Anberlin Discuss ‘Vital’ Album, Touring with the Smashing Pumpkins and Focusing on ‘What’s Important’
When Florida-based rockers Anberlin released their sixth album, ‘Vital,’ in October 2012, the band set out to explore new territory with an electronic-influenced sound — and a renewed sense of energy after 10 years together. The band also re-enlisted producer and longtime friend Aaron Sprinkle, who worked with them on their first three records and is credited with helping shape their sound.
The record shifts between personal and social concerns, with songs like ‘Someone Anyone’ being inspired by the recent Egyptian revolution. And even artists like Billy Corgan are taking notice, and last fall, he asked the band to join the Smashing Pumpkins on tour.
On a break between legs of their ‘Vital’ touring, Anberlin frontman Stephen Christian chatted with Diffuser.fm about taking the album out on the road for the first time and reflected back on his decade-long career with the band.
Now that the first leg of the tour is done, how has the reception been to the new album?
Better than I expected. After you have six records out, you get to the point where you wonder if people came in on the first record, or the last record. You just want to know when they started listening to you. And this didn’t feel like that kind of tour. It felt amazing this time because they were all on board with the new record. It makes you want to write more, and it makes you want to tour more. All around, it’s great when people to come to shows and know every word of every song.
What of the new songs are you guys enjoying playing the most?
I would say ‘Self-Starter’ and ‘Other Side.’ I just feel like ‘Self-Starter’ is the perfect summation of our new record. I love the energy. It’s raw, and there’s passion in the music. I think the biggest crowd-pleaser, though, is ‘Other Side.’ When you’re on the road for nine months a year, the best part of any given day is those moments of stage when people are singing along. It’s what motivates us to keep playing every night. It makes my entire night.
You said when you started this new album that you wanted it to be a more experimental. What was your mindset going in to record it?
What happened was that we came up with record title before we even sat down to record or reproduce it. ‘Vital’ was kind of the goal. We weren’t trying to have the greatest record of all time, but for Anberlin, we wanted it to be a vital record for Anberlin. That was the goal we set for ourselves, and even on the early demos, we could tell that this was taking a turn. It turned out, we think, to be one of the most energetic and aggressive records for us. It was one of those ebbs and flows, because our last record was moody and slow, and maybe we were just ready get back to more energy.
And you guys have had one of the best critical responses with this record. Do you think that comes from that renewed energy?
I didn’t care as much about the critics as I did about the fan response to these songs. Even with our record ‘Cities,’ it didn’t get that much acclaim in the beginning. It was a year or two later when people started to really respond to it. But were more concerned about what the fans were going to say. Watching them on tour, that’s when I felt okay. It was definitely exciting to see critics giving it good feedback, but if nobody goes to your shows and nobody buys your records, then your career is over.
Having the partnership with Aaron Sprinkle seems to really help, too. What was it like going back to work with him again?
It was a beautiful homecoming. We all get along so well with him, and he’s absolutely a sixth member of the band. He’s knows Anberlin inside and out and was there from the very beginning. He orchestrated a lot of our perception toward the music industry as well and has helped us make a lot of critical decisions early on in the band.
The thing is, we just need to go. We needed to leave each other for a few records so we didn’t keep making the same record or getting into this cycle where we were rehashing the same thing, so that’s why we felt like we needed to go with Neal Avron and Brendan O’Brien on a few records. Those guys are powerhouse, intellectual producers. I think that education really shows on ‘Vital.’ Aaron too went on to learn production skills.
Coming back, everyone was at their best; everyone on fire as far as our knowledge of what an Anberlin production should be. We only had 10 days of pre-production in Seattle before we went in to record, and we already had a song and a half done. It was amazing how well we flowed together and how much it went back to just being the six of us. I don’t know if we’ll go back with him, but it’s one of those things were the band has to sit around and decide, “Where do we go from here?”
How was it touring with the Smashing Pumpkins?
Oh man, it was amazing. To just get up there to play for these crowds, then sit back and watch Billy — Billy, like I know him — Billy Corgan get up there and play was incredible. We have no idea how it happened, but we heard him talking about our music and mentioning us. If you ever find out though, how we got involved with them, please let me know. [Laughs]
You also released an album of solo work under the name Anchor and Braille last. Do you have any plans right now to tour behind that?
Anberlin is absolutely priority right now. It’s such a passion project, and I had so much fun playing with Anchor and Braille last year. It was so out of the box, like writing with your left hand. It was a totally different style and dynamic. Some of the shows were sit-down shows, and it really renewed my feeling about music. Playing with them really brought back that vigor and passion for music. And it’s not that Anberlin is any way negative, but it was like those first days of starting a band when you all pile into a van and go to Taco Bell at 2AM. I’ll definitely make another record but it did make me appreciate going back to Aberlin and getting on a bus and being able to sleep all night. [Laughs]
After being in the band for 10 years and six albums, what has changed for you about being in Anberlin?
Where to begin? I was very jaded by the time our second album came out, and really jaded by the music industry. I was immediately thinking, “Man, I thought this was about the music, and it’s just become such a money thing.” The motivation behind a lot of it just felt wrong to me. As a kid, you know, you just see these rock stars doing whatever and they don’t give an “F,” and that think it’s all about the music. But then you’re in it, and you think, “Why do I have to worry about lawyers? Why do I have to worry about the business of music?” We’ve been lucky to have found managers to worry about the necessary evils so that we can just get on with our thing.
I also used to feel like I had to please everyone. I used to think I had to work around and kiss babies and shake hands with industry people. I quickly realized that that just doesn’t matter. You focus on what matters and everything else will fall into place. When everything gets in motion, some bands can get caught up in the motion of it all, and the popularity contest and politics of it all. I’ve been in it long enough to be able to step back from it all and see what’s important, like my family, my friends, the people I meet on the road. If you just concentrate what’s important and concentrate on the fans, you’ll be OK.