Anberlin have been perfecting their personal style of driving, melodic modern rock for about ten years now, but they’ve never made an album like this. Vital, the band’s most recent release, melds their signature sound with hints of electronic music, pushing the band in a vibrant new direction. They just wrapped up a tour with The Smashing Pumpkins and a fall headlining tour with Morning Parade. Needless to say, it’s definitely not a bad time to be Anberlin. We caught up with drummer Nathan Young to chat about the nuances of the band’s sound, the songwriting process on the new record, and what it’s like to open for Corgan and company.
OS: There are a lot of prominent electronic sounds on the album, and I read that you guys have embraced artists like M83. How did you try to balance adding those new sounds with maintaining your own unique style?
Nathan Young: Obviously with this being our sixth album, we’ve really got to step out and try something different. We can’t try to just put out the same thing. So for us, at the time, that’s what we were listening to and getting into that stuff more. You know, I can’t stand when a band will come out with a new record and you can obviously tell so much that they’re super into one thing. You can tell they’re trying to be like The Beatles or something and it’s such a rip-off of that. Obviously the music you’re listening to is obviously going to influence whatever you’re writing, so what was important for us was that we wanted to put out a record that sounds like Anberlin, but has those elements, because it wouldn’t be true to us. If we did a record just trying to sound like our old stuff and that’s it, well, we wouldn’t want to do that. It is a balance, because we’re not going to put out a record that sounds like M83 because we’d lose all our fans, the people that fell in love with the band ten years ago would say, “Oh, they’re just trying to sound like this.” So, it was really important to maintain what made Anberlin who we are, but to add things that were new.
OS: So it wasn’t a process of building the songs around those electronic parts? Did you add them into the final versions of the songs?
NY: Yeah, because first and foremost we were just working on songs. All of us are writing now, as opposed to just a few dudes, so I actually pretty much only write on keys because I’m more comfortable on them. We just start with that, but it’s not a huge conscious effort. I’m just kind of writing. I get inspired, and I start doing stuff, and a lot of times it would be with keys and synth stuff. It wasn’t something where we thought we had to start with a bunch of electronic stuff. It just worked out that way, you know?
OS: You guys supposedly had around the 60 or 70 song ideas for this album. How did you decide to choose which songs to keep and which to throw out if everyone is writing?
NY: Well some of those songs are like 30-second ideas of a riff. One song was just a melody, so once we go through everything, we just see what feels right. What’s cool about having that many ideas is that they all merge. There’s a song on the record that is literally three songs all merged into one because we took our favorite parts of all of those songs. Like, “This song is really cool, but the chorus feels like it’s lacking.” So we pulled from all of these different things. We just had to many places to pull from, and that’s just how we did it. We’re always on the same page when it comes to which ones to pick because it won’t hurt my feelings.
OS: So it’s not like people’s egos get very invested in the process?
NY: Obviously that’s bound to happen. You get close to a song and sometimes you’re really pumped on it and the rest of the guys aren’t. But at this point, we’re all so close and we’ve been doing this so long that people can get over it [laughs]. If we’re all feeling one thing and one person’s not, it just is what it is. When you have five dudes that listen to five different things, they’re all in different places.
OS: Just out of curiosity, which song was composed from the merging of all of those different ideas?
NY: The song “Other Side.” It just ended up being all over the place.
OS: “Self-Starter” features singer Julie Marie on vocals as well. Why was she chosen for that song and not on another one?
NY: We just knew for that part that we wanted to have a girl vocalist and we didn’t want it to be a super annoying part where it sounded like, “Oh, we’ve just got to feature this person.” So we actually just wanted it to be more about the song and about the sound as opposed to who it is, so she was in the studio and we knew she could probably do it, so she just did it.
OS: And there were a few other fans who won a contest to sing on the album as well. What was it like to feature them on the album?
NY: The way we did it was really cool and different. We couldn’t fly them in to do that part, so we sent them these recorders from Line 6 and details on how to sing it. That’s a cool thing about technology, that we could send them these handheld things, have them record their part, send it back, and have it be on the record. That’s how we did that, and it turned out really cool. We actually let them keep it too, which was kinda sweet.
OS: What was the impetus to get the fans to sing on the tracks? Had people expressed the desire to play or sing on songs with you guys before?
NY: Just to do something different, to change it up. Our fans are such a big deal for us and such a big part of this band. With bands being as close as they are to fans – you know, with Twitter and stuff – we thought it would be cool to have them sing on the record. It would be such a rad thing for us, so we thought, let’s just do it. We threw the ideas out and how we could accomplish it. We know that kids upload videos on YouTube doing covers of our songs and we went through, and it was insane and really flattering to see how many people submitted videos. Then we just picked our four favorite ones. It was an idea that had been thrown around for a few years actually.
OS: You’re opening for The Smashing Pumpkins on tour right now, and in an interview with Stephen Christian [vocalist] and Billy Corgan, Stephen talks about being a big fan. What’s your connection to the band? Do you look up to them?
NY: Oh man, totally. As a band we look up to them so much. We all grew up listening to them. I mean, if you were at all into music you’d have to listen to their stuff at some point. It was crazy, when we got asked it just blew our minds. It’s such a huge deal for us. We all have specific moments when we remember first hearing a Smashing Pumpkins album, and to now be on tour with them, even just knowing that Billy Corgan knew who we were was enough for us, but then to actually be playing shows with them…it’s insane. It’s huge for us. Everyone knows who The Smashing Pumpkins are. They’re so influential.
OS: What has the tour been like so far?
NY: It’s been great. Every show’s been awesome. The Smashing Pumpkins’ fans being older is actually really good for us. I think that our fan base is older now too. If you were younger when you listened to us when you listened to us ten years ago, now you’re mid-twenties or thirties, so for us it’s been going well. And even musically, I’m not comparing us to The Smashing Pumpkins by any means, but I think the styles fit. We’re both just rock bands. It’s awesome to see them live. They’re heavy, but they have chill stuff, which is similar to us. I think it’s perfect and it’s just felt really good.
OS: Do you guys feel like you’re in a different mental place than you were with the last record, as it’s been a few years?
NY: Yeah, it’s been a few years since the last record, so I think everyone’s growing and changing even within that short amount of time. Stuff that you go through in life is going to really push and pull where you are, so I think whether it’s spiritually or mentally we’re at the best spot. It’s just the most fun we’ve ever had making a record.
Check out the lyric video for “Someone Anyone” below, and catch Anberlin on tour.
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