When I became a Christian in 1999, the Christian rock, punk and metal scenes were just beginning to blow up. After a year or two of serious internet googling, I became a Tooth & Nail Records junkie and a regular Cornerstone Festival attender. One of the coolest parts of that time in my life was watching Anberlin grow as a band.
Each year at Cornerstone they played on a bigger stage, from the generator stages, to the Tooth & Nail showcase, to the Midnight Encore, to the Main Stage. It was awesome. Their heavy-hitting music, still with plenty of pop sensibility, had a lyrical profundity that just captivated me.
After Anberlin disbanded, I hoped to continue hearing Stephen Christian create music in one form or another. I’ve loved every Anchor & Braille album, and was glad to see him continue to give life to that project last year with Songs for the Late Night Drive Home. But I was quite surprised to find him putting out a solo album this summer, and even more surprised when I discovered it was a worship album! It’s available today, and Stephen kindly agreed to talk to us about the record, and much more.
Can you tell us about the inception of the Wildfires project, and how it landed with BEC Recordings?
The inception started with me not wanting to lose the creativity that comes with songwriting. I signed a deal with Word Publishing to songwrite, and from there I ended up writing a lot of songs for other people. I was attracted to the worship songs I was coming up with and with some convincing from agents and my wife, I began to consider releasing a worship record of my own.
BEC/T&N feels like home; not only did I know and care about that staff, they were understanding that my life was no longer going to center around touring.
When I first excitedly listened to “Gloria,” the first release from Wildfires, I was surprised by the straightforward worship lyrics, compared to the at-times cryptic poetry of Anberlin and Anchor & Braille. Why “now”? Did you feel like you could not write lyrics like these in those projects, or is it simply a change in your life that now you want to do worship music, or something else altogether?
No one ever asked me to write worship songs with them; it was a genre that I rarely listened to and even more so was rarely exposed to. I had written rock, pop, country, and even hip hop up to that point but once I discovered I was passionate about writing it, the rest just seemed to fall into place. I do wish I would have started my solo ‘worship’ project years ago.
Speaking of the music, it seems like a strong departure from both Anberlin and from the varied styles of Anchor & Braille. “Gloria”, for example, feels like fairly traditional worship music. Was that intentional?
These songs started as songs written for other people, thus the reason they are not as ‘cryptic’ as I traditionally write. However, they are all personal, coming from a place of deep struggle and triumph; that is why I could not stomach someone else recording them.
I have seen many comments along the lines of “I’m not religious, but I love Stephen’s voice, so I’ll listen to this.” Do you see yourself using the credibility and social capital you gained with Anberlin to reach others for Christ with this album? As you look back to your time with Anberlin and the influence your body of work still has, do you feel any kind of obligation to make use of that influence?
I hope so, but it is no different than any other album I have ever put out. I always hoped that I could be a city set on a hill, I never hid my faith; it is part of my DNA. I don’t feel a weight of obligation, because I know that whatever I do I should do unto the Lord. Therefore, if I choose to be a doctor next, that should be unto the Lord. I do not regret my previous body of work, because I know God used me to reach others for His kingdom in those formidable years.
Now that you’ve had several years to reflect, how do you feel about how Anberlin ended? What were the best and worst parts of it? (I can affirm the last acoustic tour you all did was definitely one of the best parts!)
It was a bittersweet symphony. I appreciated how in depth we planned and how much attention we paid to our fans. However, I loathe how it ended; it was mismanaged and became such a burden, that I can safely say I was feeling the physical effects from that last year for months after.
Many Tooth & Nail bands from the same era as Anberlin have done reunion tours, and/or are being featured on the “Labeled” podcast. Are there any plans to reunite for a tour, or do any other kind of reconnecting or rehashing of the band’s time together?
I can safely say that we will never have a reunion, but I could see an Anberlin recalibration in some form or fashion.
This is the second album you’ve put out since Anberlin disbanded… How has songwriting changed for you, as you’ve moved from being in a band of five guys to starting over with solo projects? Do you feel a push to do tours for these albums?
I love songwriting, and even more, I love being in the studio. If I could just invest and spend the rest of my life in those two forms I would be ecstatic, but life is more complicated than that. I do feel a push to do tours but that is because it is all I have known. I am not going to tour, but I am not opposed to doing festivals or conferences and such.
Each Anchor & Braille album has sounded drastically different, but they still feel like a cohesive whole. How would you define your goals with that project?
Passion. All I want from A&B is to go off on tangents that my mind creates. I am excited to see where it goes, but the beauty of it all is that I feel no pressure as to when or with whom it all happens.
Can you tell us a bit about how last year’s Songs for the Late Night Drive Home came together? It’s one of my favorites of 2016, and it really sounds like it’s meant to be an album, like the one really long song, over individual tracks. Did you intend to make it sound that way?
I really wanted to head in a distinct electronic direction all while tapping into my love for 90’s R&B. I wanted to go for a Washed Out-meets-Frank Ocean vibe, and I think producer Ryan Bernal really helped me pull that off.
After Anberlin disbanded, you explained all lyrics from the band on http://anberlinlyrics.tumblr.com/. Do you think you will ever do a similar series of posts about Anchor & Braille?
I don’t think so, because as opposed to Anberlin, A&B was never for the masses. It was more like a piece of art from the Dada movement; whatever you think it says to you, it says to you.
What is your favorite track from Wildfires, and why?
“Wide Eyed Wonder” this week. A lot of worship feel like it has been done before, but that song feels like something so different lyrically. It’s mesmerizing to me.
What have you been listening to, reading, watching, playing, and geeking out about lately?
I am on a hip hop kick lately; I can’t get enough of Chance the Rapper. The book H3 is blowing my mind. And I am geeking out about the upcoming Venom movie. Tom Hardy??? That is going to be incredible.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I think if we covered anymore, we could deem this an autobiography! Thanks for giving me the time!
Many thanks to Stephen for this interview. Wildfires is available TODAY on Amazon, iTunes, and wherever else awesome music is sold. Go check it out!
I've been a board game reviewer since 2011. I love card-driven games and party games. I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and teach the subject at Taylor University in Upland, IN. My wife and kids are my favorite gaming partners.
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