In their decade-long career, Anberlin has been all over the map. These alternative rockers have risen from independent Tooth & Nail Records to a spot on the major label Universal Republic’s roster. They’ve gone from performing at small venues across the country to worldwide tours. They are currently opening for the legendary Smashing Pumpkins on their national tour, and with the recent release of their sixth studio album, Vital, which has fans and critics raving, Anberlin is definitely on top of the world.
Anberlin guitarist Joseph Milligan took some time to speak with LA Music Blog after the group’s sold-out performance at the Gibson Ampitheater last Sunday evening.
You’re currently on tour with The Smashing Pumpkins, a band with worldwide acclaim and a significantly more alternative sound than Anberlin. What has it been like?
It was pretty nuts. I remember when we got the email saying it was going to happen, and I had to shake my head and take another look. We all sat in the dressing room that night talking about the first time we heard them and tracing it back to when we were 14 or 15, sitting in our rooms, playing the CD over and over. It was funny. The tour has been great. It’s a little surreal seeing Billy Corgan walking around. We were like, “This is normal life now, okay.”
Your new album, Vital, came out this week and is being heralded as a return to Anberlin’s well-known sound — alternative, upbeat rock with killer hooks, amazing guitar work, and hard-hitting lyrics. Your last two albums, Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place (2010) and New Surrender (2008) elicited a less-than-stellar response from critics and fans. Even though you returned to producer Aaron Sprinkle (Cities, Never Take Friendship Personal, Blueprints for the Black Market), was there a lot of pressure to live up to expectations this go around?
What was funny is the amazing lack of pressure that happened with this record. I think with the last two we felt a lot more pressure. We were worried about creatively, what was the next step? How do we approach this? I think we were thinking about it too much and weren’t allowing it to just happen. Working with new producers can make things slow to start at times, too, and we have such a relationship with Aaron Sprinkle that we felt at ease and felt like we could do whatever we want.
Everyone was part of it; Nathan had a lot of ideas, Christian had a lot of ideas, Deon was writing bass like he hadn’t written in years. Personally, I wrote 42 new demos for the record, and we had been playing them all together for a good while before we even went in for preproduction. Everyone felt so comfortable, and it was the most fun we have ever had making a record. I think we missed that on a couple of records. We’ve missed the urgency and the bombastic, explosive nature that we’ve usually done, so doing that [this time] was a conscious decision, but everything else was just doing what felt right, and it ended up working out. It’s about being yourself and not worrying about what everyone’s going to think.
This is definitely your most aggressive record to date, but there are several more electronic additions than we’ve seen previously. Was this a conscious decision or were you all just comfortable to try new things?
What’s funny is we’ve used electronic elements on every record. It’s slowly been getting more and more frequent, but this time, we were like, “Who cares, let’s throw in every idea we have and then whittle down from there.” We weren’t afraid to try anything and everything. With what we listen to, whether it be ’80s metal or something that came out last week, we all sort of lean towards those elements in music. And it’s fun. It’s one more layer you can add, and it’s something you can’t get when you just have bass, guitar, and drums. It was so fun not having any kind of fear of that and doing anything that felt right, just throwing it in there. I think we’re going to continue doing that and head in that direction.
You’ve said that Vital is a record for the fans. The gang vocals and loud cheers in “XX” sound ready-made for mosh pits and crowd sing-alongs. How else do you characterize this as a fan album?
We have added those elements in the past and said, “Man, this is going to be fun to play live. It’s going to be something that everyone can get into and join in.” I feel like we missed out on some things on the last couple of records. This time, we got that vibe right away without trying. We knew this would be a very fan-friendly record and that people were going to have as much fun listening to these songs and singing along as we were having playing them live.
What’s your favorite song on Vital?
I have so many favorites for so many reasons, but I think the most surprising as fan reaction is “Modern Age.” That was one that was written pretty early on, and we weren’t even sure if it would make the record. We wanted to present something different and something new. For us, that one felt, for lack of a better term, like a very “Anberlin” song, and we were like, “Why not? Let’s do it. Let’s throw it in there.” That one is going to be a lot of fun to play live.
Anything else to add?
We’ll be touring behind Vital for a while, so go out and get it, come to the shows, and sing it as loud as you can.
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