Anberlin Frontman Juggles Grad School with Music
If Stephen Christian was only spending his time pursuing his MBA and operating Faceless International, the nonprofit organization he co-founded to fight human trafficking and slavery, that would keep him plenty busy. But what makes the Nashville resident's talents so impressive is that he finds time for such projects while fronting rock band Anberlin, whose next album "Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place," arrives Sept. 7 on Republic Records. Lead single "Impossible" has swiftly climbed Billboard's Alternative chart, currently sitting at No. 8. Christian talked with Billboard while he was in Germany about the new album and how he'll hit the books as he hits the road.
Billboard: The album has a track called "The Art of War." How does it reflect the philosophies of the book?
Stephen Chrstian: I was reading the correlation between those who strategize relationships and those who put actual emotions behind it. [Author] Sun Tzu was so calculated. Every move that he would make or that he wrote was basically how to approach your enemy, befriend him and strategize out a friendship. It kind of felt like how cold and calculated relationships can be sometimes; like, who has the upper hand. Isn't that kind of defeating the whole point of a relationship, whether it's a friendship or a girlfriend or a boyfriend or a marriage? If you're trying to strategize and plan it out and read self-help books and figure out the other person, it seems like it takes out the whole allure of what a relationship really is.
You've said that when you were writing the lyrics for the song "Depraved," you wrote whatever came to your head and the finished result is ad-libs and Freudian slips. What were some of those slips?
I'm so intrigued by conspiracy theories. I'm not a believer in them but I read them methodically because I think they're this cusp of reality that I can't grasp, that I can't relate to, and so it was kind of like the lyrics of the song were about conspiracy theorists and those who buy into Obama as the anti-christ. [It feels like those people] are slaves to this alternate thinking, and it's bound to destroy them. It's just bound to negate anything they've ever said as truth, and so that's what the song's about.
How does a psychology graduate make a U-turn into becoming a rock musician?
[Laughs] Maybe I was just bred to be a musician and not so much a psychologist, and therefore I chose psychology because I felt like it was the only major that could keep my attention for four years. It's like math really didn't have it and science I really couldn't grasp it, and so for me it was one of those things where the human mind was intriguing.
What made you decide to continue your education to get an MBA?
It is very unlikely that this generation needs or wants or will create a Rolling Stones or a U2. We're such an ADHD generation. We want the next big single -- what's on the iTunes playlist today? It's like, no one wants to create a Bob Dylan. So I doubt this band will be around in 10 years, and there needs to be something that I can fall back on . . . I'm really into humanitarian work, and I felt like, "What [do these countries need]? They need doctors, and they need some kind of sustainable economy so they can grow [and not] delve into human trafficking or sex trafficking or drugs. But if they can sustain an economy in a community, then maybe they can grow and prosper and be able to feed themselves." So, for me, an MBA was the logical end conclusion of that synopsis.
Your band has solid album sales. Do you really think you're not going to last beyond 10 years?
Who's to say? That's not a decision that I can make. It's the decision that the fan has to make. It's a decision, sadly, that [Nielsen] SoundScan decides, because if a label looks at a SoundScan number and goes, "You aren't meeting this criteria, I'm going to drop you," that's the fan's choice, because they chose to either illegally download it or just not listen to the record . . . I would love to be around in 10 years, but that is not a decision [where] I get to decide my future. My fate rests in the hands of others.
How do you juggle studying for a degree when you're traveling all over the world?
[Laughs] I don't know yet. Call me back in a month and I'll tell you.