Interview with Stephen Christian | By Jameson Ketchum
A year removed from hanging up the mic with Anberlin, Stephen Christian just couldn’t stay away. With possible designs on leaving music altogether, a unanimous sigh of relief was heard when Christian launched The Art Collective, a podcast exploring the influence and inspiration of a variety of artists, writers, musicians and innovators. Christian was always viewed as much more than just a front man. Philosopher, author, humanitarian, inspiration and tribe leader are just a few of the titles attributed to Christian over the years. Additionally, Christian’s passion project, Anchor & Braille, has just dropped their third release via Tooth & Nail, entitled Songs for The Late Night Drive Home, a beautiful sampling of where the 39 year old’s head has been since enjoying his drastic lifestyle shift. Now enjoying the adventures of home life for the first time with his wife and two daughters in Albuquerque, Christian seems as creatively on fire as ever.
Anberlin has been done for just over a year, have you had any moments of missing it?
I haven’t. First off, that sounds really sad. For me, I really don’t. I’m not saying we were The Beatles or Bono, but by personal standards of success, we had accomplished what we set out to accomplish maybe five years before we ended. We got a chance to travel the world and create records with great producers. We got the chance to experience record labels and a tour bus etc. I think that was one of the sole contributing factors, that there wasn’t the next moment, the next “what if?” For us, we were so thankful to have the chance to succeed, there wasn’t much left to do. The simple fact is I have two beautiful toddlers and I get the chance to come home and sleep two doors down from them. I have a wife who I’m in love with who I get to sleep next to every night. For me, that’s the new standard of not only normal, but of success.
If you were a single guy with no family, do you think it would have kept going?
Yeah, I could see the band going on for another couple years if I was single but luckily for me, I did have a family. I still believe in my heart that it was a perfect time to end. In an alternate universe, I probably would have gone on another year or two but it would have been absolutely wrong.
I only ask about Anberlin because this new A&B record is your first removed from that world. What was your attitude going into this new record now that your lifestyle has completely changed?
It was fun, it was passionate and it was exciting. It felt like it was given another chance. I guess when Anberlin ended, I assumed that was it, like I was gonna move on from music. I remember hearing about Michael Sweet from Stryper, they had massive success, made tons of money, sold millions of records, toured international stadiums and they had it all. I saw their Behind the Music episode and the dude was a state park ranger and he wouldn’t even say where. He had long hair under his hat and I thought “That’s it! That’s what I want, I want to disappear, I want to be so anonymous, I want to leave it all behind”. I really thought that was what my life was going to be like. When Anberlin ended, I still realized I loved songwriting, I’m at home in the studio in front of microphone. I love coming up with different ideas and I feel like that’s where I thrive and come alive. It’s almost second nature, being in the studio working. I realized there is no pressure with A&B, there’s no label breathing down my neck for a single or people depending on me to keep working so they can pay their mortgage. That’s not to say we didn’t work really hard on it, but it just didn’t have the same pressure.
In that thought process of potentially trying to disappear, did the notion that you still have a large audience and platform enter into your thinking? That you’re still able to influence and inspire even outside of the Anberlin machine?
Good question. My first thought is I guess I never realized how big of an audience I had until I was out of Anberlin. I took my family on this celebratory Disney cruise to say thank you and we were standing there in line and the kids are meeting the princesses. Cinderella goes “All these girls are huge fans of yours, all these princesses, can we meet you after this?” Holy crap, I’m on a Disney cruise in the Caribbean! Last night someone sent me a message saying that the guys in Trivium wanted me to know that they have a few albums inspired by my albums. What the crap! When I was in it, I guess I kind of wanted to ignore that kind of stuff because the more I acknowledged it, the more pompous I had the potential to become or I would start believing my own hype. I would constantly downplay that or look away. There might be that magic feeling of “Did I reach people for positive? Did I reach that responsibility? The Bible says that “to who much is given, much is required” I would always think “Did I do enough?” Maybe that’s why I do things like the podcast or more records. I guess I don’t have to face that yet.
The last time I saw Anberlin was in New York City where you performed Cities and Never Take Friendship Personal back to back. After the show I had never seen any person as mobbed by fans as you were. It just looked so impersonal and miserable.
My least favorite part…this is gonna sound so false humble and people can just decide to hate me or not, but the fame and notoriety was always my least favorite part. That’s why I loved the concept of being in a band like Slipknot, how cool is that? Don’t get me wrong, I love huge crowds and playing in front of 25 or 30 thousand people and just getting everyone into a mob frenzy. But I want to walk off stage and go to a coffee shop and read a Chomsky book, that would be the ideal life. To have people go completely mad and then walk off completely anonymous, that’s the freakin’ life.
Well, you should have done the masks.
Next Anchor & Braille record, we’re all gonna wear masks and pretend like nobody knows.
Lyrically, what was your inspiration this time around? Are you able to get more personal or vulnerable with A&B than with past projects?
I’ve always said that if you want to know everything then take all the Anberlin lyrics, put them in a book and you have everything. You have my first love, my first failure, my life. With A&B, I don’t know. This record in particular was more about the sonic vibe of the record than an in-depth retrospective telling of a story. I think I was just trying to make a record that I myself wanted to listen to.
“People can just decide to hate me or not, but the fame and notoriety was always my least favorite part.”
We’ve talked about this a few times in the past but you’ve always worked to be a pretty private person, though you’ve stated you lyrics are really revealing. With the podcast you’ve actually revealed quite a bit that I would say the average fan might not be tuned into, talking about family, your real name etc. Has your attitude on privacy changed some?
Absolutely. When I was in Anberlin, I felt like the only home I had, because I was constantly on the road, was the conceptualization of my wife and kids. That was the only sacred ground I had. Now they’re mine and I don’t have to dream or imagine because I’m home. I don’t know what changed because before I would never post pictures of my wife or kids, I just felt maybe jealous or I wasn’t ready to share them with the world because they weren’t mine yet. That’s a great question. Maybe I should go see a psychologist and hash it out. I just know I felt safe and maybe like when I’m not with them I could never protect them. Now I’m with them every single day and I can protect them. I’m not sure what it is.
Let’s talk about The Art Collective. Is this a medium you’ve always been interested in? You used to have a book club and popular blog, was this the logical next step? Was this an outlet you were always interested in?
It wasn’t until the Bad Christian guys came to me and asked if I’d consider it. It’s different being on that side of the microphone, coming up with questions and segues. If it wasn’t for This American Life and Radio Lab, I don’t think I would have delved so deeply into it. I think it was a natural progression like you said, to figure out a new creative outlet.
What do you think of interviewing? I’ve heard journalist joke about so many musicians having podcasts now that you’re taking our jobs. Is it harder than you thought?
(Laughs) It really is, taking your job is a funny statement. That’s like Lebron James worried about a middle schooler taking his job. That’s your career, your living, what you go to school for, you’re watching other people work, there’s so much to it. We’re haphazard. This for me is a passion project, I may take your job for a couple months and maybe I’ll go start a YouTube channel. I’m horrible at interviews. You can hear on The Art Collective who’s my friend and who I’ve never met. With someone like Aaron Marsh (Copeland) or Toby Morrell (Emery), it’s just cutting up with old friends. It’s something I like working on and towards. I think my favorite part is just when people call in with random questions.
Thank you for calling me Lebron James.
You are Lebron James in my book!
“The Bible says that ‘to who much is given, much is required.’ I would always think ‘Did I do enough?'”
Who is on your dream list for the podcast?
I have a wish list. Malcome Gladwell, Bloc Party, just tons of bands and authors.
The podcast is about where creative inspiration can come from. What have you been reading/watching lately that has been contributing to your output?
I’ve been inspired by watching my children sleep or grow. There’s a purity, an excitement. It used to be where Christmas was my least favorite holiday. People put so much hype in it but when you have kids, viewing music or art, it’s almost like a rebirth, the whole world is full of wonder again for you. That’s beautiful to me, to get to re-watch life.
Well, besides A&B and The Art Collective, is there anything else we can promote for you?
Not just yet. I’m trying to do my best to put out two albums this year, this and my solo project just under my name. Those are the two big things in my life right now, just the podcast and Anchor & Braille.