Photo by Sangsouvanh “Ping” Khounvichit, from his photo series called The Last Five Days of Anberlin

The History of Anberlin, Epilogue: Forever

Previously — The History of Anberlin, Part 7: Lowborn

As Anberlin’s final tour came to a close in November 2014, after the band had been touring for almost five months straight, it’s no surprise that one of the foremost feelings the band members experienced was exhaustion. “When you’re tired, everything is heightened. Emotionally, you’re just drained, and so everything is that much more exciting, and that much more sad,” Stephen told me when I spoke to him last month. “For me, it was just every emotion. I was so ecstatic to get off the road, and to be with my family, and to be home full time, and just knowing that I was just about to take a month-long break from life, and take all of December off, I was really ecstatic about that.”

“And the antithesis of that is, you know, playing through some of these songs, it was just — it was the last time I was ever going to play these songs,” he continued. During their final sound-check at the House of Blues in Orlando, Florida, Stephen said the band chose to play cover songs to warm themselves up, saving the Anberlin songs for showtime. “I think that was the weirdest part, taking my first steps out on stage at the House of Blues; I usually run out on stage, and I was just like, this is the last time that I’m going to have this feeling right here. This feeling of euphoria and confidence, and just, knowing full well this will be the last few moments I may ever, ever sing these songs,” Stephen said. “But again, I think it was every range of emotion, not just good or bad. I think it was just the broad spectrum.”

Anberlin’s music video for “We Are Destroyer,” produced and directed by Zak Forrest

Once Anberlin’s last show had been played, some may have expected that the band’s activities would go quiet. On the contrary, two weeks after their final show, they unveiled a live music video for “We Are Destroyer” and continued to share photos of their last night on stage through their various social media profiles. Toward the end of the year, they left a message on their Instagram account that teased merchandise projects, live records, and a vinyl box set planned for 2015. The first of these projects came to light earlier this month, when Tooth and Nail Records announced preorder deals for a CD release of Never Take Friendship Personal: Live in New York City (recorded at the band’s November 17, 2014 show at the Gramercy Theater) slated for May 5.

Many fans that responded to the band’s social media updates during the past few months have left comments that ask about, or express anticipation for, Anberlin’s future reunion. In an age where it seems like hardly any band stays broken up forever (except for The Smiths, perhaps), it’s difficult for fans to wrap their minds around the possibility that Anberlin will not reunite in five or ten years — despite the fact that the band members seem to be suggesting just that.

“I think for this to have an impact like we want it to, it has to be the end. We don’t want to taint that with anything,” Nate said to Jonathan Bautts of AbsolutePunk. “Say years later we come back and we’re not on it as much, and our live show isn’t as good as it used to be, or we put out another record and it sounds like we’re phoning it in. Our whole thing is we want to leave the name of Anberlin unblemished. Not that we haven’t made mistakes or we’re a flawless band, or anything like that, but we want the name Anberlin to go further than just what we’re looking at in that moment. I’m sure everyone in a couple years will be like, ‘Ah, I want to play again,’ and all this stuff, but I think for the sake of what Anberlin is, we will probably refrain from doing that.”

This is a sentiment shared by Stephen. “For me, and I say this with the utmost love, and no disrespect to other bands that have come back from a hiatus, but I feel like, for me personally, if I came back with Anberlin as a full-time job, that whatever I have chosen to do with my life has failed, and I don’t want to be a failure,” he said, speaking with Jonathan D. Wright of High Wire Daze. “If I go back with Anberlin full time it’s because I failed. It’s because I failed at whatever endeavor I set out to do next. And it’s just not going to happen. I’m not dispositioned like that.”

None of this is to say that the members of Anberlin will definitively never play together again in the future. When the band members have spoken about this difficult question, they have often attempted to make a distinction between reuniting in the sense that most fans are accustomed to — new tours, new albums, and a new era of productivity — and the possibility of a special, small, one-off performance in the distant future. “I could totally see, in like ten years, us doing an acoustic show, because I would love for my future children to have heard Anberlin play together,” Stephen told Jonathan D. Wright. “That would be a sensational moment for me… because I’m sure they’ll have listened to my records, but I would love for them to hear the music [live].”

As far as touring again, however, fans shouldn’t be holding their breath. “I feel like it takes away from us announcing this is our last year, these are our last shows, and then to come back? I don’t know,” Stephen said to Jonathan Bautts. “It’s a little deceptive. It’s manipulative to the fans, and I always try to put them first.”

Anberlin’s Farewell t-shirt, featuring their summer 2014 tour dates on the back

As for the skeptics who will shake their heads at such a firm denial of a reunion, it is true that there is no way to see into the future and know for certain how Anberlin’s legacy will unfold; but to editorialize for a moment, after twelve years of writing heartfelt songs and conducting themselves as one of the most honest and down-to-earth bands during an age brimming with cultural self-absorption, I would say that it’s time to repay the members of the band with our respect for their intentions rather than our speculation of how those intentions could be rewritten.

When Anberlin announced the release of Never Take Friendship Personal: Live in New York City, a few comments scattered around the internet suggested that either Anberlin themselves or Tooth and Nail as a record label was merely attempting to drag out the band’s break-up for all the money they could make. While such a suggestion offers many implications — one of which being that the band should feel somehow ashamed or guilty for charging money for material that most fans genuinely want to own — it also seems to indicate a two-fold belief that the members of Anberlin are well off enough as it is with the money that they’ve made from the band, and that releasing a live album would earn them a significant amount of money on top of what they already have.

When I talked with Stephen last month, he spoke frankly about the financial impact that Anberlin has made on his life. “I think that if you take all twelve years, and you add them up, and you divide them by twelve, I guarantee — I guarantee, and you can call the person who does my taxes — that I make less than a McDonald’s manager,” he said. “I am in no way rich. I was just able to afford a second car, because I have to go to work, and my wife needs a car to go to work. Obviously this last year was really great because, I mean, I would hope that anybody who works for seven months straight with fourteen days off has something to show for it. But, you know, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t start looking for a job right away. But I could pay off some credit cards, and we can get moving forward.”

“Even if somebody had told me, if I went back in time and someone was like, hey, man, just to let you know, here’s the average you’re probably going to make per year — that still wouldn’t have dissuaded me from ever venturing out into the great unknown,” he said. “Now let’s calculate the memories. I think that alone is just infinite. I mean, look at all the places where I’ve had the chance to travel, and right there — that’s just invaluable. No one could put a price tag on that, and then the memories, the people that I’ve met, the friends that I’ve made. But I think the greatest currency that Anberlin has given me has never been financial, but has been a reputation, and the fact that, right now, now that I’m entering into the business world and I’m entering into other music avenues, so many doors have opened, simply because of the name Anberlin. So the capital, if you want to call it like social capital, business capital, whatever you want to call it — that currency is mammoth.”

Now that Anberlin has been officially done for a few months, all five band members have begun revealing and speaking about their next ventures in life. Joey has opened up his own studio in Austin called Suedehead Studios, where he is currently offering his services in songwriting, recording, producing, and mixing.

Nate is in the process of building a coffee company with his brother-in-law in Tampa called King State Coffee. “There’s such a great connection with music and coffee, for whatever reason,” he told Jonathan Bautts. “I’ve met so many people through it, and it’s just been great.”

Deon and Christian began writing music for a new project during Anberlin’s final year, and they plan to continue playing music together and touring. “It’s been nice, that it’s always been kind of on the horizon, knowing, ‘In a year from now, I’m going to be out of a job,’” Christian told Craig Ismaili of The Garden Statement last year. “So it’s enabling people to kind of work towards something new.”

Stephen has released two new Anchor & Braille songs via MP45 Records, and he plans to enter the studio this spring to record his first worship album. “To me, that’s not Anberlin,” Stephen said to Jonathan D. Wright about the project. “That doesn’t fit in with what they want to do, it doesn’t fit in with what I think; it just doesn’t work. It’s something I’ve wanted to do and have talked about for years now and just in the back of my head. Finally, everything is just starting to click together. It’s an endeavor I want to pursue.”

Stephen Christian with Jule Vera (from Stephen’s Twitter)

Stephen has also entered the field of professional songwriting, announcing last July that he’d signed a deal with Word Music Publishing in Nashville. I asked him to describe his typical day as a songwriter. “Usually, work starts at about ten o’clock, and it can go anywhere from four to eight o’clock at night, and you’ll basically show up at the studio, whether it’s the studio of the person you’re writing with, or the writer’s suite at the head office,” he said. “So, like, tomorrow I’m going to go over, and then either there will be a direction for us, such as — hey, why don’t you write for your own stuff — or it’ll be my publishing guy, Joel Timan, he’ll give us a direction like, there’s a TV placement, there’s a film placement, or this band is looking for something. So I’ve gotten to write with some great bands. Recently, I just wrote two songs with Jule Vera and they turned out so incredible.” In his new songwriting position, Stephen has also worked with artists including Verlaine, The Hawk in Paris, Fireflight, Charlie Peacock, Stu G, Tedd T, Benji Cowart, Mike Donehey, and Phillip LaRue.

In nearly every interview that the band members gave during their final year together, the question of Anberlin’s legacy arose as a significant point of interest. What did they hope they would be remembered for? Their music, of course, but it’s rare that a band is just remembered for their music these days. There are always big impressions and small memories attached to the music, and to the people who created it, and the way it was treated by everybody involved — the creators and the fans. In his final interviews with Christian, Stephen, and Nate, AbsolutePunk’s Jonathan Bautts asked all three of them about the legacy that they hoped to leave.

“The legacy is the music, our character, and the way we’ve always carried ourselves as a band,” Christian said. “What we stood for, the way we’ve treated people, the way we’ve treated each other, the way we’re ending the band is a testament to how we respect each other. I hope that always shines through, that we were standup dudes just trying to make the best music we could.”

“I think my legacy is going to be responsibility,” Stephen said. “That sounds anticlimactic, but I’m saying responsibility in the fact that I hope that we’ve shown other bands that your time onstage is limited. You have no idea how many months or years you’re going to be a band, and for the most part you’re probably only going to be a band for three or four years. Maybe, if you’re lucky, three or four years. Utilize that time to give. Whether it’s charity, or whether it’s being a positive influence on the people around you, or whether that’s just bringing other people up. Everybody has a responsibility. I don’t care if you paint your face white and scream about death, as long as in the real world you’re helping out through activism. I don’t care what you believe in, whether it’s to fight illiteracy or homelessness or sex trafficking. Pick a cause and be responsible for the short time [you have].”

“I remember as a kid, having bands that I could connect to, and whatever trials you’re going through can relate to. Even if it wasn’t the lyrics, if it was just the music and the way you felt from listening to it, if that was in a positive way that seemed to have touched so many people, that’s what I would want to be remembered for, and Anberlin to be known for,” Nate said. “We were all there to be a part of it with the people that were into our music.”

Thanks to twelve years of touring, seven studio albums, and countless conversations with fellow musicians, journalists, friends, and fans all over the world, the name of Anberlin will not be forgotten anytime soon; Anberlin will, truly, live forever.

A History of Anberlin was written by Matt Metzler. Matt is an independent writer, a part-time teacher in southwest Ohio, and, clearly, an Anberlin fan.

View more of Matt’s work on his website.

Author photo and trophy illustrations by Tyler Davis

Anberlin Forever is an unauthorized and unofficial biography of Anberlin and has not been commissioned, endorsed, or authored by Anberlin LLC.