Anberlin recently released their sixth album Vital on October 16th (Universal Republic). Our writer Cassandra Paiva had the opportunity to talk to bassist Deon Rexroat on the eve of the release to discuss all the vital information about Vital, connecting with fans, and plans for a very busy upcoming year.
Hey! So, what’s up with you guys?
Just running around today doing all of our press before the album comes out tomorrow, since we played in LA last night and Sunday we didn’t get to do that much press stuff. We stayed there an extra day before travelling on to Denver, so we’re just getting things rolling with the release being tomorrow and all.
Because Vital is about to come out and you guys talked about changing your sound for this album, what was the process like producing this one as opposed to the others.
I think over the last few albums, we’ve really learned more and more about what we want and how we work with each other. I think the biggest difference for this one, even more so than the last one, was our ability to work with each other so much better and kind of just work off each other’s ideas a little more seamlessly than we ever have in the past. We were very much on the same page mentally for what we wanted out of this album, we’ve had a lot of conversations about it. I think that’s basically the start on the progression of the writing of this album and that goes into once we have a group of songs, thinking which songs we actually want to be on the album, and it was actually pretty unanimous. One day we were like, “Ok, everybody send your favorite songs out of all the demos” and I think out of all the songs that were sent in, it was pretty much 12 to 13 of the songs were all the same for all of us. It was pretty great going into an album being of so much of the same mind with what we wanted of this album. From there, when things are working that smooth, all you really have to concentrate on is getting good sounds out of the guitars and drums and everything.
It seems that everything was pretty easy with it, but what was one challenge with making the album?
I think one of the challenges this time around was, maybe trying not to overthink some things. When something is right there and it comes a little easy, you start thinking, “What can I do to make this better” even though you don’t have to. And a lot of times that can cause you to waste a little bit of time trying to change something that doesn’t need to be changed in the first place. That was a pretty minor thing, compared to the way things were rolling actually. We kind of were able to recognize, that if you just let things come naturally it’ll all just work out so much better.
You said that you had more electronic elements, and that M83 was one of your influences, who else were you influenced by this time around?
Well it’s kind of funny, because we used electro on our first album, so we had little bits and pieces of electronic stuff, and I mean we did a Cure cover off of the first album, we covered “Love Song,” so there’s a lot of those bands, like those late 70s and 80s and early 90s sound, like those British bands like The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, and Duran Duran and all of those bands that had that.. they still kind of sounded rock even though they were using electronic instruments, you know, as much as there’s creativity with what you can do with a musical instrument. And a lot of that comes out with our influence. We don’t just confine ourselves to “I play bass, you play guitar, so that’s all that should be on the album.” We aren’t afraid to, if we hear something, to just put it in there.
Why did you guys choose the name Vital? A lot of your titles hold deeper meanings, so what is the meaning behind this?
It’s more of a Stephen question, because the way he’ll explain it, he’ll kind of, come up with a short list of names for the album and I think every album we’ve ever had has had at least 2 or 3 different names before we settle on a fixed title. With Vital it was kind of about the feel of the album and an energy that music creates. And we were thinking, specifically, with playing live shows, it’s quote-unquote “Vital” for us to make that connection with fans, and have that give and take between you and the listen and then back. The more excited somebody is about something we’ve created, the more we’re excited to play that, and it’s just kind of a circle of energy that gets passed around within music and performance and everything.
The band collectively made about 60/70 songs, I believe is what the release said, so what are you going to do with the rest that didn’t make the album? A B Side album, or another album?
You know, it’s funny, because every album there’s always a few songs, anywhere from 1 to 5 songs or something that didn’t make the cut of the previous album, but we revisit them and we’re like, “You know, I liked this part about this song, so let’s work around it.” Like, “Resistance” from New Surrender was a song that we never used for Cities, the album that we recorded first. So, we’re really not afraid to, just because we didn’t pick songs for an album we don’t go, “Oh, that song’s trash and it’s never going to go anywhere,” because sometimes it’s just, right place right time. Like I was saying earlier, sometimes you just can’t force something you have to let it happen naturally. A good example of that is “Little Tyrants” on this album, which is the second track, was actually a left over song from our previous album. It was one of the last songs written from the album, and we were days away from going into the studio, and Christian brought it in and he just thought of a simple guitar line and he kind of was just like, “Well, we’ve already got all of these songs, and we’re not really doing this right now,” because we’d have to work on songs, so we just put it on the back burner. He worked on it a little bit more this time, brought it to us, and it made the album, so I’m sure that a few of the songs that didn’t make it this time around will definitely be on the next album.
You picked “Someone/Anyone” for your first single, how do you think this is going to be received compared to “The Feel Good Drag” and “Impossible?” And why did you choose it?
As far as reception goes, we’re just trying to pick, a lot of times what we really try to do is pick songs that are just undeniably us, that they kind of embody the identity of the band. You can look at radio and the first single for a band, and the album sounds nothing like the single. And for us, we always try to. A. we do try to pick a good song and B. we want a song that embodies the sound of this band. For us, just starting with a very energetic song first was important to us. We really liked that one and we were just like you know let’s just go with it. We played potential singles for friends and that was kind of one of the ones that I guess kind of got voted as “this will be a good one to start with.” Although, I did think any of the 3 or 4 that we had kind of chosen, like “Self Starter,” the lead track on the album was one of the songs we were talking about going with for the lead single and I would have felt confident going with that one as well as “Someone/Anyone” because I really do feel like this album is undeniably us, and it’s honest, and who we are without trying to sound like any other band out there, we’re just trying to be us, so, we kind of feel that will come out in these songs.
So you’re thinking maybe “Self Starter” as the second single?
I mean, most likely. It’s kind of one of those things I just think we’ll just go day by day with. It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the single that follows “Someone/Anyone.” So far, we’ve been on this tour with the Smashing Pumpkins, we’ve been playing that song as well as “Someone/Anyone” every night and they’re just such great, fun, live songs to play and the crowd just really responds so well to them. So it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the single that follows “Someone/Anyone.”
Talking about your tour with Smashing Pumpkins, you’re a big fan of theirs, so what’s it like to be on the road with them?
It’s pretty awesome (laughs). All of us are around the same age and Siamese Dream was the album that broke them and I think hearing those songs live, has been cool when I’ve seen them in the past, but actually being on tour with them and getting to watch these songs every night is just crazy, it’s really cool. They’re performing their whole album in its entirety as well, that’s a part of their set. It’s so great to see, what I think is a really honest rock band up there on stage playing music because they love music and it’s just what they do. It’s not about ticket sales, it’s not about album sales, it’s about taking this music to people and sharing art with them.
Have you gotten to hang out with them outside of the tour?
Not really, we’re on pretty different schedules, just because with them, with it being the first tour for their new album, Billy Corgan has been doing interview after interview every day. We’ve gotten to meet, I haven’t personally gotten to meet Billy yet, but we’ve been able to meet the other guys. A couple of our guys have been able to meet Billy. Everybody’s just been super nice to us. And it’s great that it’s kind of validating in a way, us playing music for as long as we have, and having a band like that kind of sign off on you, you’re a real band.
I think the biggest preparation we’re trying to make right now is just trying to decide what we’re going to present in terms of old and new material. I mean for us, there are even a lot of older songs that are so old to us that we kind of want to maybe not play in favor of new songs at the same time, every time we go on tour, we really want to be able to deliver a great experience for our fans. We don’t people who are just fans of newer material to be happy, and we don’t want just the old school fans to be happy, we try to play a wide spectrum of songs. And really, the way we approach it a lot of times is, we just try to think of our live setlist as if it were an album, you kind of want to have a certain flow to a track listing and that’s the way we kind of put our setlist together as well. We want to have a really good flow and kind of combine that with lights and a visual aspect, and just really make it an experience for anybody that goes to see us.
You’re playing the US first and then you’re playing the UK, do you have any plans for any other countries or maybe any festivals?
Yea, I think next year we’re going to be really busy travelling. We start the year off in the UK and then we’ll be doing the headliner for this album. And I mean, I think there’s talks of Australia, and mainly Europe, and Asia, we’re probably going to be all over the place. We’ve been off for most of this year, so our agent basically told us, “Hope you guys enjoyed your relaxation, because you’re mine next year” (laughs).
What’s your favorite song to play live right now?
You know, it’s slowly becoming, I’m really enjoying playing “Self Starter” off the new album right now. It’s just so fun and refreshing for us to be playing songs that we haven’t played much live. We’re all really enjoying that one because it’s such an upbeat, energetic song, and just so aggressive.
I read that you auditioned fans on Youtube to sing on the song “Orpheum,” how did that idea come about?
I think it was an idea that was thrown out there by our producer, Aaron Sprinkle, and we kind of thought about it and we’re like that’d be really cool. If we had the chance to sing on a band’s album that we really liked, it would be a great experience. And for us it was just really fun listening through all of the submissions and hearing all these different renditions of our own songs by people, mostly just kids with a piano or a guitar or just singing a cappella. It was really interesting to hear these kids interpret our music and the way that they hear it.
Would you ever have any fans sing on stage with you guys?
We actually have had it happen in an impromptu way in the past. I don’t know, here’s the thing, we’re not big on spontaneity when it comes to live shows, because we always try to create this flow in the setlist. I’ve always thought it was a cool idea. I mean, Green Day has done that for years, where they have fans come up and play their cover of “Knowledge” with the band, it’s been kind of one of their things they’ve done it for years. And I’ve actually had a friend who was a massive Green Day fan and he got to go up and play guitar during a set years ago, and he was on Cloud 9 afterward. I can see how it would be really cool for fans, I think it would be fun if we ever decided to do it.
Tell me a little bit about the “Pretend to Be Friends” score that you guys did.
It came about originally because we had done documentaries of the recording of our third album Cities back in 2006, and we kind of thought that it would be really cool to do a similar idea again, but we didn’t just want to make an album documentary, we wanted to do something a little bit different. So, we had our drummer Nathan contact this guy Dustin, who’s actually a surf cinematographer, he shoots a lot of things for surfers and surf companies. But the way he shoots it is really cool, he does it all himself and then adds in music later. There’s not really a lot of dialogue to it, it’s more about the shot, and the interactions between the music and the shots on the screen. We were talking about it and thought it would be really cool to have a short film, not so much just about recording, but us being in that atmosphere of recording, and we’re really happy with the way it came out.
When do you expect that to be released?
It’s actually, I believe it’s going to be released at first on the Best Buy edition. It’s kind of like, this time around, our deluxe packaging. And then, later on, it’ll be released in probably a digital package on iTunes or something like that. But I think just for now, it’ll be, as of tomorrow, the Best Buy release.
For newer music, what songs are on your current playlist?
I’m kind of in the phase right now of revisiting a lot of older stuff that I have listened to over the years. I’m the guy in the band who’s really into punk rock and stuff. I’ve kind of been going back and visiting bands like Bad Religion, Rancid, and things like that, you know, older albums. One of the guys said to me the other day, “I just love how much you loved 90s punk rock.” It’s definitely my roots, for sure. When I first started playing in a band when I was 14, we were covering bands like 7 Seconds and Minor Threat, so I still love so much of the work from those bands to this day. As far as newer stuff, you mentioned M83, I’m a big fan of the new M83 album. I’m pretty eclectic with my taste. I just started listening to, one of my friends showed me this, hip hop artist called Macklemore, he just released his album a week ago. I’m not really a hip hop guy at all, but I really like the album, so I’ve been listening to that quite a bit.
One of my friends wanted me to ask this, you guys have been involved with To Write Love on Her Arms since its beginning, how important is this organization to you, and has it affected anyone in the band personally?
It’s still an important thing, because if you read a lot of Stephen’s lyrics, there’s so much in there about self-worth and self-love in a very honest way. There are lyrics about battling depression and losing a loved one and things like that. For me, personally, when I first started wearing the shirt, Jamie sent us a few shirts one day, I was like this is an awesome thing to support. I had amended previously to that, and I just started wearing it one day and I thought it was great. One of my really good friends that I grew up with, he had a lifelong battle with depression, and I really appreciated that someone like Jamie was stepping up and kind of fighting on the behalf of people like that, who feel like so out of this world that they’re to the point they might harm themselves or have thoughts of suicide. It’s a very important organization to me, for sure.
Would you guys consider playing the university chapter benefit shows, giving back to colleges and connecting with them?
We’ve actually just played a university show a couple weeks ago. We play schools a lot actually, and it’s really fun playing at colleges and kind of doing a school than just doing regular club shows.
Vital is out now on iTunes and in stores. Catch the band on their headlining tour this fall (dates below)
Nov 06 The Music Farm Charleston, SC
Nov 07 Lincoln Theatre Raleigh, NC
Nov 09 Newport Music Hall Columbus, OH
Nov 10 Club Infinity Clarence, NY
Nov 11 Crocodile Rock Allentown, PA
Nov 13 The Studio at Webster Hall New York, NY Sold Out
Nov 14 The Omni Toledo, OH
Nov 15 The Intersection Grand Rapids, MI
Nov 16 Mr. Smalls Theatre Millvale, PA
Nov 17 Upstate Concert Hall Clifton Park, NY
Nov 18 The Webster Hartford, CT
Nov 20 Valarium Knoxville, TN