Anberlin’s Vital Return to the Magic City

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Anberlin arose in 2002 on indie label Tooth and Nail with 2002’s Blueprints for the Black Market and have built a strong following in the alternative market while still maintaining their artistic integrity even after making the jump to the majors in the latter half of the 2000s. My first show was Anberlin at Homewood Armory in 2006 and solidified my appreciation for passionate, DIY 21st century rock. Their latest record, Vital, dropped last year and received high praise from a variety of critics, some even going as far to call it a masterpiece.

I talked with lead singer, Stephen Christian, about the new record, returning to Aaron Sprinkle and life as a major label artist in the 21st music industry.

Chris K. Davidson for You Hear This?: With the new record, Vital, you returned to the familiar with Aaron Sprinkle at the helm, but it was still experimental with a lot of new influences.

Stephen Christian: I think we’re just always attempting to grow. As a band, you are always planning your next step and wanting the new record to be better than the last one. For us, I felt like we had time and energy. We just really wanted to try, not just something new, but we really wanted to focus on areas we had done in previous records, but we really wanted to expound on. Everything from trumpets to electronics because we realize now that with an auxiliary player, we can pull this stuff off live. Everything that we play on our records, we want to be able to pull off live. That opened us to experimenting more with keyboards and pianos and noises and sounds because we know the live show would suffer without those things. We got into our brains early on that we really wanted this to be an energetic and aggressive record and that’s what’s been done. I think Aaron Sprinkle really pulled from us some of the best work that we’ve ever done. It was a huge homecoming for us because we did our first few records with him. It was absolutely incredible and fun.

YHT: What has it been like being on a major label (Universal) in the 21st century music industry?

SC: It’s been difficult and challenging. Being on a major label is not like I presume it was in the 90s where you can get on a major label and basically put your feet on the table and call it a day. I think, and not have to work anymore. We found it was just as difficult to be on a major label as it was to be on an indie label. Maybe a few different battles to fight. I think being on any record label right now has got to be a challenge itself. The fact that nobody is really selling records and not a lot of people are buying records anymore, it’s just a totally different era. I think the challenge for us is breaking through the noise because now there are thousands of bands and we are trying to find our voice on Universal. I think the other challenge is just ourselves. We’re our own worst enemies because we want to be able to create art and push the envelope of music and yet we have to make sure to remain Anberlin. I think what got us here is being ourselves. I think we’ve done a good job of remaining ourselves in spite of what the record label wants us to be, in spite of who we think we should be, so I think at the end of the day, we’re our own worst enemies. We’re trying to maintain integrity as far as being musicians.

YHT: I’ve been reading up on a lot of my favorite bands and I hardly notice any of my favorite artists in this day and age having a platinum record within a year of putting it out. I guess that puts more emphasis on touring and the live shows.

SC: It definitely does. That’s why a lot of these labels take the bands and take a piece of the touring and a piece of the merchandising, trying to get their hands in every area, not just the record anymore, because they understand that bands can’t survive off record sales anymore. A lot of labels aren’t giving tour support anymore. At the end of the day, people are illegally downloading records because they think they’re screwing over the corporate world, but it’s really the artists that are suffering. In these times, the bands could just complain about it and quit or you can just keep going and if you’re passionate about something, life will work out at the end of the day. You’ll figure out a way to survive. If being in a band was about money, I doubt there would be many bands. At the end of the day, it’s about what you’re passionate about and you’ll continue regardless of what’s happening around you. I think that’s where Anberlin is, in that passion for writing and performing music. We’re just passionate about what we do.

YHT: The internet has allowed you to connect with fans like never before. I saw your All-Access deal that you’re doing on this tour. Is this the first time you’ve done it?

SC: Yes, it is, and here is the reasoning. When we tour, we’re out for eight or nine months of the year. It feels like we’re always on tour. When you’re on tour that long, I don’t get to meet people after the show as much as I want to because if I go outside and stand for two hours, I lose my voice. It drives me crazy because that’s my favorite part because I get a chance to hang out with fans. I called management and wanted to know how we could make this different and better. He set up this system where we can not only hang out with them, we can take them on the bus and to soundcheck. I just want to be able to connect with people. That’s my favorite part of this job, being on stage and being to connect with fans and getting to know people. That’s where it all stems from.

Anberlin will be playing an acoustic show at Zydeco in Birmingham on Saturday, June 22nd with Stars in Stereo and Campfire OK. Doors open at 7 p.m. with the show kicking off around 8 p.m. Tickets are $18.

About Chris K. Davidson

Chris K. Davidson is a contributing writer for You Hear This. He has written for Birmingham Box Set, AL.com, among others.

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