Anyone who has been around me for the past six months knows how devastated I have been by the announcement that my favorite band, Anberlin, was breaking up. However, at yesterday’s Warped Tour stop in Holmdel, NJ, I was given the opportunity to sit down and chat with guitarist Christian McAlhaney for an extended discussion about the band’s final album Lowborn, their farewell tour, and what the future may hold for the individual band members. It was a distinct honor for me to be able to discuss these topics with the band, and I hope you enjoy the result.
The Garden Statement: We’re here at the Vans Warped Tour in Holmdel, New Jersey. We’re speaking here with Deon Rexroat and Christian McAlhaney of Anberlin. It was great set you guys played earlier today, so how has the tour been going so far?
Deon Rexroat: It’s been great. The weather’s been really good, the show have been awesome. Good crowds everyday. It’s kind of hard to ask for more sometimes.
Christian MacAlhaney: Good friends…
Deon: Yeah, a lot of good friends on the tour- Saves the Day, Bayside, Yellowcard- so it’s been really cool.
TGS: Awesome. So I kind of want to get to the elephant in the room right away. This is your guys’ final year as band, you guys announced back in January. So why did you decide to do Warped Tour in your final year as band?
Deon: Just to do it one more time. I mean we’ve done it, it’s been 6 years since the last time. And this year is kind of about coming full circle for the band, so…
Christian: It’s a fun tour too, you know 30 minutes (per set). It’s kind of a punk rock summer camp; just a fun thing to do for the summer.
TGS: So how do you guys decide a set? You have now, seven albums, how do you decide a set of 30 minutes?
Christian: We just recently started switching around a lot of songs. We’re going to be touring in the fall, and we’re going to be playing close to two hours for that set. We practiced before Warped Tour, but basically for the entire year because we’re on tour non-stop.
TGS: Is the final tour setlist going to be a selection of songs from your entire discography? Because a lot of people were looking to hear songs from Blueprints from the Black Market and Never Take Friendship Personal.
Christain: Yeah, it’s a lot of oldies. Actually, as it stands right now, we’re not even sure we’re gonna play any new songs from the new record.
Christain: We thought about it. If I was going to see a band I have been listening to for ten years play a final set, I think I would want all the older stuff. Especially with seven records and a record that just came out, I think I would want to hear that stuff as opposed to the newer stuff.
TGS: Yeah, but I mean they’ll never get a chance to hear those songs then.
Christian: Yeah, we’re still discussing it. We’re still discussing it.
TGS: Alright, well I know you guys released an Acoustic Live DVD on Devotion, the deluxe edition of Vital, but are there any plans to do a Live DVD of the final tour?
Deon: We’ve discussed multiple options, I know we’ve got something in the works. I don’t know if it will necessarily be a Live DVD so much as a documentation of the last US tour really. We’ve put out Live DVDs before, and I don’t know if that will be as important as seeing you know the behind the scenes of the final tour.
TGS: So, moving forward, you guys have a new album coming out July 22nd titled Lowborn. So at what point in the process of deciding that this would be your final year as a band? Did you decide that you wanted to put out one final album?
Christian: I mean we had been discussing it for probably six months before we actually announced it. It was definitely a debate we were having. I think, collectively, it did feel like it was the right thing to do. It was a weird decision to make, to know that you were going to break up and decide to put out a final album was a weird headspace to be in.
TGS: Yeah, you don’t see too many bands that do a farewell lap with an album.
Christian: Yeah, so I think once we all got on board, it felt right and made sense. And it all just made the year all kind of click together. A farewell album, a farewell year of touring. It just felt like that was the right way to go about ending the band.
TGS: Yeah, a lot of bands will just release a statement saying they’re done and it’ll be over. But you guys decided to go on a full extensive goodbye tour.
Christian: And when we were doing Vital that was never on our radar, so I think it gave us a chance to say goodbye in some of the songs and talk about emotionally what we were going through, or just what our mindsets’ are.
TGS: So let’s talk about the process of writing and recording the album. You guys worked with three different producers. How did you fit the puzzle pieces together on the album?
Deon: We just start at the beginning and go. When we looked at it, we just wanted to work with friends. We wanted to work with people that were close to us, we didn’t want to just hole up somewhere for seven weeks and disappear. We recorded with Matt Goldman because he recorded our first demos when we were starting out, Aaron Sprinkle recorded our first three albums, our first show we ever played was with Aaron Marsh’s band Copeland. So like I said it was about full circle stuff. We just went to Matt, started drums, then we went to guitar and bass, then we just let Stephen and Aaron Sprinkle take command of the vocals.
TGS: So it was pretty organic, just sort of came together.
Deon: It’s the quickest album we’ve recorded since Blueprints. So it came together very well and very easy.
TGS: So I guess can we talk about the album title itself? Why did you decide to title your final record Lowborn?
Deon: That would be more of a question for Stephen, he’s always got ten different answers for these things (chuckles). But I think, I don’t know, the last track is titled “Harbinger”. And originally one of the first album titles he came up with was Lowborn Harbinger. And I think he just ended up shortening it to Lowborn, in the same way that Cities ended up being called Cities because it was Songs for Darker Places, Songs for Darker Cities. So he’s always got a naming process for every album, and I guess Lowborn just sort of fit for where we started to where we ended up. For me anyways, it really rings true, listening to the lyrics that he wrote for this album and the song titles.
TGS: Awesome. So I guess I wanted to talk about the album cover, which has been sort of a little controversial.
Deon: Unnecessarily controversial (laughs)
TGS: I don’t know why because it’s a pretty iconic image and you guys have been using it for a few years now?
Christian: People have some dirty minds out there. Apparently IQs have dropped over the past ten years or so.
TGS: So did you guys decide early on that you wanted to use that logo for the final album?
Chrisitian: I mean we adopted it what during the Vital touring cycle?
TGS: Yeah on the Vital tour, you had a backdrop for it.
Christian: Yeah, we’ve had a guy that has done a lot of our layouts and graphic design. We kind of had an idea of his vision, and he sent us a lot of different versions of a photograph. I’m actually excited and happy with the controversy it caused, because at least it elicited some response from people, rather than just seeing an album cover and being like, “Oh, whatever.” It was extremely polarizing, which was hilarious to us, but it was good because it got a lot of attention too. People were like, “Oh my God. Have you seen this, this is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.” And then other people were like, “I don’t understand the big deal?”
TGS: Art is supposed to be polarizing. And I remember when Dark is the Way, Light is a Place came out, people were like, “It’s a horse falling? What is this?”
Christian: Yeah, and at least it gets a reaction. I mean it wasn’t intentional, people are just ridiculous. (laughs)
TGS: I was talking to my friend- we went to the Switchfoot and Anberlin tour a few years back and when they (Switchfoot) were on stage during the tour, they said that they wanted their song “Where I Belong” to be their final song at their last show as a band. So I guess as a farewell to Anberlin, what would you want to be your final song at your last show as a band?
Deon: That’s gonna be a secret. (laughs) I mean I don’t want to blow anything. We’re trying not to plan the year out too much. We want it to be emotional and spur of the moment stuff. So I don’t think we’ve got things planned out that far yet.
Christian: I would give people two guesses, but it would probably only take one.
Deon: Our fans can probably guess what we’re probably going to end up playing last. To us, the next few months are just about eyes wide open, and enjoying every second, and not trying to control it and plan it all.
Christian: It’s not all calculated.
Deon: Yeah, just gonna let it happen, man.
TGS: Yeah, just let it all come out organically. So I just wanted to do a few more questions about the fall tour and then we can wrap it up. You guys are doing Never Take Friendship Personal in full in Australia. And a lot of people were asking online about, I know you guys don’t have it all planned out already like you said, but a lot of people were asking about the US dates that have sold out already, and whether we could see a full album show there.
Christian: Yeah, it’s a possibility.
Deon: I mean it was just a really spur of the moment thing for us. We just kind of said, is there something cool we could do instead of just doing a second show after the Melbourne show sold out so fast. The promoter just was like, “would you consider doing an album show?” and for us, it kind of quickly, well… Friendship was the thing that broke us in Australia. It was the reason we were able to leave the US and go play in another country. It just caught on there and we had a fanbase out of nowhere. So it just made sense to pay homage to that and do a Friendship show. Because when we first went over there that was the album we had out, and that was the songs we were playing.
Christian: And I don’t think we anticipated these shows selling out six months before.
Deon: or overnight (laughs).
TGS: Yeah, the Philly show and the New York show were sold out almost immediately.
Christian: Yeah, I think two nights of New York are almost sold out already.
TGS: That’s good I guess to remember that…
Christian: You gotta break up to get huge I guess (chuckles)
TGS: I don’t think that’s true. You guys have done pretty well.
Christian: Nah, I’m kidding.
TGS: So, this may be a difficult question to answer. But what would be your least favorite or favorite Anberlin song that you guys have done?
Deon: Favorite? I think for me one of my favorites will always be Paperthin Hymn, because that song was going to be cut from the album originally. We started recording it and it just wasn’t feeling right. We sat back and Joey and I discussed a verse from a song that we weren’t recording that we thought maybe would fit. And once we put those two pieces together, it just worked. Talk about going from a song where I’m like, “I’m not even worried about this song. It’s dead in the water,” to it’s now one of our biggest songs that we’ll ever have. So that’s definitely a favorite personal song. I love playing it every day. I don’t think a show has gone by since 2005 that we haven’t played that song.
TGS: And it doesn’t get old playing that song, I guess.
Deon: Yeah, no never. Because the crowd always responds. Whether it’s their first time or their 400th time, they still respond like it’s their first time. It’s really awesome, that the excitement’s out there, the energy. And that’s what we feed off of as musicians. Christian and I look out in the crowd and see people having fun, and it makes us have fun. And it makes the show more intense for us.
TGS: That’s great. Christian, do you have a choice in mind?
Christian: I like a lot of our songs, I’d say off our new record I’d probably say Atonement is my favorite song.
TGS: Yeah, I was going to say, because “Atonement” has, Tooth and Nail just streamed the song earlier this week, the song has a lot of references to earlier stuff in your career, for example the skeleton key logo.
Christian: Yeah, I think the song is Stephen being very honest with where he’s at. I think that’s just a beautiful thing- to talk about how wonderful it’s been, but where he wants to be. I think it’s just really beautiful. He killed it lyrically, to me. And it’s a really simple song, structurally, but it’s just really cool to me. I just like that song a lot.
TGS: That’s a really cool pick. So I guess we should close it out by asking what’s next for Anberlin, or for the individual members of Anberlin, maybe?
Christian: I think it’s different for each guy. I mean everyone has different plans. I think Deon and I are the only ones who still want to be in bands, and tour, and play. But I think a lot of the guys will stay in the music industry in some capacity. But each guy has a different plan. It’s been nice, the way that we’re going about this, because like you said earlier, sometimes bands just implode and that’s it and you’re out of a job. It’s been nice, that it’s always been kind of on the horizon, knowing, “In a year from now, I’m going to be out of a job.” So it’s enabling people to kind of work towards something new.
Deon: Yeah, there is going to be five different answers, but I think at the end of the day, the answer is really the same, and it’s anything we want to do. Because it’s been 12 years of pretty much non-stop work, the longest we’ve taken off in these 12 years is seven months.
Christian: Which was just this year. (laughs)
Deon: which was just recently, and we still recorded an album in that time, so it wasn’t truly like we were off. So a lot of people ask us every day, when we do signings at Warped Tour, why we’re breaking up. I think for us, it’s just time to do something else. After 12 years of constant work, it’s time to chill out. If we come back to it, we come back to it. If not, we’re leaving it in a beautiful awesome place, and that’s really cool.
TGS: That’s a great way. Actually, Christian, I have to ask one more question. Since you said you wanted to be in a band and touring, this is a question that I guess you’re probably going to get haunted by next year. Phantoms turns ten years old next year, so I had to ask the question even if it’s not going to get an answer. Is there a hope for an Acceptance reunion?
Christian: I’ve been haunted by that question since Acceptance broke up actually, which is funny cause, I’ve said this a lot and these guys have been there too. Acceptance wasn’t a big band. We never even played… we played Warped Tour once because another band dropped off… We started doing well, right around the time we broke up, so it’s been interesting to me to see the reactions for a band that at the time wasn’t big. I’ve always been open to it, and I think the rest of the guys in the band are open to doing… I don’t think the band would ever get back together, but I definitely feel like some reunion shows would be appropriate for sure. I’ve been trying to organize it for years.
Deon: And I’ve been trying to stop it for years.
Christian: Just to get that question to stop.
TGS: Sorry, I had to ask it.
Christian: Yeah, I know it’s a given.
TGS: Thanks for speaking with us, we appreciate it. And thanks for giving us the final year, and not just the ending and nothing else. We really appreciate it.
Christian and Deon: Thank you, man.
You can catch Anberlin on the remainder of the Vans Warped Tour (excluding 7/8-7/15), or on their Farewell US Tour, which departs in October and finishes up on November 26 in Orlando, Florida. Their new album, Lowborn, comes out July 22 on Tooth and Nail Records. You can preorder it here.