#Anchor&Braille ‘s #Stephen Christian
by Michelle Michalski
On the release date of Anchor & Braille’s new record, The Quiet Life, I sat down with lead man Stephen Christian before their show at the Bowery in NYC to ask him a few personal questions about himself and the record. Drawing upon the theme of the record itself, he opened himself up willingly and without hesitation.
Anchor & Braille’s feel and lyrics are said to be drawn from your personal experiences, endeavors, struggles, and triumphs. Do all of the songs have truth and personal meaning to you?
I think if they don’t have personal meaning to you then all you’re doing is trying to sell pop music. Like people that have their songs written for them, it devoids it from any meaning. I don’t think I could sing someone else’s song and call it my own. So for me it has to be about life. It has to be about true experiences. Just like a painter paints as he sees the world. I am just writing how I see the world. A lot of it is just venting and a lot of it is just frustrations that I can’t put anywhere else. So for me lyrics have to be personal.
The album is supposed to be about your life as a nomadic musician, is this why you chose ‘The Quiet Life’ as the album title? What was your writing process for this album like?
That’s absolutely why I chose this title, because it was kind of like an oxymoron in the fact that titling a record The Quiet Life sounds like I have it or have obtained it. But it’s just the opposite. For me I think it’s something that everyone hopes for. Whether some people call it the American Dream or other people call it the moment of stability. I feel like my life is so unstable that it’s this eternal dream and I may not ever obtain it. It’s something that I feel like even if I had I wonder if I would enjoy. It’s one of those things that you’d miss the struggles and just life itself. Life is absolutely exciting. I wouldn’t trade my life for anybody’s. On the other hand the only stability I’ve ever had is instability. You know like I don’t know where I am going to be tomorrow, you find out about tour a couple weeks in advance. It’s always exciting. It’s so much fun. But it’s one of those things in life where we always chase what we can’t obtain.
What was the recording process like; were the ideas mostly yours or was there a good amount of collaboration between you (keyboardist) Kevin Dailey (of the band Civil Twilight) and (Anchor & Braille guitarist) Micah Tawlks who helped co-produce the album?
There was a good deal of collaboration. I mean basically I would sit down and write the bones of the songs. I would come up with the cords, I would say here’s the progression I want and then I would hand it over to them. That’s why I chose them as producers, it’s because me and Micah have almost identical taste in music. I wanted the structure to be in there but I wanted it to be creative. So, if they felt like putting in a french horn or throwing the microphone against the wall to make a noise that sounds fun. So we would sit down just the three of us and work over what we could do. I wanted this record to kind of be like– you have to listen to it a couple times to really get it. I wasn’t trying to write verse chorus, verse chorus. You know like a poppy chorus and then everyone sings along. For me it was kinda like, how can we make this so interesting that people are excited to hear what the next song may bring? We tried to change it with every song but also add cohesion throughout.
“Goes Without Saying” is the first single off of your new album. Why did you choose this song and what is the meaning behind your lyrics?
So the whole structure of the song we were trying to experiment with different music. One of the guys jokingly said you know this song would be awesome if this was played in front of the Ewoks, you know that whole jungle scene. We were all laughing about it and then Micah was like no but for real. What if we added some bongo percussion to make it sound like we’re in the Ewok village? That moved it forward and then we just tried to make it as fun as possible so that by the end of it, it was one of the most fun songs to create on the whole record. So musically it’s by far my favorite song. When you’re working on a whole passion project, it’s one of those things where, the whole goal is just to be what you’re really passionate about and this just turned out to be that song. Whether it’s the best song on the album or the worst it doesn’t matter. Whether people love it or hate it this is why I got into this, so let me show you what I’m doing.
It has been mentioned that when Anberlin started you had many songs written that Anberlin would never use, but you were not ready to share such personal experiences on a large platform. What made you change your mind?
I was so undefined starting out with Anchor & Braille, basically it was just a hodge podge of songs that I kind of wanted to put out and see what would happen. Over time Anchor & Braille became more defined and the more it got defined the more I realized, hey Anberlin isn’t full time. I really want to put this stuff out and I really believe in these songs. The further along down the road it got, I realized this is what I have to do and I’m okay with this. In the beginning it was just all so very sketchy and I was so unsure of the whole process. Now it’s just like man this is so much fun. This is what I gotta do, these are the lyrics I want to write, and these are the songs I want to put out.
You just started touring for the new album on July 21st. How is the tour going so far? Has the reception from your fans been positive? How is it going from bigger venues for Anberlin to smaller more intimate venues for A&B?
The reception from the fans has just been awesome. It’s awesome to see people drive so far to listen to songs they’ve never heard. That’s a really cool feeling. This is a much more intimate atmosphere and it’s great. I love the interaction. I love being able to look at and meet each person that comes to the show. With Anberlin there are just thousands of people and you’re like there’s no way I can talk to everyone here. It’s harder to connect. But this is like a complete and utter connection. It feels like I can look everyone in the face and have a conversation. Actually the first show of this tour was in Nashville at a house show. There were like 40 people and my friend made them dinner, somebody made coffee, and people could bring wine and we literally had a conversation and I got to explain my music and why I was doing the project. I got to answer questions and I met every single person and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.
What is the meaning to the name of Anchor & Braille? Does being a part of Anchor & Braille, which is closer to your life, fulfill you more than being a part of Anberlin, which is more mainstream?
The whole idea behind the project was to write songs with depth and feeling. So for me the words that I came up with was anchor for depth and braille being feeling. As far as fulfillment I think its two totally different demons and I’d be missing something without either one of them. A&B allows me to be just me. With Anberlin there are six different inputs, everyone has this idea of how the record is going to sound and they are all different. So when you add that all in to this one same pod it’s not going to feel exactly how you want it. It could be for the better though because all of these guys have such great ideas. This guy is an amazing guitarist so he’s going to add this in or this guys a great drummer… whereas for A&B it’s just me. So everything that I can imagine with how I want it to sound, I can just put it down on record. Like on “Him for Her” it’s literally how I wrote it on my piano. I just hit record and Micah added some background vocals and it was done. It’s literally how I envisioned the song and how I played it, every note. That’s the biggest difference. I don’t think one is better. People say two minds are better than one. A&B is more piano and coffee shop while Anberlin is like a steel mill. I feel like I would miss either one. I would miss the atmosphere but I would also miss the high energy. Tonight I’m just standing and playing there and I’m having a great time but I don’t sweat. Anberlin I’m freakin’ drenched and someone’s bloody onstage. There’s no way I could deal without Anberlin or the creative outlet that I’m allowed to have with A&B.
The first Anchor & Braille album had simple instruments and more of an acoustic feel. Then with the second album you added a full band. Now your third, ‘The Quiet Life,’ draws upon electronic elements, complex layers and lush orchestral arrangements. Would you say that your albums are evolving as you evolve as a person and musician? Do you still have the same vision for Anchor & Braille as when you first started the group?
The vision has always been the same. Whatever I do I just want to be passionate about it. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is my taste in music. You have to think some songs I wrote off the first record I wrote in 2003. My taste has definitely evolved in that amount of years. Some of my favorite stuff right now is electronic, indie stuff. I enjoy the combinations. Although I didn’t want to go all the way there, as to mimic or sound like or be compared to. I just happened to want to introduce more of those layers. Especially live, to be able to use drums. It’s fun. It allows me to be ever changing. I want to be excited about it musically. You kind of just go along with a feeling. If I told the guys in Anberlin ‘Hey I want a Ewok jungle here,’ they’d be like, ‘What kind of drugs is he on?’ If people love it then they’re gonna love it. If they don’t, then whatever, at the end of the day this is what makes me sleep at night. Allowing myself to have this creative outlet. I can just take a shot at anything, an empty canvas, and that’s what it’s all about; the creative flow of everything.
Because this album is so personal and carefully constructed by yourself, what does it mean to you? What would you like your fans to gain from listening to it?
Some people, who are fans of mine, think I am a private individual. I have my little group of friends at home. I stay away from a lot of topics on social media and stuff like that. I don’t know what people know about me by listening to my music. But everything I think about and everything that has ever happened to me is on this record. So, for me it’s like a biography, an open journal of my life.