In the first part of our interview special, drummer Nathan Young explains why 2014 will be Anberlin’s last year, sheds light on those weird album covers, reflects upon Cities and New Surrender, and talks about how starting in the band at the age of 15 molded him into the man he is today.
So you guys surviving Warped Tour so far?
Yeah, I’m Warped Tour surviving. Right now I’m actually about to start making coffee. That’s my new thing. I’m sitting out in front of the bus, just doing some pour-overs for the band. It’s been good.
How have the crowds been?
Good, really good. We haven’t done this since 2008, but it’s been really great. Obviously, things are different. We know two bands on the whole tour, but the rest of this thing has been really fun, for sure.
So the whole “this being your last year” thing took a lot of people by surprise, obviously. When did you know that that was going to happen and how did you arrive at that decision?
I think probably almost a year ago the initial conversation started. For us, it hit a point. We’ve always talked about it, early on even on our first couple records, that we always want to go out while people still care. We always knew it would be a hard decision, because how do you know, but for us, after six albums and touring and being in the band for 12 years, it just felt like it was time. There was this feeling of we’ve said everything we wanted to say. We’ve done more than we ever thought we could do, so for us it was what else is there? It felt like that was it. It felt like it was time, and it was nice to go out on our terms.
Having five different guys in a band, we’re all going to be in different situations, so for us there was this level of respect for each other and in picturing the future. Looking into the future, it felt like it was time for us to all go our separate ways and pursue other things. It’s really cool that it had nothing to do with someone quitting or hating someone, or anything like that, which is the norm for most bands. For us, we just felt really thankful that it didn’t end up turning into that, like we’ve seen a million other bands do.
All the fans are going to want to know if this is something permanent or do you think at some point in the future you guys could do some kind of reunion, do another tour or anything like that, a few years down the line?
I have to be honest and say I think this is it. It has to be with the way we’re going out. A lot of bands are like, “Oh, we’re taking a break,” or “It’s a hiatus and we’re done until further notice.” 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.
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.
For this last record, Lowborn, you took a different approach where you recorded it in pieces in different locations. You did drums with Matt Goldman in Atlanta. What was that like and how do you think that ended up impacting the record?
Matt Goldman did our first few demos, and ever since we did that with him I always knew I wanted to go back and do drums with him. He’s an amazing drummer and can get such good tones and sounds. For me, it was always something I wanted to do, so when this record came up and we decided we wanted to do one last album, I was like, “Listen, I want to do it with Goldman, as far as the drums.”
So we did preproduction and drums with him, then switched over to Lakeland and did the rest with Aaron Marsh, and Stephen did vocals with Aaron Sprinkle in Nashville. It just worked with the timing. Again, where everyone was at in their lives, it just made sense to do it like that.
It was different to not be all in the same spot, but we knew we wanted to change it up anyway. We didn’t want to phone in this last record. We didn’t want it to sound like a bunch of b-sides or rehashed songs we had already written. We wanted it to sonically sound different, to sound like a different record and to stand on its own. For us, it all made sense, and we just ran with it.
Did you still write the whole thing together beforehand?
How we’ve always written is, we all live in different spots, so we always write and then send each other songs, like, “Yo, check this out.” We make tweaks, and we did this the same way, and then we pieced it together like how we’ve always done in the past.
On the last couple records you’ve had an increased role in the songwriting aspect. How have you liked working on that side of things and did that also take place on this one?
Yeah, everyone kind of throws in their stuff and what they do and then we all write. We wrote a ton, and then we did it like we’ve always done it. The songs we ended up putting on the record, it was a mix of everyone writing and throwing in their ideas. In the last however many years, we’re all going different places musically, so to bring it back to these 10 songs, we didn’t regurgitate any b-sides or anything like that. Everyone threw in their part, and we worked it out and it ended up being what it was.
How do you think your musical tastes have changed since the band started to now?
For me, 12 years ago, I was 15 when the band started. Obviously there’s a progression of listening to different stuff and going back and listening to older stuff. I would say I’m constantly trying to look for whatever satisfies me musically and it’s all over the place, as far as what I’m into now. I’ve always liked hip-hop and different things, and I just kind of take it all.
When I write, too, it affects that a lot, what I’m listening to and what’s surrounding me. I think we all are in a different spot musically. In a lot of ways we’ve grown together and in a lot of ways we’ve grown apart. Not only what we’re into, but our style of writing and what we think Anberlin should be and how we should progress. Bringing it all back together for this record at first was tough, but I think it ended up making for a cool record because of where we’re all at musically.
The last couple album covers you’ve had have been pretty interesting, and this one is no different. What was some of the inspiration behind the artwork on this?
I always do the covers, or the ideas and the vibe at least, and I’ve always wanted to push ourselves with our cover. Most bands put out a cover and it’s like, “Oh, yeah. Cool. It’s a cover.” But for me, I always want to make people talk about it. What is it? Why did they do this? What’s the point behind it? All these things, so with the last three albums we’ve done, I feel like we’ve really hit that. I think it’s really special. Again, I’m not trying to be cocky, because I didn’t actually physically make any of them, it was just my direction giving and my ideas, but the last ones we’ve done have been heavily talked about. People want to know, and you have to take a second look to decide what it is.
For me, it’s another piece of art. Everything we do in this band is a form of art – the music, the live show, our videos – and then again with our artwork. I want to push it on all levels. If we’re going to push it on some things and then settle with another thing, I think it wouldn’t be as impactful. For every cover, I want it to be polarizing. I want people to either love it or hate it.
I want people to look at it and feel something. I’d rather them love it or absolutely hate it instead of looking at it and being like, “Yeah, it’s an album cover. Whatever.” I get just as pumped when I hear someone say they love it or hate it. That’s been the goal for our last three album covers, to make people look at it longer and maybe not understand what it is, to decide for themselves what it is. I love how they’re heavily debated because to me that’s such a win when people are either pissed or they love it. That’s been my goal, and I’m happy with how it’s all worked out.
I thought we’d take a little trip down memory lane for a couple of the past albums. The first one I thought would be good to start with is Cities, which you released in February of 2007. That album is probably your most loved and definitely took you to another level. What do you remember about writing and recording that one? Did you know you had something special when you were doing it?
Man, that is so funny. I literally just had this conversation with my brother last night. I hadn’t talked to him in a long time, and we were just talking about where we’re at and the records we were doing. I just remember Cities, going into the studio. We had been out on tour for Never Take, we had been touring like crazy, and the bus dropped us off in Seattle. We had been writing the demos and we were determined to do something different. We were determined to not do Never Take: Part II.
I loved the demos. I knew there was something there that was different, but I wasn’t sure what it was. We got into the studio with Aaron Sprinkle – we did drums at a different studio – and I remember going over the songs and him and I were talking about the drums. We spent so much time on each part. All of the programmed drums were actually me playing them but they were filtered. So I remember, as the record was going, distinctly thinking this album felt special. It was such a cool place where we were at together as a band. We had just gotten off touring, the hardest year we had done. We were moving constantly and there was this excitement. It felt that way with the record.
The reason I was talking to my brother about it is he shot the photos for it. He came out to Seattle and did all the photos and some of the artwork. Someone came through our line with the Cities artwork yesterday, and I was looking through it and was like, “This is such a good layout.” I was thinking about the record and how much fun it was.
I remember releasing the songs after it was done and hearing people’s reactions. It was such a mixed thing. I remember people being, “Ah, I don’t like it. It’s too this, or whatever.” Then later on it picked up and ended up being everyone’s favorite record of ours. It really was such a special place for us, thinking back to that record. It was probably to date my favorite recording experience because it did just feel so different from our other stuff.
Then after that you got signed by Universal and released New Surrender. That album did really well for you. You had the No. 1 single off of it, with “Feel Good Drag,” but that album also seemed to be the most difficult process for you. There seemed to be a lot of outside influences, and I know Stephen has said that’s his least favorite one the band has done. What do you remember about that time period?
That was almost opposite of Cities because the ride of Cities was so smooth and fun. Signing to Universal was awesome, and they’re such a great label, but there’s so much pressure. We were so in a different spot. Our headspace was in a different spot. It was with a different producer. We did the record in L.A. I just remember that I thought it would be like Cities, but it was so different.
Preproduction took two-and-a-half weeks in this little miserable place in L.A. I remember being like, “Oh, no.” I was thinking this isn’t how records should be made, because on Cities we hit this thing where we connected. It was such an experimental environment, and I felt like all of a sudden it turned into more business, in a sense. It was about music, but it was about singles. That was the first time in our life where we had thought about that, singles and radio and all that stuff.
Honestly, we got really lucky and blessed that record ended up doing well and with “Feel Good Drag.” That was a last minute call to even record that song, so I think we got really lucky, for sure. Neal Avron is such a great producer and an unbelievable musician, but for us there was that feeling of a new label and new producer. He’s getting emails from the label, saying this record better be this. We were all in such a weird spot.
Just looking back on that record, it was so tough, literally the opposite feelings of what I was feeling during Cities. Thankfully that record ended up being our biggest selling record, and we were able to progress and make more records after that, but definitely a different vibe, for sure.
You’re the youngest one in the band, by quite a few years I believe. I’m sure that doesn’t matter as much now, but in the earlier days that was probably pretty interesting for you. Looking back, what was that like to experience?
Obviously, it was pretty crazy, being that young. The first tour I did my brother came out with me, which was one of my parents’ rules on the first few tours. Going from being a 15-year-old dude, living at home, dreaming about being in a band, into nonstop touring for the next 12 years was definitely pretty crazy.
With the guys and being as close as we were, it never felt too strange. It always felt like it fit and like the right thing. When you’re that young, doing what we were doing was definitely not the norm, and sometimes it felt that way, but overall it was such a great experience.
Post Anberlin, what are your plans? You drummed on the newest Yellowcard record and are going to be opening up a coffee shop in Tampa. What all do you plan to be doing with that?
Right now my plan over the last year has been coffee. Over the last couple years my brother-in-law and I started talking about making Tampa, where we live, a great spot. More conversations were had, and we decided that is what I’m going to head towards. There’s such a great connection with music and coffee, for whatever reason. I’ve met so many people through it, and it’s just been great.
I’ll always do music. Even playing on that Yellowcard record sparked this thing in me. I would love to continue to play on people’s records. I’ve never thought of myself as a session drummer. I have to be somewhat emotionally connected to the record, or the guys at least, to be able to do it. Session drummers will just go in and crank out songs, and that’s it. I love the creative process of it.
So, yeah, I will always play music, and then I have a side project that I will continue to do casually for the sake of playing music. Coffee will be my full-time jam, for sure.
Do you think you’ll do some touring with Yellowcard after Anberlin is done?
As of right now, I don’t. I’m doing Warped Tour right now and then they hit it hard right as Anberlin is finishing out the year. They have to find another drummer and all that stuff, so right now it looks like it’ll just be for Warped Tour, but you never know. The future is unknown, so we’ll see.
Looking back at the 12 years of Anberlin, what would you say you remember was your most joyful moment and your most difficult moment?
I’ve been thinking about that a lot because people have been asking similar questions. I think for me I just remember early on when we were doing Blueprints. We had gotten signed to Tooth & Nail, and I remember flying to Seattle and landing in Seattle, at that point not having traveled much because I was so young. I remember it hitting me and I could not believe it. It was so mind blowing that we were making a record, and that people were paying us to do this and I was a part of it. That was probably the happiest that I’ve been.
I had been a little kid dreaming of doing something musically and being in that spot. It did almost feel dreamlike. Seattle is like that, anyway. We land and there’s rain and it’s cold. I was like, “Where am I?” So I think that, and everything else has been a bonus since then. Everything’s been good.
As far as toughest time, that’s a hard one. There’s different things that stick out in my head. When we were touring hard, doing 10 months out of the year. I had just met my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, and I remember that was the first time I had been challenged with that in a relationship, seeing what it was like to be away. Especially early on, when I knew it was going to be something more. There’s that feeling of now I’m going to leave for three months.
I remember at that point, it was tough. It really was. The balance of this is what I love to do but I also now have someone at home I want to spend time with. She’s always known this was what I was going to do until further notice, so it was great to be able to have someone like that. Internally, there was some band stuff going on right after that, and I didn’t know if we would make it through. It was all in the middle of a tour, so it was pretty brutal, but I guess that’s pretty good if that’s the worse memory I have of touring. I guess that’s not bad.
How would you say being in Anberlin has changed you as a person?
Oh man, so much. Thrown into touring that young and being 15, I was forced to make decisions on my own of what kind of dude I was going to be and what direction I was going to go in life. I remember I hit a very pivotal point of what that was, seeing what was around me. It wasn’t the typical drugs and all that stuff, but it could have easily been that. Being 15-years-old, you’re so impressionable to where anything like that could have swayed me towards that.
I know being in Anberlin and being around those dudes has molded me who I am today as a dude. I think it changed me a lot. It’s hard to say how I would be without it, but I think for sure it’s shaped everything. Being able to travel that young. This sounds funny, but being well cultured and seeing things that a normal 15, 16-year-old wouldn’t see is for sure going to have effects on your personality and the way you view life and treat people. I’m just again so, so thankful for the time that we’ve had and that I’ve been able to find myself as a dude through that.
So last question, what would you like Anberlin to be remembered for, when it’s all said and done?
Honestly, I would say that if we could be remembered in a light of just positivity and encouragement. It hits me at different times. We were signing yesterday, and so many people were sharing these stories. “I was listening to you since I was 13.” “You helped me get through some heavy stuff.” “Your music helped me when my mom passed away.” All these things that were so deep. It was hitting me, and I was thankful I was wearing glasses so no one could see I was getting teary eyed. It’s insane to me that people can connect like that to music.
I remember that as a kid, having bands that I could connect to with that 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 be known for. We weren’t just talking or pieces of crap, we were all there to be a part of it with other people and the people that were into our music.
Haven't listened to these guys in years, but this was so genuine and heartfelt that I wanna go back to Cities and relisten from there. Very few bands like Anberlin in this genre of music in terms of lyricism and connection to the fans.