Anberlin: The alternative rockers move on with hit mainstream albums

Wednesday 20th October 2010

Tony Cummings reports on the band ANBERLIN who've recently made the US top 10 with their 'Dark Is The Way, Light Is The Place' album

Anberlin: The alternative rockers move on with hit mainstream albums

The last time Cross Rhythms wrote about the alternative rock band from Winter Haven, Florida they were on the brink of the mainstream big time. After three albums with Seattle's "semi independent" Tooth & Nail, 'Blueprints For A Black Market' (2003), 'Never Take Friendship Personal' (2005) and 'Cities' (2007), the group signed with the biggest record label in the world, Universal Music, in August 2007. The band's first album on Universal Republic, 'New Surrender' (2008) peaked at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 200 mainstream album charts while their second for Universal, 'Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place' reached number nine when released in September this year.

At the time of 'New Surrender''s release the band's Deon Rexroat expressed ongoing enthusiasm about the constant touring reality of the modern rock band. He told journalist Brad Tilbe, "When the crowd is on board with us during a performance it gets us more excited. It's what we love to do so it's fun as Hell. If the crowd isn't on board then it's a challenge to us. We do what we can to get them in to the show and get them involved. We're not just wasting our time here, we're here to have fun and you should be out here having fun too. This isn't work, this is supposed to be a recreational activity, why are you frowning? or talking? or texting? It's understandable when we're opening for a band. It's really weird when we're the headliner though, because we're the last band and you look p****d off and bored. U2 isn't coming on after us, I don't know what you're friends told you." (laughs)

Rexroat spoke about the change in producers from Aaron Sprinkle to Neal Avron, "We did three albums with Aaron so for us we wanted to kind of stir things up and get some new ideas in there. By the time of the third album we were so much on the same page that I didn't feel new ideas were being generated, it was almost like we were agreeing each other. At that point it was like Aaron was a part of Anberlin. The reason you have a producer is for an objective, outside opinion. It made us realise that with this album we had to do something completely different. With producers everyone has their thing, it's the same with musicians. It's their art, the construction of a session as well as an album. Switching from Aaron to Neil, we were definitely afraid that Aaron was going to be p****d at us. Aaron is a huge fan of Neil and was more interested in the fact that we were working with Neil. At the end of the day it's our project and we have to do what we see fit. It does get really hard when you get really close to people and you have to part ways. It's not because they've done anything wrong, it's just the way it happens, it's how it works. We'll probably go with a different producer on the next album. We really like the idea of stirring the pot and getting new ideas and input."

The band still struggle with the "Christian" tag. Said Dean, "We get tagged as Christian emo. There are times when it comes through but would you call U2 a Christian band? They have lyrics that are Christian themed, but who would dare? Obviously we're not at the level that U2 is so it may be a bit harder to understand. When we first started touring, the bands would have these preconceived notions about us. After a couple days on the road they'd say, 'Oh, you're normal, I thought you guys would be weird'. We definitely got that label from being on Tooth & Nail; for us we stopped caring about it along time ago. We don't really answer that question anymore. A band's not even the person, how can it believe in a faith? I've never really understood that. We like to let what we do and our music answer that question. Sometimes people misinterpret our lyrics and take them as being very religious even when they're not. To me, people want to know the exact reason and meaning behind things but, what does it feel like to you? Just let it be that."

Anberlin: The alternative rockers move on with hit mainstream albums

The title of the band's new hit album 'Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place' comes from a line of the poetry of famed Welsh wordsmith Dylan Thomas. The band's Stephen Christian told Tricia Weight, "I always admired how Dylan Thomas had this open air conversation between him and God in a lot of his poetry. It was as if God was in the room with him and they talked. . . or screamed at each other. I think [the song] 'Impossible' is the summation of my experience with love throughout the years; the conversations, the act of falling, the ecstasy, the failure, the screaming at each other. . . then repeat."

So how have things changed for the band between the release of 'New Surrender' and 'Dark Is The Way. . .'? "We stopped 'wanting to be' and instead started accepting who and where we were. Good bands make fans, great bands inspire. . . and that's what we want to do. We wanted to think outside the norm on everything involving the record. Our pictures, our cover art, the title, the videos - all are meant, not to gain fans, but to inspire future art and artists, music and musicians."

The sonic feast that is 'Dark Is The Way. . .' was produced by legendary studio man Brendan O'Brien (Stone Temple Pilots, Papa Roach). Enthused Christian, "Working with Brendan was a miracle; he is beyond any level of musician or producer I've ever met. We joke in the band that we don't really care how many copies we sell of our new record 'Dark' - we just want to sell enough so that we can work with Brendan again. There were changes on every song, fresh ears to music will do that. There were never any conflicts though, his ideas were gold - and he was open to suggestions and the desire to experiment beyond the normal Anberlin record. His team was pro and they knew what they were doing. They had all worked with the likes of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC and many others so, if in doubt, we would trust them."

A great deal has happened to Stephen Christian in the last year, not least relocating from Los Angeles. Stephen told Brandon Jones, "On our list of top five cities we wanted to move to (Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, NYC or Ashville, NC) we chose Nashville. We didn't know why but in retrospect see that this was the right place for us to be. I found a great church here and surrounded myself with a group of guys that are outstanding influences (just last night I went to a Bible study with a few guys from Paper Route and Paramore). With so much on the road that at moments puts me at odds with God, it is good to come home to a solid foundation. On a band level, we recorded the record in Nashville (not my choice, it just happened) at Blackbird Studio with producer Brendan O'Brien. It was an experience I will not soon forget, I feel lucky to have had that chance. Faceless International (the organisation set up to oppose human trafficking Christian has been involved in since May 2006) is taking off, we now have two full time employees and two part time. It is incredible to watch this thing grow even as I take a step back to pursue the band. Today Christian McAlhaney lives in San Diego, Deon Rexroat lives in St Petersberg, Florida, Nathan Young in Tampa and Joseph Milligan in Winter Haven. We tour so much we never have the chance to miss each other though."

Speaking about how the Christian faith continues to affect Anberlin's music Stephen said, "I think that every single human has to work out their own beliefs or salvation with fear and trembling, so to say that any group has a single unified mind sounds like a drone of robots not a band, a company, or even a country. We have all found our own routes of attempts to affect our culture for the better. For some it is merely the music, and for others it is starting NPOs. No one is greater than the other as long as they are attempting to make this world a better place, yet keeping themselves unspotted from it." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


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