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Court-side with Stephen Christian of Anberlin
Thursday, Oct. 16, 2003 • Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn.
by Greg Adams

It’s a brisk October evening, and the line to enter the Gagelhoff Center at Concordia University, the current stop for the “Everybody Wants to Rule the World Tour,” strings down the block. Gaggles of teenage girls without jackets (so as not to cover their Relient K T-shirts) huddle together and complain about the length of the line and the chill in the air. Don’t Look Down, Anberlin and Relient K are in their second week of the tour, and this is their largest show so far. I check my watch, nervous that my designated interview time with Stephen Christian of Anberlin--”just before the show”--might well expire before I even make it to the front entrance.

Once the line finally begins to move, I’m surprised by the quick flow of bodies into the huge arena. I amble along with the steady circulation of fans through the various corridors and come upon the opening to the main gym area. Merch tables are tucked in the back corner, and the line in front of the Relient K display rivals the one still filled with chilled fans outside. I find the Anberlin table and recognize Stephen from his photo in the liner notes of the band’s debut release, _Blueprints For The Black Market_ (Tooth and Nail). I patiently wait for the girls in front of me to decide on a shirt, hat, or whatever they’re eyeing, and pull out my notebook and tape recorder, which, aside from a printed email from the band’s publicist, serve as my only “press pass” for the night. I introduce myself, and Stephen (thankfully) is expecting me. I follow him through a hallway just outside the arena and to a curtained-off racquetball court, which serves as the band’s dressing room. The court--sorry, dressing room--is sparse except for some hastily
arranged chairs, a few guitar cases, a soft-drink cooler and a table full of sub sandwiches. I pull up a folding chair while Stephen relaxes on a loveseat that looks as if it was lifted from a dormitory lounge. We joke about the natural “reverb” of the racquetball court/dressing room before I dig into the questions.

Greg Adams: What has the road done to and for Anberlin?

Stephen Christian: I love it--this is the life I’ve chosen, so it’s going to be great! This isn’t the first tour we’ve been on, obviously. Each tour is a chance to meet new people, a chance to build a bigger fan base, and also a chance for us as a band to learn stage performance and just how to be ourselves, and be a little more relaxed and tight as a band. Each show you learn something new and each show, hopefully, is an improvement over the last.

Adams: How are you guys traveling on this tour?

Christian: We’re going to stick to a van and trailer. It just seems the most economical way to do this. Though buses are amazing, and our private jet is “in the shop” right now...until that happens, we’ll stick with our van.

Adams: Any Anberlin road rules you try to hold yourselves to while traveling?

Christian: Actually, we’ve pawned off a couple of our members on this tour to the Relient K bus--the people that can’t drive, such as the 16-year-old, which we don’t trust to drive yet. There’s not a lot of times of solitude, because there are seven of us piled into a van, then you have a hotel room where you’re all crammed into also. Really what I do is, right before a show, try to go drive or just go walk a distance and find some time to read or just hang out. Honestly, you’re with people 24 hours a day.

Adams: Some quick-fire questions about road life...Best “road food?”

Christian: Unfortunately, unhealthy as it is, the most frequented would be Taco Bell.

Adams: Best late night snack stop?

Christian: Wendy’s or Taco Bell--Wendy’s does stay open until 2 a.m., so definitely those two.

Adams: Best scenery so far?

Christian: Oh, man, we had a drive from Spokane, Wash., to Champaign, Ill., and that was just amazing. Even Seattle to Spokane was great--the winding roads, the cliffs, the waterfalls. You see, we’re from Florida, so we don’t see fall. We don’t see leaves change at all. Coming through, like, Montana and Wyoming was just amazing, because at night you have the blue sky amongst the orange trees. These are sights we haven’t see, because we live near Orlando, so we haven’t seen a star in a good while. To see the stars at night through Wyoming, and the leaves changing, and actually to experience the temperatures--actually wearing a hooded
jacket is way different for us.

Adams: Most common interview question?

Christian: “Where did you get your name?”

(Note: Turns out, “Anberlin” was a slip of the tongue that the guys thought would make either a great girl’s name or a cool band name.)

Adams: Judging from the crowd waiting in line outside the arena tonight, the audience for this tour is largely teenage girls. How do you feel about that?

Christian: Well, this is our first tour with teenage girls as the medium. It’s really no different. We just got off the Made tour, which was like Futher Seems Forever and Movielife. The thing with that is you’re dealing with an older crowd--like 19 to 25, in that area. They’re still dealing with “the cool,” so everybody just stands there with their arms crossed. Here, there’s boys and girls, average age like 13 to 18, and they get so excited. You could yell, “I love cottage cheese!” and that’s the biggest thing they’ve heard, and everybody screams! So as far as energy levels, this completely blows away that tour. It’s a change of climate, but it’s worth it. I’m glad a band like ours can play to both, where a 25-year-old would be just as comfortable as a 13-year-old. I’m glad that we’re playing on this tour.

Adams: You’ve had a pretty jolting rocket-ride to where you are. You’ve only been together a little over a year?

Christian: Yeah, about a year and two months. It’s been an amazing roller coaster ride.

Adams: What doors did God open for you to get to where you are today?

Christian: Man, what didn’t He open? We were in several local bands around the central Florida area for some years. As soon as we joined Anberlin, it was like God was saying, “I saw all the years of hard work you’ve put in, and here’s your benefit. From the beginning...we hadn’t even written six songs, and we’d already signed a contract and booked studio time and were already talking our first tour. Things just started clicking. We wrote songs that we thought weren’t rushed and, we thought, were well though-out songs. Tours have been offered whereas in our local bands, we couldn’t tour to save our lives! Now we’re turning down huge bands that we would have given anything to go on tour with before. So many many doors.

Adams: You guys were all friends in separate bands?

Christian: Yeah, we in several different bands, but we had joined one particular band. That conglomerate finally broke up after the drummer and guitarist each went off and got married. Anberlin is kind of like the daughter of that band.  We’d all known each other through different bands. The drummer (Nathan Young) is 16, and we used to go watch his band when he was 12, because here’s this child prodigy that was just mind-blowing! So we incorporated him in a couple of years later. 

Adams: Tell me about the other guys in the band.

Christian: There are four other guys. I’m Stephen, and I sing. Joey Milligan (guitar)--he and I are the collaborators on the music writing. He writes the majority of the music, and I write the majority of the lyrics, so that’s how it works. We feed off each other. There’s Joey Bruce, he plays guitar also. Nathan Young (drums), who’s 16, he lives in Tampa, Fla., and Deon--he’s pretty much the tour manager/bass player. The four of us, besides Nate, are from the same town, called Winter Haven, Fla. It’s a small, “po-dunk,” no-name, no-one-actually-lives-there, great place to be from town.

Adams: Aaron Sprinkle has a pretty outstanding reputation as a producer. What did he bring out in the band on the album that you were really pleased with?

Christian: Let me just preface this by saying Aaron Sprinkle is one of our great friends now. We just hung out with him a couple of days ago. He’s about to blow up as a producer. He just got the Eisley deal from Capitol or Columbia. He just got this huge deal. I’m just so happy that God’s blessing him and his career. He’s just done some amazing things. I think what he did...there’s a pop sensibility to Anberlin, and there’s also this heavy, hard-hitting side, and what he did was combine the two so it flowed, so the album just flows. Each song may not sound like the last one, but it’s the same band, you can tell it’s off the same album. He kept it so that we could be rock ‘n roll but also so that the hooks stick in your head more. Aaron just brought that all out of us. It was great working with him. We were so happy and pleased that we’re definitely going to work on the next album with him.

Adams: So how long did it take to record this album?

Christian: From start to finish--done with mixing--took about two and a half months. We recorded it in Seattle, Wash., and we mixed it in Vancouver, and then mastered it in Seattle again. It was a long process, but, man, was it worth it. I’m so happy with the record.

Adams: Any songs that have really taken on a life of their on in the live setting as opposed to the album?

Christian: In some ways, we’re not as polished as the record represents. Aaron never saw us live before we made the album, which is actually a good thing, because we definitely have a radio record. I think the next album...since Aaron has now seen us live, he understands that we’re a little more impacting and maybe a little more powerful and driven. I think the next album will represent that. The live performance does take on a completely different life of its own. I think the live show compliments the record very much, but if you’re coming expecting to hear four-part harmonies or eight-part guitars, I think you’re going to see something different.

Adams: Your publicist said you’re quite an academic. You’ve earned a couple of degrees?

Christian: I double majored in psychology and philosophy at UCF (University of Central Florida). I’m starting my master’s degree in January on the road--a master’s in business, actually. I didn’t want to be a shrink, and I don’t want to teach, you know what I’m saying? So I don’t know what else to do with philosophy or psychology. I think that God’s really leading me to work with an organization much like World Vision, or something to that effect, where they want a master’s degree in something very practical. I think business is very practical in the ministry--very practical--because a lot of times there’s either a real business mind in the ministry or there’s a really ministry mind. I think there needs to be a conglomerate of both.

Adams: I’m assuming you’re a deep think with the psychology and philosophy combination. Is rock ‘n roll more of an escape from that, or is it an extension of that deep thinking?

Christian: I think it’s an extension. Someone said in the ‘70s, “If you want protest, don’t hold a sign, write a song, because people will actually listen.” In the same way, I’ve taken that philosophy (though I don’t agree with what they represented), and am like, “You know what, if there’s someone hurting or struggling, they’re not going to read a billboard or read a random pamphlet--they would be more likely to listen to a song.” Through that, I hit topics such as suicide, depression, and lust--topics that are just relevant, instead of trying to just go preach at someone, I’m going to sing to them about it.

Adams: A pastor friend of mine once said he couldn’t really understand how there could be a lot of intensity or anger in Christian music. How would you explain it to him?

Christian: You’re dealing with several different topics here--the fact that there even is such a thing as “Christian” music could be a topic all on its own. But if you want to say that in the genre of Christian music, how can there be anger? I think a lot of times, as Christians, we view our lives with blinders. We don’t actually accept some realities. There is such a thing as depression, there is such a thing as hurt. Though we are Christians, still Christians are molested, and Christians are hurt, Christians are mistreated. So there is anger and resentment and rage--you can’t sugarcoat your whole life. If you keep trying to suppress something--coming from a psychological standpoint--your anger or your rage and hurt, that is only going to mess up future relationships. You have to accept the fact that there are negatives in a positive situation. Being a Christian is a positive; life’s circumstances are definitely the negative, in some regards. Sometimes you have to express it and get it out, and music is one of those mediums. Music is one of those things where you can go, “Here is what I’m struggling with, here’s what I’m dealing with.” The other thing is, everybody is not going to listen to the same genre of music. Such as your pastor-friend--depending on his age, let’s guess 60-70 like my grandparents, they are used to Gospel music. They have the Gaithers, or whatever. Well, if you give that to a 16-year-old, or a 13-year-old, or you bring the Gaithers to this show tonight--every kid is going to walk away. Thus, you have music such as hard-core Christian music, which is like screaming and guitar-driven, that can reach a totally different genre. Let’s say your pastor friend is 40, he listens to Michael W. Smith, or stuff like that. You try to bring that kind of genre here or onto the general market tours that we do...I mean, it’s totally unacceptable. They’ll walk away, they’ll mock it, or spit in their general direction. It doesn’t click. So, much like the body of Christ is made up of the hand, the foot, the mouth, etc., it’s the same with music. If you’re going to minister to somebody in the old school punk rock scene, you’re not going to try to locate a band that sounds like Amy Grant, you’re going to try to find someone that sounds more like the Sex Pistols. That’s just how it works. To deny every genre of music except for what your pastor-friend believes is Christian music is to alienate a complete body of Christ, and a complete witnessing tool. Paul said to the Greeks I become a Greek, to the Jew I become a Jew. Well, your pastor friend could not stand up before this crowd tonight and witness, where Relient K can. Much like he is ministering to people that I will never be able to reach, God’s given me the ability to minister to people that he’s not able to reach.


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