Lead singer Stephen Christian describes the process behind the band’s major label debut New Surrender, rerecording “Feel Good Drag,” the deeper meanings behind his lyrics, the latest on his side projects, and life outside of music.
So, I heard you’re sick right now.
Yeah. I just got over laryngitis, so I’m pretty out of it. After we get done I’m probably going to get some Nyquil, go to bed and say goodnight.
How have you been able to perform being sick and stuff?
Faking really well. No, it was bad, man. I went to the hospital in Denver, and that was the night I realized something was way wrong. Usually, everybody will get a cold on tour. Nate got a cold, and then Andy and a couple other guys on the bus. So I was like if I get it, no big deal.
Then in Denver, I had no voice. Somebody in our crew said I sounded like Tina Turner because I had nothing. I was just gasping, and then it felt like my larynx was closing. I was almost blacking out because I couldn’t get enough breath in.
So I went to the doctor and they were like, “Yeah, you have laryngitis. You probably should take a week off from singing.” I was like, “Yeah, right. You don’t know what my schedule is. No one would ever let me do that.” So, I just kind of fought threw it. I’ve been sleeping as much as possible. Getting enough rest, and vitamin C, and stuff like that.
You’ve been able to stay at home the last couple of days, right?
Yeah, I live here in L.A., so I’ve been able to commute. We played L.A. and then we went to San Diego, and I got to drive there and drive here tonight.
How do you like living in L.A.?
It has its ups and downs. It has a lot of opportunity, and it’s a lot more scenic than Florida, but people are just weird [laughs].
So, New Surrender debuted at No. 13. How awesome was that?
It was awesome except I slept the whole day, so I didn’t find out until about 4 o’clock that afternoon. Everybody was excited and they were all cheering, and then I woke up and was like, “What are you guys doing?” They were like, “Hey man, we’re 13.” I was like, “Oh, that’s exciting,” got something to eat, turned around and went to bed until show time. We were in Salt Like City, and I was just like, oohhh. I couldn’t be excited, so maybe now I should be excited. It was pretty amazing, man. We had no idea.
How’s the major label life?
It’s awesome, man. So far, so good, but ask me in a couple months because you can’t really tell right off the bat. In a year from now, I’ll probably be like, “I hate ‘em!” But, right now it’s the greatest thing. There’s just so many nice people, so many very passionate people about Anberlin. Right now, we’re excited. Ask me in a year.
I heard someone say they saw a commercial for the record on TV.
Oh, no way! I heard about them but I’ve never seen one.
How did you come up with the title New Surrender? Does it come from the song “Breathe,” where you talk about surrender?
I came up with a song idea, then I came up with a title, and as I was writing “Breathe,” I put it in there. But yeah, that’s kind of what it’s about. That’s the basis of what it is. “Breathe” is talking about a surrender to a life-torn war, and then in the next verse it says, “Revolution’s not easy with a civil war.”
I think that each one of us has this civil war where we know we need to be doing something different. Whether it’s an addiction, like heroine or cigarettes or alcohol, or whether it’s fear or insecurity, there’s just something that’s holding us back from where we need to be or what the next step is in our lives. For me, I would almost make it a motivational speech in just three words: Give it up. Whatever it is that’s holding you back, just surrender whatever it is.
You guys worked with producer Neal Avron, and I thought the production was just totally top-notch. What did he bring to the table and how did he stretch you guys?
Man, stretching is an understatement. That guy was a workhorse. I’ve never, ever worked so hard in my life. I’ve never had so many sleepless nights. Everybody was awesome. He was the first one there and the last one to leave. We would put in 12-15 hour days every day for like two months, but it was awesome.
He really pushed me. I’ve never had anyone go, “That’s pretty crappy. That sucks. I think you should retry it.” Everything else with the other producer, he loved me, even the lyrics and everything. He was like, “Oh, whatever you got, let’s just record.” Neal was like, “Really? That’s a bad line. That’s not even going to work. I don’t even want to see that again.” There was one song he made me redo – melodies, lyrics, everything – 17 times, and it still didn’t make it on the record.
Which song was that?
It was called “Said and Done.” So I rewrote that 17 different times, and every time he was like, “Nope, not there.” So I finally got it there and he’s like, “OK, it’s great. Record it.” Then he’s like, “Yeah, I don’t think it should go on the record.” And you’re like, “Really?”
How many songs did you end up recording?
We recorded only 15. We narrowed it down from 30 to 15, and then put 12 on there. Then we just gave away the rest.
I really like the b-side “Heavier Things Remain.”
Oh, thanks man. That’s one of my favorites.
I’m curious as to why that didn’t make the cut.
I know. You and me both.
It’s kind of like “Haunting” from the last record.
Yeah, the majority of the band is probably like, “Why is that not on the record?” It was either going to be that or “Soft Skeletons” because those songs were very similar. We just felt lyrically “Soft Skeletons” matched the album so much more. That song’s about abuse and stuff like that.
We just felt like that was so much more into the whole pattern of social awareness and change. The topics that had been presented, from homelessness to standing up for what you believe to abuse, kind of all fit on that record. All of us love “Heavier Things Remain.” It’s so great. I love that riff, but it just didn’t fit the theme, really.
It also seemed to me to be one of your more faith-based songs, in a way.
I don’t think that one was so much more faith-based. I think the most was probably “Burn Out Brighter” and “Miserabile,” the last song on the record. I think those are the two most faith-based. That one’s about watching a relationship that was kind of on the rocks, a marriage that I had watched firsthand. It was my parents. I don’t know if I should say that in an interview, but just watching how they went through almost getting divorced and then splitting up to being absolutely in love now. That whole song is basically about marriage.
The last song has a lot of Revelations, apocalyptic imagery. What is that song talking about?
Well, it is. It’s about the end of the world. In my mind, I had kind of developed a movie about this imagery with the world crumbling around you. No matter what the circumstances are, you would want that person to be right there with you. Stuff like that.
What does the song title’s translation mean?
Out of evil will come good.
I noticed how you have Latin on this one, while French was on the last one.
Yeah, I don’t know. I just go through phases with culture. My little brother was studying Latin, and he was explaining how he loves Latin simply because the words are so heavy. They mean so much. Like “Heavier Things Remain” – that’s what it means in parentheses with the Latin – but if you Google the Latin phrase, it comes up with an entire paragraph of what that actually means. It’s just like, awww.
Even in Greek, they have four different words for the word “love.” All of us are like, “I love those shoes. I love my friend. I love my mom. I love my new car.” But, it all is the same word. I am so enthralled with linguistics. My mom’s a speech pathologist, so I’ve always been one for linguistics, languages, and what they actually mean.
Lyrically speaking, Cities was obviously the darkest stuff you’ve written, yet this one sort of harkens back to the first two. Was that your intent?
The first three is almost a trilogy. If you go back and read through the lyrics, you kind of get it. There’s three types of “Man vs.” stories. It’s the “Man vs. World,” and I feel like that was the first one. Blueprints for the Black Market was very naïve. We’re going to go out, cause a ruckus and do whatever we want. That was a big learning phase.
Then “Man vs. Man” was Never Take Friendship Personal. That was very much about friendships and relationships. The struggle to fight it out amongst yourselves, hence the title Never Take Friendship Personal. Then the third one, Cities, was “Man vs. Self.” That was very much the darkest because it was exposing my own demons and saying this is exactly what I struggle with. That kind of ended that cycle of the “Man vs.,” like the literary part of it.
With this, New Surrender, I put the man aside and I took an approach of everyone else. That’s why the lyrics are all altruistic and all very much about everyone else. “Disappear” is about homelessness, and you’ll find very few songs about me. It’s always about, you do this. “Burn Out Brighter” is like, I wish I could have helped. “Miserabile” is about everyone involved, like the whole world, and it’s like, let’s come into the classroom and there’s all of us there. So, I felt like this one was going to be absolutely about everyone else.
When did you decide to rerecord “Feel Good Drag?”
We’ve wanted to for years. The fact is that was just a b-side on that record. Basically, we were done with the record and I flew back into record that song for Never Take. Well, the guitars were weak. It was just me recording. I just basically hit the button and sang it. I didn’t want the song to come off gravelly and bitter. I wanted it to be a lot more fluid, and stuff like that.
So, we had the idea to go back and record this as a b-side, just put it on some 7” somewhere, but after we got done, we were just mesmerized. This is how we wanted it and this was how it was supposed to be.
Then the record label was like, “Hey, we want to put out a rock song first.” And we were like, “Aww, OK.” Well, then it was down to “Disappear” and “Feel Good Drag.” We felt like if we put out “Feel Good Drag”, we were hoping the fans would rally and just be like, “Yeah, I can’t believe Anberlin’s on the radio. We love this song and it was awesome on Never Take.”
I think now, looking back, we got bad whiplash. People were just like, “I love the first one better.” But the fact is we only sold 70,000 of Never Take, so no one has that record. So if you have that record or know that song, then thank you, you’re one of the chosen few.
The fact is, we were right. Fans not only rallied around the song but it’s been No. 1 on Sirius radio for like eight weeks. It’s No. 30 on the Alternative charts right now, and still climbing. They think it’s posed to go very high, so we were right. We were stoked that we made the absolute right decision. If we went back in time, we still would have been like, sorry, to those people who were mad at us. But, it’s going to do what it’s supposed to do, you know?
We felt great about rerecording it. I like this version a lot better. It’s how I sing it live, anyway. I don’t scream it out live. Even back in the day I never screamed that part, and didn’t want to. It came off gravelly, and it was supposed to be very smooth, fluid sounding to match the lyrics of being a little more mysterious, gut wrenching, and stuff like that.
In addition to music, I know there’s a lot of other things you have your hands in. You had your book, The Orphaned Anythings, get released, which I loved by the way. I know some of that writing influenced Cities, so, which one came first?
It was kind of right around the same time. I finished the book as we were in the studio recording Cities, so a lot of the lyrics were pulled from the book and stuff like that. People think I took it from the album just because the book came out later than Cites, but it wasn’t. The character Ayden and I parallel a lot. We have a lot of similarities, so I definitely pulled a lot from that.
Are you working on another book?
I’m actually working on two, but it’s probably going to take me a good three years to accomplish them both. I do a blog called Modesty, and so what the next one is going to be is basically I’m going to pair up with an artist and do almost like a Modesty the first three years, and then expound on all the topics I talked about. Then put it out almost like a table book or something like that.
How long have you been running Modesty?
Since 2002. Yeah, even before Anberlin started, I was doing Modesty. Nobody cared. I was doing it for friends and family. I think the first few posts were friends that had written me, and then I would expound on what their thoughts were. Then as soon as Anberlin started, I was like, “Man, I should probably put this out for fans as well.”
You also helped build a charity too, right?
Yeah, I started an organization called Faceless International. We go all around the world. This year we’re going to the Ukraine, India, Guatemala, New York City and Los Angeles. We just go in there and fill in the gap, as far as whatever they need, whatever their crisis is. That’s what we’re going to be.
Your focus right now is obviously on Anberlin, but when will the Anchor & Braille CD come out?
Oh, man. The reason I haven’t put it out yet is because I want to tour on it. I don’t want to just put it out and shove it under a rock. I want to find some great musicians, and then just hit the road for like a month. I need Anberlin to take a break, to take a breather, and then I can go, but that’s just not going to happen right now. We’re booked up until literally June 1st. After June 1st, after New Surrender kind of heads down, I think I want to go on like a three-week tour.
The whole CD is pretty much done, right?
Oh, it’s done. It’s mixed. It just has to be mastered and stuff like that.
Do you know who you’re going to be releasing it through?
No, not yet. Right now I’d rather just wait it out and find a great label then just do it quick and shove it out on my own.
What’s next after this tour?
We have three days off and then we head off to London, England. We tour in the U.K. for two weeks, and then we come back and do radio shows. Then in January, we go to Canada the entire month. February is Japan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and maybe Indonesia. Then we come back and probably open up for somebody, and then in May we’re doing an amazing South American tour starting in Mexico and working our way down to Brazil. We’ll do like Columbia and all that. So, June is our next break. I don’t know. We may do Warped Tour. Probably just a couple weeks and not the whole thing, though.
How do you like international touring?
Oh, it’s my favorite. I love America, and America has the most amazing fans, but I love to experience new cultures. As far as traveling, I just love to travel.
Have you done a lot of international touring before or will this be your first time seeing a lot of these places?
Philippines will be for the first time. I think we’re going to try and get into mainland Europe next year, so like Germany will be my first time. I’d love to go to Italy and Spain. I’ve never been there yet, so that would be awesome.
I’ve never done drugs at all, but I’ve heard that when you experience new cultures and new places, it does more to your brain to expand it then drugs could ever even think of doing. It’s just taking your mind and twisting it to a whole new culture, a whole new set of ideals and principles, and stuff like that. It completely awakens your mind.
Oh, so I just remembered I forgot to ask about “(*Fin),” which you closed with tonight. How did you come up with that song?
Like I said, Cities was “Man vs. Self.” I think for me that was absolutely my wrestling with God. It’s my entire childhood put into one song. My battle with being raised in a church, and the individuals that completely devastated my faith. It took a good set of eight years for me to come back and find God on my own. I just think you can’t look to Christians to see Christ because we’re all human. I’m going to fail everyone. I’m that patron saint, and you’re that patron saint. We’re all just patron saints, because we’re those lost causes as well.
How does being in a band, where you’re constantly on the road touring and stuff, affect your faith and relationship with God?
It doesn’t. I don’t think I would be any different than if I was home, or here, or anywhere. That’s what’s great about God. He kind of goes wherever you go [laughs]. So, I don’t know. It doesn’t struggle. I would hope that anybody would surround themselves with good, honest people that are going to keep them accountable and encourage you, not discourage you.
You’re going to find people that are not Christians anywhere you go. I don’t care what your profession is. You could be working at McDonald’s or at a huge law firm. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do as your profession, you just got to stay faithful. So, I don’t know if it does. It doesn’t affect me anymore than if I was to be a janitor.
Is there anything else you would like to add in closing?
Dude, we have covered every base known to man in my life. That’s great. Thank you so much.
Originally appeared on Mammoth Press