Interview: Anberlin on New Songwriting Techniques, ‘Devotion’ and Escaping Florida

We’re in the midst of a strong season for Florida rockers Anberlin, who have announced both a new label partnership with Big3 Records (through Sony/RED Distribution) and just dropped a new collection of unreleased, remixed, and brand new material called Devotion: Vital Special Edition. The just-released two-album collection consists of a special edition of their most recent album Vital with new songs, and DVD: Live from the Music Hall of Williamsburg, from the band’s acoustic tour. 

Anberlin’s live show is a force to be reckoned with, a vital component of the band’s continued success and the basis of their creative inspiration. We caught up with Anberlin’s Stephen Christian (vocals) and Christian McAlhaney (guitar) on the road for their co-headlining tour with The Maine, to discuss the selection process for Devotion, changes in their songwriting approach and the vital importance of getting the hell out of Florida. 


How involved was the band in selecting the additional songs and tracklist for Devotion? Was it motivated at all by the crowd reactions to b-sides on your acoustic tour this year and last?

SC: We were absolutely involved in the decision making process of what goes on our record; the music, the art, the images all define who people perceive our band to be for better or worse. Putting out the live show was a culmination of crowd reaction and the fact that we as musician really enjoyed the different take on the songs that we created, we felt like it should be something that was cataloged in our career. 


What led to selecting this particular show for the DVD, Live From The Music Hall Of Williamsburg?

SC: We actually didn’t choose it, actually we didn’t even plan on recording it live till about a week before the show (see the reasons above). Our label basically said hey you want to record this? Great, you’ll do it in a week. And go…


What inspired a full remix of the album?

SC: Christian is into EDM, its something we have played around with, but not on this scale. It seemed to come together quite quickly with the help of our friends. We get by with a little help from our friends.


Do you have an overall philosophy on remixes? They seem to be a relatively new phenomenon. A Perfect Circle actually learned to play a live version of the Massive Attack remix of their song “Three Libras,” and it was incredible. 

CM: I haven’t heard that remix, but I am a fan of both artists so I’m sure I would love it.  I personally love remixes, I think it’s interesting to hear someone else’s take on a song, especially when you’re turning a heavy rock song into an electronic song.  I wouldn’t say there was an overall philosophy to the Vital remixes.  We more were looking for diversity in the remixers rather than being specific as to what kind of remixes we wanted.  Most of the remixers are friends of our from the rock world who also happen to dabble in electronic music as well.  We let them pick the song(s) they wanted to do, never really gave anybody direction, just let them do their thing and would send back notes.


There seems to have been a thematic shift in your songwriting in recent years, moving away from failures and negativity as a topical source. What led to these changes?

SC: I used negativity for many reasons, first music is my outlet for frustrations and in a way its my therapy. I have realized that though it is easier to write the ‘blues’ it is only one angle of the human psyche. I have made a decision to show all facets of my life, not just the easiest one for me to ‘unleash’. 


Given our leaps of technology and immersion in endless superfluous digital nonsense, social structures are nothing at all like they were when we were kids. The piracy discussion aside, how do you feel that’s affecting the way people listen to, and share excitement for, new music?

SC: I actually think it helps a band in the fact that people can hear new music faster and it can reaches all four corners of the globe. We have gone to many countries where we know our records are not for sale online or physically and yet we sell out the show with everyone singing along. Thats insane, and a positive. ( Though I do miss tapes that friends would pass around, those were some of the best mixes).


You’ve worked with some fantastic producers, from Aaron Sprinkle to Brendan O’Brien and beyond. Is there a producer you’d like to work with on a track, just to see how your sound would work through their filter?

Nigel Godrich 


You’ve been touring partners with some excellent live bands lately,  including From Indian Lakes and The Maine. After all these years, are there any lessons you guys are still learning from your peers on the road, or are you more in the mentor seat after this many years in the game?

SC: I think we need to live in both seats, be able to mentor but not too cocky that we think we know everything. Grow or die.  


Best non-U.S. city for an excellent Anberlin show?

SC: Melbourne, Sydney, London, Singapore, & Manila.


Lastly, what in ever-loving hell is going on with Florida these days? It seems every crazy/disturbing/mind-blowing news story is coming out of there these days. What makes Florida such a cultural wild frontier?

SC: THATS WHY I MOVED! Get out while you still can Floridians! 


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