Escape from Neverland

Anberlin singer Stephen Christian gets a little help, and grows up, on New Surrender

Stephen Christian of Florida rockers Anberlin, centre, worked with former Semisonic lead singer Dan Wilson to write “Retrace,” one of the songs on the band’s latest CD, New Surrender.

Every new beginning comes from some beginning’s end. With the end of its days as an independent recording act and the beginning of its major label career, Florida rock quintet Anberlin has been given opportunities it never had before.

In the case of lead vocalist Stephen Christian, this opportunity includes being able to write music with Dan Wilson—the former Semisonic singer, guitarist and songwriter responsible for the 1998 hit song “Closing Time.” When Christian was looking for input on a song he wrote titled “Retrace,” he asked his record company, Universal Republic, to place a call to Wilson, asking if he’d be interested in helping out. He was.

“The thing about writing is, [Anberlin guitarists] Joey [Milligan] and Christian [McAlhaney] write a lot of the music, so they have someone to play off of,” the 28-year-old said by phone from Ottawa last week, where he and his band (rounded out by bassist Deon Rexroat and drummer Nathan Young) had just finished a radio interview.

When you start a band and get in a bus, it stunts your maturity because you’re living the same day everyday.

Stephen Christian, Anberlin

“But for three records, I’ve had no one. I wanted to be challenged, I wanted to become a better songwriter.”

So why Wilson?

“Obviously ‘Closing Time’ is just one of the best songs ever written.”

“Retrace”—a mid-tempo rocker complete with string section in which Christian recalls a past love—is just one of the standout tracks on New Surrender, the album Anberlin released last September. The band recorded the 12-song disc over three months in Los Angeles with producer Neal Avron, who has previously worked with The Wallflowers, Serj Tankian and Fall Out Boy.

Christian said the fact that Avron was experienced with both pop and rock music made him an ideal producer. Anberlin chose him over Aaron Sprinkle, who produced the group’s first three studio albums, because they wanted to switch it up.

“We had made so many changes, like adding a new guitarist, signing to a new label—there were so many changes, and we didn’t just want to record Cities Part II or Never Take a Friendship Personal Part II. We wanted it to be something that was new, but still Anberlin.”

Christian also has a new outlook when it comes to lyrics. In the past, he’s told interviewers that 2003’s Blueprints for the Black Market was about man vs. world, 2005’s Never Take a Friendship Personal was about man vs. man, and 2007’s Cities was about man vs. self. He sees New Surrender as moving away from those egocentric themes and instead focusing on humanity as a whole.

“I feel like there’s almost, I call it, the Peter Pan syndrome—arrested development. When you start a band and get in a bus, it stunts your maturity because you’re living the same day everyday—load up the van, drive to the show, unload the van, play the show, load the van, go to the next show.

“I think it’s taken me a little longer to grasp bigger issues, but I think that’s a season in everyone’s life as well. Then you take some initiative, move away from that inner-focus and open up to bigger and broader ideas.”

See Anberlin Friday, Jan. 23 at The Garrick Centre.

Published in Volume 63, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 22, 2009)

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