied discography through each of their livestreams during the pandemic. Silverline will be released July 29th via Equal Vision Records.

Thank you for your time today and congrats on the upcoming release of your new EP called Silverline. What is your range of emotions with Anberlin’s first release of a new record since 2014’s Lowborn?

I mean, they’re very broad. I just feel like one reason that this is so set apart from any other record, besides perhaps maybe our first one, is that the passion is absolutely all there, intact. We don’t have a lot of confines on us, like a record label who’s constantly breathing down our necks, especially at the beginning of the process. I mean, obviously right now we do with Equal Vision, and they have been phenomenal. But before we even created this record, we had no record label. We “shopped” the product afterwards. And so that was really incredible. And also, we had six years to write this record. We have been working on it for six years, and we had six years of life experience to be able to pour into one record, as opposed to being on the road for eight or 10 months a year, and then about two years after your release, you’ve got to be back in the studio, writing your heart out. So, I think that there has been an incredible amount of time, which allows us to be able to really take risks and dive all in. We don’t have to say, “Okay, we only have three weeks in the studio.” We have as much time as we want. Our studio’s right here in town. My producer, Chad Crothers, flies down from Nashville to work on my vocals with me. But I call him on my schedule saying, “Hey, I’m ready. Let’s go.” And we both have to wait till we’re both comfortable with what I’ve come up with as far as melodies and lyrics before he jumps on a plane. So it’s just it’s been a lot of fun. There hasn’t been a moment of negativity, or a strain of stress. It’s been so far a pure joy to come together for Silverline

That’s great to hear! What was the writing process like for this EP? With the more time that you had available to you guys as bandmates, like you mentioned, what went into the process for this record?

The majority of the time, it’s been either Christian <McAlhaney>, or Joe<Miligan>, who’s written musically for our products, a little bit of me, and a little bit of Nate <Young>. But for the most part, those two are the primary songwriters. And then they’ll hand it over to me, and then I’ll write lyrics and melody lines on top of it, and send it back to all of us in the band. And then from there, we just kind of narrow down who likes the song, figure out if we do not like this song; a voting process in a way. This record is a little bit different, because two of the songs that went on this project for Silverline, in particular, these were Anchor & Braille songs that were supposed to come out on the last record Tension, but I, at the last minute held them back because I just heard them sonically and lyrically as Anberlin. So, for Anchor & Braille I came up with very electronic, a little more popular, synth-heavy, and what Anberlin came up with, was very different from start to finish. But it was really cool to be able to work with Chad Carouthers, my producer, for both on Tension and with Anberlin on all these batches of songs, and come up with them. And then interpret it through the filter of Anberlin, and then release it on Silverline.

That’s awesome. So you mentioned Anchor & Braille. What’s the status of your solo work for that project as well as what you’ve released under your own name, like the Wildfires record.

Well, honestly, I just want to continue writing music. And I’m not saying Anberlin will do it for now. Or that I just want to continually be putting something out. Right now, the season is all Anberlin as far as songwriting, creativity, getting in the studio, we’re playing some shows and festivals. So as long as my appetite for creation is fulfilled, honestly it doesn’t matter to what extent or to where these releases happen. So I think in a year from now, when the waters have slowed as far as Anberlin is concerned, I could totally see myself going back to Anchor & Braille, because that is such a passion project for me. I’m so proud of those records. You know, when I hear those songs, even on Songs For the Late Night Drive Home, I’m just so proud of them. I’ve watched, I’ve crafted my mold and my shape to myself. And it’s just a different kind of dynamic as opposed to writing with the other guys. Both are processes, and both have their advantages and disadvantages, but at the end of the day, I love the process of songwriting, and I think it’s a part of my DNA. So it just has to happen, and whatever that looks like, it could be different next year. I have no clue what’s coming after 2022. 

And that’s exciting! It’s an exciting time for you as well as with your projects and other things with Anberlin, too. And this, there’s a lot of things that kind of can be up in the air. And I think it’s a great time for you. What did you learn about Anberlin’s discography and the band’s legacy through the process of the recent livestreams you guys did during the pandemic? And what have fans shared with you about those concerts now that you’re back to interacting with live audiences again?

Your original question was about legacy, and the funny thing about being in a band, I think for a survival tactic, I would say the mental survival tactic, I never allowed myself when I was in the band Anberlin, prior to 2015, to really read my own press. Or ruminate on the success of Anberlin. It was always, “What’s next?” I was like, how do you want to drive harder? I want to get better at my craft. Am I a better musician, do I want to get better tours? I was never stopping to celebrate. But really, to take a look back at what you just did with your life…that’s crazy! But since being out of the band in 2015, especially from 2015 to 2018, it finally dawned on me. Like, “Oh my gosh, Anberlin actually made waves!” I’m not gonna say we were massive. I’m not gonna put the badge of merit on our success level. But I just had no clue because life just stopped. You know those massive waves that those surfers ride? That’s incredible. And when you’re on it, your drill is probably going so high you’re trying to concentrate on the balance and focus and all the stuff you don’t even know. But when you get your back on land, and someone shows you a picture, or you get to watch the video on what just happened… That’s what I feel like it was with the 12 years I was Anberlin. I’m riding this massive wave. And I’m just so focused on balancing and keeping everything together and not falling, and just getting crushed. That’s how it was until I was on the shore. When I look back on it, the legacy <of Anberlin> still blows my mind. And still to this day, it opens doors to new possibilities and opportunities that I never thought imaginable. So it’s been incredible. And so that’s the first part of your question. But as far as last year <with the livestreams>, for us it was twofold. I feel like it was for our sanity, and for others’ sanity too. I watched Third Eye Blind’s livestream from his <Stephan Jenkins> kitchen and he’s walking around his living room, singing into his phone, as the other bandmates were and my wife’s a huge fan of Third Eye Blind. So Third Eye Blind, please take my band on tour!

I’ll put in a good word for you! <Laughter>

<Laughter> But it was one of those things where I saw the joy that show had brought my wife and I wanted that same effect for somebody <with Anberlin> I didn’t have somebody in my in mind, I just thought, “My wife’s singing and dancing around her kitchen while watching this, and I’m also enjoying it. I’ve got to do this!” And obviously it took different shapes and forms as far as Anberlin. At first we were just doing it <the livestreams> for fun. And then we did kind of a pseudo B-sides collection at different times. And the rooms got bigger when we started a new album. And we never even set out to do all our albums. We thought we’d start with Blueprints, and that’s how it all started. And ironically, it just turned out to be every single one of our records. I want to give the utmost credit to Nate, our drummer, because from the set designs and the amount of time and effort and energy that he poured into that was insurmountable. I mean out of all us, he deserves the most credit, because he just crushed it. And with each and every live stream they got bigger, had different effects and then we had the videography back with this guy, Dustin and his team. But it was Nate’s brainchild. It just was an incredible experience. I walked away just in awe. But then, that kind of got us together in a room and found out that we still liked each other <Laughter>. We still like to hang out together! And then that turned into, “Hey, what if we just put out one or two songs and then maybe an EP?” It just snowballed and went into another. And so now being able to take the livestreams to play them for live audiences, it’s gonna be a challenge. But I am really looking forward to the challenge.

Yeah, and I think a lot of the fans appreciated them. I really enjoyed the livestreams that I was able to attend. They had really cool production value that went into it. So definitely, kudos to you guys for putting that together. 

Obviously, there’s a big vinyl backup, with everything going on with the production for vinyl these days. But how much say does your band get with repressing certain records on vinyl?

It really just depends. When we put out that seven volume set of all our records, that was years and years in the making. Because you have Tooth and Nail records, and they were owned by EMI for a time. And so to get all these record labels to sign off on them, with the work, lawyers and contracts, that was such a conundrum and a quandary that we are just kind of just said, for now let’s just concentrate on the vinyl that will be coming out now, and still rely on what we can control. And then for all the rest of it, we have to cross our fingers and hope those people <labels> want to repress them for their own pocketbooks. And it will be a joy for us as a band. It’d be a joy for the fans. But if I look on eBay, there’s probably collectors who are like, don’t repress that one!

There’s always that fine line you have to cross between “limited” versus having enough that you can satisfy your fan base too, right? 

Yeah, and it’s crazy. But I own the “Seven Series,” that big box set, and that’s all. Because I refuse to pay someone like $700 for Cities…I just won’t do it.

I think it’s great that you’re able to acknowledge the kind of dual-edged sword of the way we consume media, too.

I listened to the advance of Silverline and I continue to be blown away by you guys. I’m a big fan, and I have been for pretty much since the beginning stages of Anberlin, when I caught you guys in Baltimore during the promotional cycle of Never Take Friendship Personal. But, who produced the new record? And is there a certain song on the EP, or certain songs, that you feel best represent your band today?

So to answer your question, Tim McTague from Underoath produced part of it, and JJ Revell did the music. They kind of “tag team” with all the guys in the band. The six of them got into a room and when I say it was like chemistry, they would end with one song and then add all these voices and stuff. It’s all just scrambled up. And then when I heard <the mixes> at the end, I was like, “Guys, this isn’t even the same!” So I had to re-write and go back, and rewrite melodies and lyrics because I couldn’t see anything that I had just done before. So it was really cool to watch for me, but an intense process. I wish someday we should just do like “before and after.” Because with the demos we went in with, and what they came out as, it’s just incredible. And so then I worked with Chad, I would rather not work with any other producer for the rest of my life. Me and him have like this symbiotic relationship where we read each other’s minds, and we can just accomplish so much. And whenever I’m going for, like, “Hey, I want more grovel, I want this, I want to do delays”…he reads my mind. He can accomplish so much through programs and all this, but we just “vision cast,” and it’s just incredible. He’s challenged me so much. And it’s just the best for the songs, and we have a great relationship. And we just spent weeks crafting the vocals for that. And it’s just an incredible recording process. I think people will be able to hear that we are passionate again about our art, and I think they’re gonna walk away and be like, “That didn’t feel systematic, robotic, or manufactured. That felt as if you gave them 10,000 years, or 10 days, they would have come up with this record!” And we don’t feel like we have to do it a certain way. We don’t have to make a single or anything like that. I think the lyrics are back to being…for me, I’ve gone through a lot of crap. And that’s what you need. You need the blues on the record, these insane highs and lows. And I feel like all of this there. I think “Circles” is a perfect example of, musically and sonically, how we’ve evolved. It’s the next plausible evolutionary step for this band.

100% agree.

And then lyrically, when I think of a song like “Nothing Lost,” where Silverline got its name, I think the lyrics are still the same as far as it’s still dark, yet hopeful. The story is always hopeful. And so we didn’t lose our identity as Anberlin but I definitely think we’ve evolved. Lyrically and sonically. And I think every band should say, “Hey, I think this is our favorite!” I just think that it may not be the best thing that we put out, but maybe it’s the most passionate thing that we’ve ever put out.

Yeah, and even songs like “Body Language” and “Asking,” from Silverline, they remind me of the style that you guys went for on Vital and Lowborn. And it’s really the perfect launching point to go right back into where Anberlin is today. it makes perfect sense from a writer’s standpoint about what you guys are going for. And, like I mentioned before, I attended some of Anberlin’s reunion shows, and I always enjoy the way you make a connection to the audience each and every night. It’s a big reason why I keep coming back to these concerts. For example, the show I attended at the Fillmore Silver Spring, you guys performed “Inevitable” from Cities for a newlywed couple to dance to in the middle of the mosh pit. I don’t know if you remember these kinds of snapshot moments, but do you have core memories that stand out vividly in your mind as you look back on the cities you’ve played for?

Oh, absolutely! I mean, there’s the feeling of complete chaos when we’re playing Soundwave in Australia. Or we’re headlining with Underoath for 25,000 people, or just the monstrosity of  people, the amount of people singing along. And then I think about opening up for Linkin Park in Germany with almost 40,000 people in attendance. I think of Salt Lake City, and that seems to perpetually make me lose my voice every time. Or Seattle, Washington, which is the birthplace of Anberlin in a lot of ways. But Aaron Sprinkle <producer>, and the sound of the influence that Seattle has on Anberlin…I remember details of shows that like in Washington, DC we played this incredible show, and this girl was frowning in the front. She was just not having a good night, and her two friends that were with her were making out in the front row. So I stopped the show going like, “Listen, you’ve had a frown on your face this entire time! Do you want us to play Fall Out Boy?” And she still was not having it until I sang, “I don’t see nothing wrong…” <Laughter>

I think I may have been at that show! Was it at the 9:30 Club?


That’s hilarious! Yeah, I do remember that.

She started laughing, and now she’s having the best time of her life. And so I mean, it’s just the little things. Every city has something different where I remember when we came back from “retiring” in 2015. And we played Chicago’s House of Blues, back to back sold out shows. I mean, you can’t tell a kid from [Winter] Haven that you’re going to sell out Chicago’s House Blues on back to back nights! But that is insanity. You know, every city has its own memory. It’s something that stands out to me and I’m forever grateful. When, in conversation, somebody will be talking about a particular city and my mind’s already there. And knowing which restaurant I’m going to go to, what coffee shop I’d visit, the clubs, the bands that are from around there and stuff like that. I know it’s something internal, but it just makes me smile every time I go, “Man, I have explored San Francisco, I know exactly what you’re talking about!” I was just talking to a friend the other day, and he was describing this hotel he had been to in Singapore with a pool on the roof and all this stuff. I was like, “Dude, I’ve been to that!” So it was just so cool. Little things like that, to where it all just comes together.

That’s awesome! You seem like a very authentic person, and I’ve really enjoyed our conversation today. I really appreciate everything you’ve said today. The last question I have for you is what can fans of Anberlin expect from the band as the year unfolds? Obviously, the EP is coming out July 29th, but for the near future, what’s the plan?

I have learned to never say never. I don’t say things like, “We will never play another show.” There’s no way. But, I have no clue. This isn’t the last EP, there’ll be another one after this one. I think that we would like to have a long relationship with Equal Vision Records, and we have a lot of respect for them. And, I hope vice-versa. So I will write music as long as people are listening, and I want to keep writing. And then as far as shows, tours, and all that, I have no agenda, and I have no idea. We all have families at home, we all have lives. We have our passions. I’m working here at a church in Clearwater, Florida, and I’m loving it. I love my job. I love being here. I love the people here. I love that my family’s here. I love that my parents and my in-laws and my good friends, we’re all here in this community. And it’s really so hard to break away. And I just because I love what I do. And so all that to say, I’m just going to leave it up to God, and the band, life, and my wife, and all these external conditions of five members of a band with five different passions in five different directions. And so the simple fact that we can get on the same page, even just to collaborate with these shows, or with these festivals, or with these songs…it’s working really well right now. It’s not a machine anymore. It used to be a profession, but before the professional part, or passionate before was a passion, it was just a hobby. And it feels like the sweet spot for me the most contentment, the most joy I get out of music is the “hobby passion phase,” and that’s where we’re at. So I just don’t want to lose that. I don’t want the machine again. It served a purpose before, but it’s mechanical and it’s cold, and it can get professional and can get rigid and it could hurt relationships. And there’s just a lot that goes into that machine, like oil. And the byproduct of that oil is marriages that aren’t doing so well, funerals that you’ve missed, weddings that you missed, birthdays and first smiles, first steps, and the first words, and all that is the byproduct of the waste of a machine that just will eat your soul. So I just don’t want that anymore. And again, I’m never saying never, but I just don’t think that’s what we want as a band, as friends, and as families. We all have these different dreams and passions for our life. And it just feels like that machine would slowly suffocate the joy. The pure joy that is this moment in our time of life.

That’s great to hear, and it was so nice to connect with you. I wish you guys nothing but the best, and hopefully you’ll continue pumping out new music as best you can. I look forward to catching you on the road, if you ever come through Maryland or DC!

You got it. Thanks so much, Adam!