The DANGEROUS Tension of Anchor & Braille – An Interview With Stephen Christian
Interview by Andrew Voigt
Stephen Christian is best known as the frontman for Anberlin—the band that, no question, brought his voice, songwriting gifts, and musical impression to the world. However, he’s not just “that guy from Anberlin.” He’s constantly moving into uncharted waters, just as we should expect from an artist who cares about his craft.
Stephen’s side project known as Anchor & Braille has a cult following among many Anberlin faithful. It’s quite likely that many listeners didn’t resonate with Anberlin, but they feel at home with Anchor & Braille’s tranquility and ambience. For those of you who have been in the dark, Stephen has been creating enigmatic, magical melodies under the Anchor & Braille pseudonym since 2009. With three studio albums and new music on the way, it’s safe to say that Anchor & Braille is evolving into more than just a side project in the shadow of Anberlin.
With a new single just released called “Dangerous” and a new album on the way, Andrew Voigt, a contributing writer, sat down with Stephen Christian to learn more about the Anchor & Braille project and what we can expect from the artist in the future.
CCM: You just released a new single called “DANGEROUS” for your musical project, Anchor & Braille. What inspired you to write new music for Anchor & Braille after a four year hiatus?
Stephen Christian: About a year and a half ago, I was writing worship songs in Nashville. It’s something I like doing to – kinda keep the creative juices flowing. At the time, we were working on an EP that we never felt was complete, so we haven’t put it out yet. I was writing with various producers and artists, such as a guy named Chad Carrothers and another guy named Tommy Iceland. We had gotten together to write some worship songs and Chad was like, “Man, I know this isn’t worship at all, but you really gotta check out this song I did.” And I heard like the first 20 seconds of it and I was like, “Give me 15 minutes.” So, I went downstairs while they were upstairs writing the worship song. 15 to 20 minutes later I came back upstairs with a song on the Anchor & Braille album. It was one of those songs that, as soon as I heard it, it just flowed.
Sometimes, as odd as it sounds, music just talks to me. Is it an upbeat song, is it a slower song, is it a ballad? What’s it about? You can kinda already grasp where the song is going, even without lyrics and melodies. It was one of those songs that was just effortless.
CCM: Do you anticipate another full-length Anchor & Braille album in the near future?
Stephen: Yeah! The record is named Tension and it will be out May 22nd!
CCM: That’s the answer I was hoping you’d give! So hey, if I may ask, as a husband, father, and full-time pastor, what do you see Anchor & Braille as for you? Is it a creative project? How would you describe it?
Stephen: Man, it’s always just been a passion project, even in the early days when I was formulating record labels to put out my own Anchor & Braille record. I’m a consummate song writer, and I don’t say that to pat myself on the back. I wish I could write more; I don’t write as much as i used to. But I love just to write songs. And a lot of times I’ll be done with a song and I’ll know if it’s mine, if I want to pitch it to a publishing company, if it’s an Anberlin song, or if it’s an Anchor & Braille song. Sometimes Anberlin will say, “We don’t really like that song”, but I can’t let it go. I can’t just let it die on a record somewhere.
CCM: Last year you took on the role of South Tampa Campus Pastor at Grace Family Church, leading you and your family to leave Albuquerque, NM where you were serving on staff at Calvary Chapel. What led to the return to Florida?
Stephen: Florida for me is home and that’s the reasoning. There’s a time of life for everything. New Mexico was incredible and I love it; I miss it so bad. But my parents are about an hour and a half from us and my in-laws are about 11 miles from us. So, we just kinda wanted to return to our roots and “home”. Being around family is very, very important.
CCM: How are you enjoying your work at Grace Family Church so far?
Stephen: Oh man, I love it. Incredible leadership, incredible teaching…This is a perfect position for me right now. Love where I’m at. I love the people of South Tampa. It’s an entrepreneurial culture, so I feel like I fit right in. Everybody’s building businesses, building apps, websites, companies…it’s like the venture capitalist in me just gets excited walking around that place. I enjoy the leadership role. It’s a lot more speaking than I’ve ever done before and that’s always been something I wanted to develop, as far as becoming a better orator.
CCM: In 2017, you did a solo worship album called Wildfires. Do you anticipate any future solo projects?
Stephen: Absolutely. It’s just the overflow of my heart. Even more than recording those songs, I love writing them. I mean, there have been moments in those rooms where everything just felt heavy, it just felt right. It was indescribable. There’s no comparison between writing worship and writing Anchor & Braille or Anberlin. It’s a very different atmosphere as far as the whole setting and what goes into writing those songs. I’ll absolutely do it again, I have a lot of material written and I look forward to finishing that up.
CCM: As far as Anberlin, are you planning on doing any more shows in the future?
Stephen: Yeah, you know, we’re leaving that wide open. Obviously, with this pandemic, we don’t know when or where. We had some stuff planned—things like Chain Fest got moved to October; it was supposed to be in May. I’m looking forward to that, with Taking Back Sunday and Jimmy Eat World out in Irvine, CA. We want to tour at some point. How long and when? I have no clue. I was hoping it was going to be this summer, but I’m not even sure it’s going to happen now.
As far as new music with Anberlin, I’m always open to it. The pressure’s off. People know we’re not doing this as our career or our profession. There’s no expectation and I love that. The guys are very busy with what they’ve got going on, from producing to Nate running King State Coffee. Everybody’s got their own niche. When time and passion allows, I think we’ll just jump right into it.
CCM: How are you and your family coping with the current pandemic? What hobbies are you and the family taking up to pass the time together?
Stephen: Yeah! I was just telling my daughter this morning how I’ve never felt this close to them. I mean, we’ve spent basically 24 hours a day, 7 days a week together for almost three weeks now. So, we’ve done everything to swimming to going out on a boat, fishing—because it’s Florida. That’s what you do. Long walks, bicycle rides…School. They’re so young, but a lot of museums like the Louvre are doing free virtual tours, so just kind of expanding their mind into that. Last night, my 6 year old daughter and I played guitar.
CCM: Not too long ago, you baptized one of your daughters. What was that like for you as a father?
Stephen: Two of them, actually. It was so incredible, man. It was a pinnacle moment for me as a father. It was just incredible. And the great thing is, my wife and I are not about pushing our faith on them. We want to teach them and train them and guide them through life, but it has to be their faith. They can’t live off my faith and I can’t subjugate them to mine. It was their idea, so I was like, “OK, if this is what you really want to do.” So, I explained it and I had them explain it back. It was a beautiful moment.
CCM: What artists are inspiring you right now? If you could recommend some new music to your fans, what would you suggest? We’re all listening to more music than ever right now as we’re in quarantine, so new music recommendations would be more than welcome!
Stephen: I’m huge on The War on Drugs; I think they’re an incredible band. I’m looking at my library on Spotify right now. There’s a band and I’m not going to say there name since I’ll get it wrong, but I’ll spell it for you: Khruangbin. I just found them randomly while exploring through Spotify. They’re just incredible musicians; I just have no clue how to say that name.
CCM: Are they from Sweden or somewhere like that?
Stephen: They’re from Texas; that’s what’s so funny about it! There’s another great band I just recently got into called The Night Game. They’re my vote to take out if Anberlin ever goes on tour again. We’ll see if that ever happens, but it would be awesome.
The National is a staple in my house. The kids and I are big into Motown. Stevie Wonder is this family’s favorite musician. They ask me all the time, “How are his kids? Do you know him?” So, I’m just training them right.
CCM: How can we support you as an artist?
Stephen: Well, let me talk about all musicians, especially right now in this crisis. This is a tough time, especially for touring musicians, as that’s how they make their livelihood. I could not imagine if I was making a living off of just music right now. I’d be having a heart palpitation. It’s just tough, man. These guys have got to provide for their families.
I would say that the best thing you could do for a band is, honestly, buy a t-shirt, because it does more than just give them $10 in their pocket, but it also makes other people wonder, “Oh. What’s that band? What do they sound like?” It’s like advertising; spreading the word of the band. Some free ways to help your favorite band are to retweet, re-post, ya know. Share the music with all your friends. That’s huge for bands. It’s a very DIY music era. Any way that you can help be that publicist for that band that otherwise couldn’t hire one is great. Be your favorite band’s publicist.
CCM: To wrap up, what can fans expect from the new Anchor & Braille album?
Stephen: I think it’s going to catch people off guard. The first single is called “Dangerous” and the record’s called Tension. It sounds so dark and ominous, but when you hear the music you’ll be like, “No, I just want to hang out; I just want to put this on in the background. For the 40 minutes that this record is on, I just want to be carefree.” That’s the whole goal. Have a deeper breath.
Tension the new album by Anchor & Braille, will be available on May 22nd.