The History of Anberlin, Part 2: Never Take Friendship Personal (2004–2006)
Anberlin’s second album, Never Take Friendship Personal, was recorded over six weeks during August and September 2004 — once again, in Seattle, Washington with producer Aaron Sprinkle. When not recording, the band passed their time by discussing their top 100 favorite songs, playing (and beating) Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3, inviting friends over for frequent barbeques, and painting. The album’s title (along with the opening track of the same name) stems in part from the many conflicts that the band experienced with former guitarist Joey Bruce; during a particularly explosive moment that almost led to a fist-fight between him and Stephen, he apparently told Stephen to “go write a song about it.”
Spending almost two consecutive years on tour gave the members of the band ample time to write and practice new songs, and playing shows every night helped them improve their abilities and hone in on their own original sound. For the first time, they felt like true songwriters who were capturing something unique and whole, as opposed to relying heavily on their respective musical influences. This time around, they wanted to capture the raw and heavy sound that they exhibited live, while still maintaining the aspects of pop music that set them apart from their peers — just with the slickness turned down a notch or two. Prior to producing Blueprints, Aaron Sprinkle had never seen Anberlin perform live; before returning to the studio to record Never Take Friendship Personal, the band invited him to attend a couple shows in order to get a better idea of the energy that they wanted to recreate on the album.
They entered the studio with around fifteen songs, recording fourteen and releasing eleven on the final cut of the album. A cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” was originally intended to be on the tracklist, as the band had begun playing it live and thought its mood fit well with the rest of the songs they were recording — but at the last second, they decided against including it on the album, since they’d released a cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong” on their first album and didn’t want to become known for their renditions of other bands’ work. Instead, they eventually re-recorded parts of the song, touching it up for Fearless Records’ 2006 Punk Goes 90’s compilation. Another track,“Downtown Song,” was well-liked among the entire band, but was ultimately left off the record because they couldn’t find the right position for it among the rest of the songs. Finally, they had reworked the skeleton of one of their first demos, “Embrace the Dead,” into a different song called “New Fast Automatic,” which also didn’t make the final cut. The band retrieved and mixed the song in 2011, and then gave it away to fans online for free.
Never Take Friendship Personal wasn’t just written as a response to Anberlin’s falling out with Joey Bruce; the album covers a wide range of experiences in close relationships, from families, to friends, to former lovers, and former bandmates. They’ve since described their first album as a naïve take on the world at large — man versus world, in literary terms — while claiming that Friendship narrows the focus to their immediate surroundings, and the ups and downs of the relationships that defined their lives.
In other words, Friendship encompassed the trials of man versus man. The title of the album (and the song) was also meant as a warning of sorts to young and upcoming bands: “Just be really careful who you make friends with in this business. I mean, everyone’s willing to jump on the bandwagon as long as you’re making money or you’re cool,” Stephen told Frank Jenks of Listen In. “But as soon as the fame or the popularity starts to wane, they’re the first to jump off. Especially when you’re talking about managers, and lawyers, and tour managers, and booking agents, and A&Rs, and PR, and your publicist, and so on — you have a list of people who surround themselves with you, just as long as they’re going to get something out of it.”
“Stationary Stationery” and “A Day Late” find Stephen reflecting on missed connections and loves that could have been, while “The Runaways” and “The Feel Good Drag” eviscerate people who are in romantic relationships for the wrong reasons — mind games, infidelities, and meaningless sex — while also attempting to illustrate the contagious nature of these qualities, and the dangerous tendency of repeating the same mistakes with other partners.
On a more celebratory note, “Time & Confusion” reads as a letter from Stephen to the rest of the band, exploring the duality of their time on the road together — hardships and pinnacles of a lifetime, all interwoven, and all experienced by the four of them together. “It’s not about the money we make, it’s about the passions that we ache for,” he sings. Meanwhile, “Audrey, Start the Revolution!” is loosely inspired by Stephen’s admiration for famed actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn. This track demonstrates the nuanced balance of grit and brightness that characterizes the album’s sound as a whole; distortion and open chords are paired with refined uses of silence and palm-muting, as well as the occasional shimmer of a chorus effect on Joey Milligan’s guitar lines.
Friendship’s most successful single was “Paperthin Hymn,” a song that Stephen wrote for his grandmother, who had passed away during his junior year of college. The subjects of death and grief hovered over the entire album; during the recording process, Joey’s sister, Tracey, was suffering through the final few months of her battle with cancer. The second-to-last track on the record, “A Heavy Hearted Work of Staggering Genius,” was dedicated by the band to the Milligan family, and was written by Joey in the studio. “He was in a constant state of fear and worry for his family,” said Stephen in an interview with Comfort Comes. “We all sensed his concern, and realized that creating music was the only thing that was giving him a sense of solace. Someone mentioned in passing that he should go write a song with the engineer [Zach Hodges] while we had some time to kill. Joey came up with ‘Heavy Hearted.’ When we heard the song for the first time, it was as if we were reading his mind, feeling his emotion, and sympathizing with his pain all at the same time.” Joey’s sister passed away later that year, on December 12, 2004, leaving behind a husband and a one-year-old son.
“A Heavy Hearted Work of Staggering Genius” leads into the most ambitious song Anberlin had written to date, “Dance, Dance, Christa Päffgen” — named after The Velvet Underground collaborator and solo performer Nico, who met an untimely fate in part due to a fifteen-year heroin addiction. At just over seven minutes long, the track passes through several movements, led by a hypnotic bass line that highlights Deon’s improved confidence within the band, as well as a variety of styles and rhythms from Nate on the drums — who, in Stephen’s words, had grown from a prodigy into a professional. More than any other song on Friendship, “Dance, Dance, Christa Päffgen” secures Anberlin’s evolution into a band entirely of their own. From the way the vocal melodies and the guitar riffs wrap around one another and build toward a frantic climax in the bridge, to the way that Stephen’s lyrics reference outward toward musical greats (“If London’s calling, don’t you dare pick up the phone”) and inward toward the band’s own work (“Lips that need no introduction, but now waiting for your call”), this track remains one of the most memorable pieces of Anberlin’s extensive catalogue.
The album features guest vocals from musicians whom the band had befriended during their early tours, including Phil Sneed from Story of the Year on “The Runaways,” Seth Roberts from Watashi Wa on “Stationary Stationery,” and Ryan Clark from Demon Hunter on “Never Take Friendship Personal.” Also, Mike Weiss from mewithoutYou contributed guitar-work to “Dance, Dance, Christa Päffgen.”
“mewithoutYou was passing through town, and they came to hang at the studio for a bit,” Joey told me. “Mike [Weiss] and I had always talked about how it would be fun to play on each other’s records, and there’s this big bridge in ‘Dance, Dance Christa Päffgen,’ and I was like, dude, I’m not going to be in the room, I just want you to go in there with the engineer and do whatever you want to do. And so he went in and laid down these really cool atmospheric kind of guitars, and crazy whammy kind of stuff, and then I went in and did the second lead part over that, and it turned out so cool.”
The artwork for Never Take Friendship Personal was designed by Asterik Studio in Seattle; the band requested that the album cover and booklet resemble a program for an opera or a symphony. While the sculpted bust on the front of the album is lifeless, so to speak, the busts inside the liner notes were designed from head-shots of each individual band member.
After recording, the members of Anberlin returned home to Florida and began practicing for their next tours — first, a short headlining stint with The Beautiful Mistake and Noise Ratchet, immediately followed by the opening slot on the Nintendo Fusion Tour with Story of the Year, My Chemical Romance, Lost Prophets, and Letter Kills. They enlisted Tony Chavez from Mourning September to serve as a fill-in second guitarist during these shows.
By the end of the year, they’d decided at last on a permanent second guitarist — Nathan Strayer, from Tampa, who played in a hardcore band called The Mosaic and who had, at various times, sold merchandise for Anberlin and served as the band’s guitar tech. With the gap in their lineup finally filled, they trekked on, taking part in the After Party Tour with Don’t Look Down and The Kick. On February 1, 2005, Tooth & Nail Records released Anberlin’s sophomore album, Never Take Friendship Personal. The band played several acoustic, in-store performances to celebrate the release, and then joined the Take Action Tour with Sugarcult, Hawthorne Heights, Melee, and Hopesfall. The Take Action Tour, organized by Sub City and Hopeless Records, is an annual tour that aims to raise awareness about suicide prevention for teenagers.
Anberlin shot a music video for the first single from the album, “A Day Late,” in May, on location in Brooklyn, New York. Through their website, they asked fans to send in hand-written letters about their lives to be tacked onto a wall behind the band in the video. After filming, they released the music video in June — the same month that Friendship’s second single, “Paperthin Hymn,” impacted commercial radio.
In June, Anberlin traveled across the U.S. on a co-headlining tour with Saosin, supported by Acceptance, Codeseven, and Terminal. They bonded with members of Acceptance, a band from Seattle, Washington who had just recently released their debut full-length album, Phantoms, via Sony Records. Acceptance recorded Phantoms as well as an earlier EP with producer Aaron Sprinkle, and the two bands shared a fairly similar history. Acceptance formed in 1998, while Stephen, Deon, and Joey were still playing in saGoh 24/7, and over the years that followed, the members of both bands transitioned from playing punk-influenced music to songs that were more deeply rooted in pop sensibilities, while still keeping their foundation in the genre of rock.
Though Stephen has said on multiple occasions that the time period surrounding the recording and release of Friendship brought some of his favorite memories of Anberlin’s career, this was also a time of difficulty within his personal life. He began struggling with feelings of pride and superiority over others, almost certainly due in part to the band’s rising success; Friendship peaked at #3 on Billboard’s Top Heatseakers chart, their singles were gaining radio-play, and they’d gotten the news that they would soon be taking their live show abroad for the first time, heading to Australia in July. Stephen recognized the rockstar mindset beginning to take root, and he knew that he had to find a way to stave it off. He decided to call his best friend, Seth Cain, and ask him to join the band on tour. “You surround yourself with people who know your core, and you’re not going to get away with much,” Stephen said of the decision, speaking to Jesus Freak Hideout. “It was great, and he absolutely kept me in line and accountable.”
Anberlin’s first excursion outside of North America took place in July 2005, when they flew down under to Australia for a weeklong string of shows across the continent. They landed in Adelaide, overwhelmed by the number of fans who turned up at the very first show they’d ever played in the entire country — according to Stephen, the band fell in love with Australia immediately. “I think we fell in love with each other at the same moment,” he said to [V] Music’s Nathan Wood. “You’ve got to look at it from our point of view — we were raised in a town of 20,000 people where we have two traffic lights; maybe three now. So, to be small-town kids, go all the way around the world and have people singing the music that you wrote in your local coffee shop or your local library… You instantly kind of fall in love.” Later that year, the band expanded their geographical reach even further, touring the United Kingdom in support of The Starting Line and The Early November.
Once back in the states, they toured with Story of the Year, and spent the last couple months of one of the busiest years of their lives taking it easy — relatively easy, that is. During their downtime, Stephen began recording songs for his solo project, which would soon come to be known as Anchor & Braille, with producer Aaron Marsh — also the singer of Copeland — at the helm. In order to branch out from the group of musicians that he’d become accustomed to working with in Anberlin, Stephen called on bassist Louis DeFabrizio (The Kick and Gasoline Heart) and drummer Jon Bucklew (Copeland) to play on his new songs. While he was initially planning on recording enough material for an EP, he soon decided to hold off until he had enough for a full album. On breaks from recording in Florida, Stephen joined back up with Anberlin to play the 97x Next Big Thing festival in Clearwater, Florida, and Surf Fest in Oahu, Hawaii. The band rang in the new year by enjoying a few more weeks at home before heading back overseas in January — returning to sold out venues in Australia once again, and also playing their first show in New Zealand.
The new year also brought their first major push to radio with Never Take Friendship Personal’s second single, “Paperthin Hymn.” While the song had been added to a couple stations during the previous year, the band and their record label planned a much bigger and more concentrated effort this time around — complete with a music video released in March, which found success on FUSE and MTV2. “Paperthin Hymn” soon broke the Top 40 within Billboard’s modern rock charts, exposing Anberlin’s music to a slice of the mainstream market that they’d never reached before, and with a noticeable effect. “It’s cool to see people in the crowd that look like they should be at a Tool or Marilyn Manson show singing along,” Stephen said to Indie Vision Music’s Brandon Jones in May 2006.
Anberlin once again participated in the Tooth & Nail Tour in the spring, this time accompanied by Emery, The Classic Crime, Jonezetta, Far-Less, and The Fold. This stint included one of the strangest and most memorable experiences that they’d ever encountered while on the road: early one morning while most of the band was asleep, Stephen awoke to the driver of their bus slamming the breaks and shouting as the windshield broke. Getting out of his bunk and rushing toward the front lounge, he saw glass everywhere — and feathers. The culprit, a wild turkey, sat dazed but apparently unharmed in the middle of the lounge. After the band and their crew ushered the turkey out of the bus, it sat on the side of the road for a while, and then headed into some nearby woods; their driver put on a hat and a pair of sunglasses to protect his face from the wind, and they drove on.
In May 2006, Stephen, Nate, and an assortment of friends and musicians — including Seth Cain and Sarah Freeman — took a trip to Meno, Haiti for two weeks in order to spend some time helping out in a small farming village. In addition to his college aspirations to do humanitarian work, Stephen’s childhood had also been sprinkled with chances to give back and desires to make a difference; he recalled being as young as five years old and hearing about his uncle doing humanitarian work in Singapore, and then, at twelve, traveling with his parents to Mexico City, distributing food to children in need in some of the poorest areas, including a garbage dump.
In Haiti, Stephen, Nate, and company helped plant crops, tended to animals, retrieved water, visited the village’s school, played soccer with children, and met many of the people who lived there. On their last night before leaving, the villagers held a celebration, building a bonfire and bringing a large amount of food. Stephen later recalled an encounter with an older resident, who approached the group of Americans and told them that the village had not seen people with white skin for several generations, and had in fact distrusted them when they first arrived because of a history of enslavement in the area, but that their company and their hard work would be remembered there for generations to come.
From this experience, Stephen, Sarah Freeman, and Seth Cain co-founded Faceless International, a nonprofit organization with two focuses: on an international level, recruiting band members, their friends, and other people within the music industry to take part in trips abroad, opening their eyes to the privileges that they might take for granted as American musicians; and on a domestic level, encouraging those band members to return home and raise consciousness about issues of poverty and human trafficking among their fan-base, while also encouraging those who might not be able to travel the world to get involved in their own communities through local volunteering opportunities.
“The trip was altering,” Stephen wrote on his blog after returning home. “I don’t want to say exciting or emotionally exhilarating, because I think those, much like camp highs, fade with time. This was a change of a mindset — of learning to stretch myself in ways I had not been stretched in years. This is a change that will not fade in mere days, but an educational installment that will challenge the way I see the world for the rest of my life.”
That summer, Anberlin toured across Canada and the U.S. with an assortment of bands, including Story of the Year, Hawthorne Heights, Blackpool Lights, Cute is What We Aim For, Jonezetta, and Hit the Lights, playing an assortment of radio festivals and also returning yet again to the annual Cornerstone showcase. They debuted a new song called “The Lesser Thans” at many of these shows, and continued writing on the road. Having become an truly international band, selling out shows both at home and abroad, and with a permanent second guitarist in tow for the first time since recording Blueprints for the Black Market, the band headed back to Aaron Sprinkle in Seattle for the third time, prepared to record what they knew would be their strongest album yet.
Inside the album booklet, the band members appear in the following order, morphed into sculpted busts: Stephen Christian, Deon Rexroat, Nate Young, Joey Milligan.
“Dance, Dance, Christa Päffgen” makes lyrical references to the figures of James Dean, Bettie Page, Betty Davis, and Marilyn Monroe. In the liner notes, “Dear Stephen Patrick” appears before the lyrics to the bridge; this is a reference to Morrissey, whose full name is Stephen Patrick Morrissey.
A song called “Calm Culture Massacre” was also written during the sessions for Never Take Friendship Personal, but did not make the initial round of cuts because the band wasn’t happy with its execution. The track was intended to be a critique of mainstream Christian culture; CCM is an acronym that is commonly used for contemporary Christian music.
The aftermath of the wild turkey incident during the Tooth & Nail Tour was captured on video by the band, and can be seen among the footage in Anberlin’s Web DVD, which is available to watch on YouTube.
Aaron Sprinkle was out of town for a period of time during the album’s recording process, leading to Stephen and Joey tracking some of their parts themselves. The studio’s assistant engineer, Zach Hodges, tracked Stephen’s vocals for “The Feel Good Drag” in Aaron’s absence.
Anberlin performed “The Feel Good Drag” live for the first time while on tour in Australia, later saying it was the strong reaction from the audiences there that encouraged them to make it a regular fixture in their setlists.
Cities possesses a temperamental spirit throughout, bouncing between a soft sense of reassurance to brutal moments of self-reflection.
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.