“Make sure Nate taps both your feet during the prayer or it’s going to be a bad show" laughs Stephen Christian, lead singer from Anberlin, referring to one of the band’s pre-performance rituals.
Everyone in the band must have gotten a good “foot tapping,” because the concert Wednesday night, in Raleigh, North Carolina, was a complete success. Starting off with “Little Tyrants,” the energetic track off their new album Vital (October 2012), and ending with the classic song “Paperthin Hymn,” Anberlin combined a bit from every album over the past ten years. “We kind of take all six records and play a few off each, that way no matter when you picked up with Anberlin, there’s something for you,” said Christian.
It was a lot of fun to interview Christian before the show. We chatted about our favorite coffee shop in Nashville, the ins and outs of relationships, and how the music industry is changing. However, the running theme in the conversation was ultimately about how God is a core part of what Anberlin does, despite the band being predominantly in the secular music market.
Yet, keeping that perspective hasn’t always been easy for Anberlin. Christian shared how the band was in danger of taking a downhill turn when their second album, Never Take Friendship Personal, quickly became popular. They were on the trajectory of success, but also on a path that could lead to failure. Christian explains, “Crowds were getting larger, shows were getting bigger, and temptations were getting stronger. Anything and everything was available at any given show.” Christian continued, “I called my best friend and I said, ‘Look, I can’t do this. I feel there is this internal struggle happening. I need you to come out here.’”
Christian’s accountability partner joined the band on the road and eventually became Anberlin’s tour manager for a period of time. “The point is,” Christian insisted, “take whatever drastic measures you need to. Even if that means bringing your mother out on tour.”
Christian takes his role as the band’s frontman very seriously.“The responsibility of having a platform and trying to be a man or a woman of integrity is definitely a weight for any musician. But it’s not a heavy burden. Rather, it’s a responsibility that provides a great privilege,” Christian states emphatically. “Therefore, do whatever it takes to prevent yourself from breaking the concrete of your foundation.”
By taking direct measures to build on their foundation, the band continues to have many opportunities to influence others spiritually. They see the opportunities not only through writing lyrics like “Other Side,” which is Christian’s envisionment of meeting Jesus in Heaven for the first time, but also in how they connect with people. “I’ve had the most amazing conversations with the bands we’ve toured with, as well as people we meet after the show,” Christian attests. “It’s been really incredible to see the doors open and have people be so responsive.”
But Anberlin isn’t just known in the secular market for having a strong moral reputation. The five members, lead vocalist Stephen Christian, guitarists Joseph Milligan and Christian McAlhaney, bassist Deon Rexroat, and drummer Nathan Young are great musicians—plain and simple. Having just finished up a tour as the opening band for Smashing Pumpkins, Anberlin hit the road again last Tuesday for a new round of tour dates on the East Coast.
The band certainly knows how to put on a good live performance. Several songs, “We Owe This To Ourselves” and “The Resistance,” for example, sounded just as solid performed live, as in the studio recordings.
Anberlin took on a new approach with “Dismantle. Repair.” Christian played the keyboard by himself and sang while the rest of the band went off stage. Towards the end, Christian stopped singing and kept playing while the crowd continued to sing the lyrics. As the voices of the audience faded with the last note, everyone clapped. Including Christian. “This is has been the most fun in a show that I’ve had in a long time!” Christian told the crowd.
Beyond Anberlin’s strong moral convictions and killer melodies, are some of the most deeply creative lyrics produced. Most Anberlin songs demand that a person take time to really sit back and think about the message. A great example is the last track on Vital, called “God, Drugs, and Sex”. An intriguing title to say the least, I asked Christian the meaning behind the lyrics. He said idea for the lyrics stems from the depth of a relationship that two people must have beyond just physical attraction. “It’s what keeps you together,” says Christian. “So when you are absolutely nonchalant on things like sex, or drugs, saying, ‘Eh no big deal,’ or nonchalant on drinking, or even God, saying, ‘Oh it doesn’t really matter, it’s meaningless or whatever,’ that’s the chasm that divides a relationship.”
His relationship advice? “Don’t go and try and pursue a relationship and then hopefully figure yourself out.” As Christian puts it, “You need to know ‘What’s my stance on this.' Refuse to justify your own actions or cower into the other person’s character or lack thereof.”
Although the band didn’t play “God, Drugs, and Sex” at their live performance, they did play a host of other favorites. “Feel Good Drag” was the highlight of the performance. With good reason—the song is one of Anberlin’s most popular. Singing and jumping up and down, the audience matched the band’s enthusiasm. “It’s the best part of touring for us,” was Christian’s exuberant response after the song ended. “When you guys are dancing and singing along!”
Indeed, dancing and singing along is one of the best parts of watching a band perform live. The momentum was undeniably strong during the concert. Though years beyond their humble beginnings, as a little-known band from Florida, it is easy to tell that Anberlin still loves what they do. As Christian shared during the interview, “We absolutely have changed, as time should do to any group of people.” He continued, “But the great thing is that our passion for music, and our deep connection from years of knowing each other, will keep us friends for the rest of our lives.” Now that is a mark of a great band.
To see where Anberlin is heading next on tour, go to their band bio page and view all upcoming concert dates!
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