Anberlin’s Stephen Christian and Deon Rexroat are standing outside the Warped Tour’s production office during the trek’s Ventura, California date. It’s the first week of the annual summer tour, literally the beginning of the end for the Florida band, who announced earlier this year they are calling it quits in 2014.
Before disbanding the group is taking a victory lap, starting with the Warped dates. Next month the band will release their final album, “Lowborn,” and then carry on with a worldwide headlining tour that wraps this November.
Frontman Christian and bassist Rextoat spoke to Billboard about their farewell song, rediscovering their past, the legacy they leave behind and the inevitable question of what made this the right time to say farewell.
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How is the tour going three days in?
Stephen Christian: It’s been six years since we last did Warped tour, so it was something we obviously wanted to do one more time before we were done. I think the first day I instantly had flashbacks of trying my hardest to avoid the sun in the hot cities, like, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna stay in AC except for the 30 minutes we play.” I know I’m gonna be hot and dirty and sweaty all summer.
Besides doing this one more time, what else is on the pre-disbanding bucket list?
SC: Just the world tour; we’re gonna head to Europe, Australia, UK, South America and then finally do a US headlining tour October and November. So we’ll basically just see the world one more time.
There is no way around asking this, so why now?
SC: I would rather people say, “Why are they disbanding?” than “Wait, they’re still a band?” That’s what it’s all about. Every band has to know when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em. And I just feel like if we want to keep the inspiration, the legacy and everything we’ve done and accomplished as something people are still excited about, we should leave before we’re back in a van playing for 40 people. Twelve years we just put our heart and soul into this, so why leave it with putting a bad taste in peoples’ mouths?
Deon Rexroat: And it’s been 12 years of pretty much non-stop work. For the most part it’s exciting for us to think about doing something else for a little while. Stephen, Joey (Milligan) and I have been playing together since ’96 and then we started Anberlin in 2002, so it’s been 18 years for us playing in bands together.
SC: Now wonder you hate me (laughs).
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DR: Everything about our lives has been wrapped in a group and its projects, and we’ve never really stepped away from it, so it’s kind of nice to think about doing something separately for a while. None of us know what the future holds and can say for certain, “This is absolutely the end.” But we don’t really have intentions of picking everyone backing up because we want to leave it as something awesome and beautiful, we don’t want to leave it as a shell of itself.
Are there other bands you’ve looked to as inspiration for this model of calling it quits?
SC: Nobody. I can’t honestly think of anybody. I think is what’s so cool about this is that we’re ending the band on our time. Nobody in the band hates each other.
So he doesn’t really hate you?
SC: No, (after) 19 years you’re brothers. I don’t even think we fight except I’m messy and he’s clean — that’s about the extent. I would love to see the Anberlin version of “The Odd Couple.” Yeah, I was talking to my wife one day and she was like, “If you had to marry someone in the band.” I was like, “I would literally marry Deon.”
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DR: I would make a great house wife.
SC: He would be the best. He’s a better cook than I am, he’s clean, he’s detail oriented. Hands down, I would marry Deon, we’re a match made in heaven. I’m his trophy wife, so that’s how that works.
What are you focusing on now that music isn’t the main thing?
SC: We all have different aspirations. But the funny thing is I think that’s why we all looked at each other at the beginning and said, “Maybe our passions are pulling away from each other.” Nate (Young) is opening a coffee shop in Tampa, Joey is starting to do production work, everybody has got these other niches. And I was like, “Are we all not saying something?” Because I didn’t want to get to that point where going on tour was like a job.
For each of you, what songs that have been reinvigorated of late?
SC: I think we were on the last tour and we all kind of knew at that point… I remember one night singing “Unwinding Cable Car” and listening to the lyrics and I just got really emotional, just stunned over how much that song meant to me at that moment, which is funny because you would think since I wrote it and sing it every night, I listen to it. But you’re more worried about performing than you are listening.
DR: When we were rehearsing for this tour, we were rehearsing some of the older songs that we haven’t played in a very long time and when we were playing “Time And Confusion” again after I don’t remember how long it had been, it was fun ’cause it reminded me of the early days when it was just five of us in a van going to play wherever we could. I still get that feeling now when we play that song. It’s gonna be great to play for the next five months.
And then there is new music coming too.
DR: Yeah, we have a new album coming out next month. Last time we were on Warped tour we had a new album coming out. So that’s another flashback thing. It’s called “Lowborn” and it comes out next month. It’s kind of like our final statement and goodbye in a way of everything the band has become and where we are as people creatively at this point. Or at least we tried to make it that.
Were there any lyrical surprises on the new album?
SC: There is a song called “Harbinger,” it’s the last song on the album, and I think because it was the last record I was thinking about legacy and what I was gonna leave. I look at bands like 1975; we played a show with them and they said basically, “We’ve been fans.” That’s awesome, that we got a chance to inspire up and coming bands. It felt amazing, so I was thinking about all the legacy — what are we gonna leave behind to the fans or other bands that are just now getting in their garage and playing and in five years they are going to be huge? So the last line on the record is, “We’ll live forever.” People we meet out here in autograph lines or whatever say, “We’ll miss you.” But I always say to them, “We’re not actually leaving. You can always listen to the music.” I think that’s what it’s all about. We are gonna live forever in these people’s lives.