Stephen Christian is a well-known name in the alternative rock scene. He's best known for being the lead singer of the band Anberlin. During his time with Anberlin, Stephen found that his own music didn't fit with the band's sound. But, Stephen wanted to share his messages and sounds with the world.
So, under the moniker Anchor & Braille, he released his own music. Stephen continued to write music using Anchor & Braille--even when Anberlin stopped touring in 2014. He's just released Tension, his fourth Anchor & Braille album.
Stephen's success speaks for itself. The Florida native has been involved with music practically his whole life. He started making music with a small punk band with some local friends in town. Later, he became the lead singer for a different band, Anberlin.
Anberlin released music under the Tooth & Nail Records banner. He's released seven studio albums with over one million copies sold. He also released a worship album using his real name. Now, Stephen works on the pastoral staff of Grace Family Church in Florida, near his hometown.
Congratulations on the new album release. It's excellent.
Thank you, very much. I had no clue after the last album, Songs for the Late Night if we were going to put out another record or not. It's cool to be back. Working on Tension inspired me to start making music again–even with Anberlin.
Tell us more about the Anchor & Braille project.
Anchor & Braille started as a passion project. There are a few songs that I had shown my friend, Aaron Marsh from Copeland. And, I asked him, "What do you think about these songs? They don't fit on a typical Anberlin record." He suggested that I make it a full band project. Honestly, I was going to call the project, "Stephen Christian." But, he convinced me pretty quickly otherwise. I'm glad he made that suggestion; having a band is more fun.
We had a lot of local musicians on the first record, Felt, in 2009. I use different musicians and producers on every single record I've recorded. I've only toured on it one time, where we opened up for Copeland years ago. Anytime I get inspired to create records, I usually start creating, and then, when I get done, I call the record label and go into the studio. So, that is how Anchor & Braille formed and where it is today.
Looking back on your time with Anberlin, were there any songs that you think would have been a better place in Anchor & Braille or Anberlin, or vice versa?
Absolutely. "MADNESS" or "BLACK SEA," two songs from Tension, could have been included on an Anberlin record. "Younglife," from Anberlin's 2009 album New Surrender, would have been an Anchor & Braille song. It just wasn't a fit. This kind of messed that album up for me; It just fell out of place on that record. So, that's where it kind of gets you into trouble: not knowing exactly where the song should end up.
Tension is your fourth album with Anchor & Braille, your second since Anberlin stopped touring full time. How has the songwriting for the new albumbeen different?
I think the biggest difference is that it has probably been the longest it's ever taken me to write a record. It took me about a year and a half to put together because of time and life constraints. And, honestly, if I don't have any creativity and passion in me, I just don't write. It's not like it's a job that I have to do. Or, something that I have to sit down and grind out. I would rather wait and let the excitement of building a project come together. That's why it took me so long to write it.
The whole record was supposed to be and feel carefree. The extra time allowed me to write and create something that fit my vision. I wanted the record to be almost like taking a deep breath. Tension, the album name, was supposed to be an oxymoron--even in the fact that everything is in all caps like you're yelling. When you listen to my first single, "DANGEROUS," you realize that it's the complete opposite of 'tension.'
Who or what were your musical influences while you were writing the album?
I think the biggest musical influence was Motown. You can hear that sound a lot when you listen to the record. I kind of pay homage to Stevie Wonder. The song "CLOSER & FARTHER," has an early Michael Jackson sound. On a Sunday morning, there's nothing better for my family than putting on some Motown music, while getting ready for the day. I wanted something like that Sunday-morning record. For me, that's Motown, and, hopefully, for other people, that's Tension.
In what ways has your faith influenced the album?
Well, I don't think you can separate your faith from anything. Whether it's a doctor, a lawyer, or anything else. Hopefully, Jesus seeps into everything I do. While this record isn't about me being overly blatant in professing my faith, it's still there.
The song "TETHERED" is about my relationship with the Word of God. It's about how powerful those words are; everything that's spoken in the Word feels so alive in my soul. I think that everywhere you go, the Word of God, or your faith, should be in everything you do. Throughout the lyrics, whether it be Anberlin or Anchor & Braille, Jesus Christ has always been present to me.
Let's focus on a couple of songs. Tell me the meaning behind your single, "DANGEROUS."
"DANGEROUS" is about the beginning of my wife's and my relationship. My wife had just got out of a relationship. Me, I didn't want to rush anything. I wanted to get to know her. I wanted to find out if we were going to be friends, or if something else was there. That's where the line says, "You and me/I do believe/Let's just take our time, who's in a rush?" The lyric, "We could get dangerous" is about how you want to find someone to be crazy with you, be your best friend, be your ride-or-die. For me, that was my wife, Julia.
That's awesome. Thanks for sharing. Can you explain a little bit of your vision behind the song, "CLOSER & FARTHER"?
Sure. I think most people wear too many masks. Primarily, people show what they know to be true about themselves, what others perceive of them, or what they want to show other people. The song asks the question, "Who are you when no one's around?" Because the face behind the mask is the real you.
Over time, pretending gets hard, masks get heavy; the more masks we wear, the harder it is to get to know the person. You truly don't know that person and they truly don't know you. The song's message is about just being yourself. In the bridge, it says, "Can I see you girl with your make up off?" This is not just an analogy. It's not asking someone to literally take off her physical makeup. It's a metaphor saying, "Hey, I want to see the real you. So, you can see the real me. We can be completely vulnerable and honest, moving here forward."
That's very encouraging. "Phantom Pain" is another song that stands out to me. It seems to be the most somber song on the album. What's the story behind this one?
It's about old friendships that passed away; friendships that needed to be left in the past. Friendships and relationships are some of the building blocks to who you believe you are and how you can be yourself. If there are people that are toxic to who you want to become, it's better that they're just phantom pain. Sure, you can miss them and remember the good times. But, it doesn't mean that they should be a part of your daily life.
The kind of love you sing about in "MADNESS" is special. How do you explain that kind of love?
The kind of love I sing about is so humble, it's so lifechanging and unconditional. It's difficult to love like that. And, I know God commanded us to love like this in the Bible. It's something that we ought to do, but it's not something we're all good at. Whether it is about religion, politics, creed, color, whatever the case might be, no matter what you say, somebody has an alternative view. And, they look at you as lesser person because you don't share that view.
I think we as Christians need to love our neighbor as ourselves, put others before us, and treat others as if they were better than us. I encourage Christians everywhere to rewrite the script. We need to treat everyone in the same way that God treats them. That's equally and full of mercy and love and grace. So, go ahead and rewrite that script.
Absolutely. Do you have a personal favorite song from Tension?
"NO ORDINARY" is my favorite. When it comes in with French horns, then starts with electronics, and then it hits the soft verse building up to the giant chorus, all in a matter of like 45 seconds. It's like a whirlwind of music and emotion. And, it's by far, my favorite song on the record.
After listening to Tension, what would you want your listeners to walk away with?
I want them to walk away with a smile on their face. I want them feeling a little bit better about life, themselves, and each other. It's all about taking a deep breath and relaxing, being lost in those moments of listening to this record. I hope every time they come back to it, there's peace in the calamity.
Definitely. How can we be praying for you, Stephen?
Every single way. Everything that you can think of. From family to finances to the future. When you think about my life, just pray God's will be done. I appreciate any prayer you can possibly take the time to pray for me about.
Ryan Adams loves the Christian rock and metal community. Through NRT, he shares his heart to minister to others. He lives in Ohio and grew up in the church.
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