“I’m still looking for the quiet life
but in those shadows it’s trouble I find
I’ve been waiting for all my life
for a drug called peace of mind…”
“In the musician lifestyle we always seem to be searching for something and we never seem to find it,” Stephen Christian explains of The Quiet Life, Anchor & Braille’s second album. “I’ve come to the conclusion that the only stability for a musician is instability. So there is this eternal search for ‘the quiet life.’ But I’ve never found it. It’s a dream, this imaginary quiet life.”
Christian, who formed Anchor & Braille as a solo project in 2008 and released its introspective debut, Felt, in 2009, has a lot of experience with that nomadic musician life, a theme that resonates through his music and lyrics. Christian, also frontman for rock band Anberlin, penned The Quiet Life whenever and wherever he could during the three years since the release of Felt. But despite the disc’s title there was no concept or underlying theme that the musician circled around while writing. The only real intention, initially, was to allow the songs to reflect the music he was personally listening to.
“I wasn’t attempting to mimic anything, but instead of writing songs in the same vein as the last record I felt like the whole joy of being in your own project is to pursue your passion,” Christian says, citing groups like Empire of the Sun and M83. “And I love indie electronic music so I wanted to bring that in. We didn’t use the keyboard effects or anything, but it was about bringing the tones of what I was listening to into my own music.”
Between other commitments, Christian recorded The Quiet Life over the course of January, February and March in Peptalk Studio in his current hometown of Nashville. The studio, actually a converted basement recording space, usually houses the band Civil Twilight, whose keyboardist Kevin Dailey co-produced and engineered the album along with Anchor & Braille guitarist Micah Tawlks. The disc, which Christian describes as a “patchwork record” due to this sporadic process, expands on the demos the musician had been penning for years. This sonic expansion is, in part, why Christian selected Dailey and Tawlks as his producers.
“I felt like they were the only ones who caught what I was trying to do,” Christian explains. “I didn’t want anyone to take my demos and glorify them. I wanted to write the songs and then interpret them in the studio. I want it to be creative and have the music be expounded upon, not just made bigger. My demos were the outlines and I needed people in the studio would help color them in.”
The resulting album is layered and complex, built on shimmering orchestral arrangements that are juxtaposed with Christian’s pensive croon. “Goes Without Saying,” the album’s opening number and first single, was written near the end of the process to balance out the album’s slower tracks. The piano-driven indie rock number offers a soaring, subtly hooky chorus and a sense of urgency, perhaps because Christian was magically able to write it in one sitting. “Only a few times in my life has songwriting happened like that,” he notes. “It came right away and flowed out. I felt in my element for just those few moments.” That single is off-set by the meditative hush of “Find Me,” which was penned on a tour bus in the U.K. and features the album’s title in its poignant lyrics.
The Quiet Life, a beautifully wrought and thoughtfully constructed album, exudes emotional depth and sensitivity, maybe because it was made with the same level of care. The songs on the disc, which feel like an evolutionary extension of those on Felt, reflect a musician who loves music and appreciates the joy of creating it.
“These songs are just my passion,” Christian says. “You can get burned out on the things involved with being a musician and Anchor & Braille allows me to go back to the beginning where it just about making music. It gets back to the music. It’s just me and a guitar or a piano. I love that feeling of dreaming about what the songs can do. This music is the overflow of my heart.”