By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
CORRALES, NEW MEXICO (ANS – July 31, 2017) —It’s quite a contrast for the former singer of the Billboard-topping, Gold-record making rock band Anberlin . After signing to the major label Universal Republic in 2007, Stephen Christian began a life of a rock star, touring the world with bands such as Lincoln Park, Smashing Pumpkins, and My Chemical Romance, making hit records, filming music videos, and hob-knobbing with some of the best in the industry. But now you’ll find Stephen Christian surrounded by horses, chickens, adobe homes, and the majestic Sandia Mountains casting a shadow over the sleepy village of Corrales, New Mexico.
But it’s not as if Stephen Christian has rest on his laurels since Anberlin disbanded in 2014. Not at all. Christian wrote a memoir called Orphaned Anything’s, formed another band Anchor & Braille, joined the staff at Calvary Albuquerque, and just released a new worship album with BEC Records, Wildfires.
I was able to catch up with Christian at this home in Corrales—known as a respite for artists, scholars, and folks taken with the grandeur of the Southwest. Stephen asked me to accompany him for a live concert for the release of Wildfires on Stageit.com. While unloading my cello, mandolin, and accordion from my truck, two Great Danes greeted me. Stephen walked out; hair tasseled, giving me a hand with the instruments. We both comment on how beautiful the Sandia Mountains look. “Stunning,” Christian says. “They never get old.”
Once inside, I ask Christian how he balances his life, taking care of farm animals, his family, and a musical career. “I have it down to a fine science,” he says regarding farm work. “It takes me about 12 minutes to feed the horses, tend the chickens, and clean up the stalls. And I love every minute of it. All the rest—the music and work—is accomplished with the help of fine people, both here in New Mexico and in Nashville. And of course in the midst of all this—family comes first. I have a wonderful wife, Julia, and two beautiful girls.”
I ask him if he misses Nashville.
“Yeah, sometimes I do; there’s great people in Tennessee, and there was always something to do. But living in New Mexico—beyond its beauty—has given me time with my family. The girls run around the property enjoying nature, and we are all developing a love for the simple things in life.”
Which are, I ask?
“Well, family, faith, and friends, and horses,” Stephen replies with a smile.
“Once the balancing act of work, career, and music is over,” he continues, “our typical day is sitting on the porch looking at the mountains. Julia and I are expecting our third child, so we’re taking it slow. We’ll ride the horses through the village or attend the local’s only night at our favorite restaurant. And other than church events, simplicity sums up our lives.”
So much has been written about Anberlin, so if you’ll excuse me, I won’t touch on your past . I’d rather talk about the present. Tell me about your move to New Mexico.
“You know about this, Brian. You were part of the process,” he chides. I know, but for our readers, I respond.
“As you recall, I had come through New Mexico a couple of times while on tour with Anberlin; once—I think—for the Vans Warped Tour and another as a solo act. We have a mutual friend, Stevo Jeter, DJ for Star 88 (then called Static), and he casually said, ‘If you ever decide to disband Anberlin, there’s always a place for you here in New Mexico.’ It gave me pause. Later Julia and I came back as month-long guests of the radio station. While here that month, Julia and I loved taking excursion in New Mexico. We were smitten by the land and culture. And then when the opportunity arose for me to join the staff at Calvary Albuquerque as worship director, we jumped at it.”
But with your move to New Mexico, your career didn’t stop. Case example, you just released your first solo album Wildfires. Tell us a little about the project.
“After recording a couple of albums with Anchor & Braille, I determined I needed to do something different; to get back to the core of my Christian faith. It’s not as if Anberlin and Anchor & Braille didn’t touch on Christian themes—they did, but I wanted an album that was overt in the expression of worship of our beautiful God. And since I am the worship director at a large church, I thought a worship album would be a fitting response at this stage in my life.”
How’d you record this album?
“Carefully,” he says in jest. “I wrote most of the material here in New Mexico, with a couple of songwriting jaunts to Nashville to work with friends of mine. Most of the music was produced in Nashville; I laid down the demo at my home studio here in Corrales, but recorded it in October of last year with Riley Friesen in Nashville.”
Do you have any favorite tracks?
“You know how that goes, Brian—they are all my favorite. But right now Gloria has received great response and airplay. And my personal favorite right now is Wide Eyed Wonder.”
Tell me about Wide Eyed Wonder.
“Wide Eyed Wonder is inspired by the beauty in New Mexico, living in a constant state of wonder. In a book I read years ago, there’s a passage where a person was posed a question, the same question God asked Solomon: ‘ask for whatever you want, and I’ll give it to you.’ In essence, God was asking Solomon what he desired. Well the person in the book I read responded with ‘wonder.’ I liked that. The story has stayed with me. And hence the song.”
Now give me a rundown as to why I’ve come to your house: a live concert on Stageit.com. What’s this about?
“The reality is that I can’t tour like I once did. I have my responsibilities at Calvary and a farm to keep,” he says half joking. “So I thought: let’s do an album release concert online. Several of my friends have done it. Stageit.com has a great reputation. People like Korn, Bon Jovi, Bonnie Raitt, and others have used it for similar purposes.”
What’s the feel you’re going for with your live Stageit.com concert?
“Something casual and friendly. I want to highlight some past hits by Anberlin and Anchor & Braille, but want to do some new songs off Wildfires. I suppose one of the things Stageit does well is give the audience and intimate house-concert feel. Also fans are able to ‘talk’ with the artists via a chat room.”
You chose four of us to accompany you, why?
“Because you were free.” We both laugh.
“On a serious note,” he continues, “Steven Tracy is our producer here in Albuquerque. He had a successful band, Myriad, and fine recording career in Tucson, Arizona before moving here to run the studio at Calvary . He and his wife, Celeste, continue to make music under the name Amadee . And the fact that they are both incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist—it was a no-brainer to have them accompany me.
“And of course you, Brian, what more can be said…” he says as we both laugh.
“I want a cozy feel to the show, as if the audience was in the room with us,” Stephen continues. “Having the cello, Rhodes piano, accordion, guitars and mandolin—though instrumentation I don’t always highlight, will give the music a new interpretation, and represent the culture here in New Mexico really well. We’ll see how it goes.”
Once Steven and Celeste arrive—and later joined by fellow worship leaders Ryan and Natalie Wylie (who both joined in on a couple of songs), we begin to focus on the music and project at hand.
We set up and practice. Stephen is on the phone with his manager, attempting to get the computer set up, and harnessing his two girls. Julia, who was the creative force behind the Stageit concert, is prepping things in kitchen and tending to the animals outside. Steven, Celeste, and I talk about the instrumentation, with Steven Tracy giving input and direction.
After a quick bite to eat, we assemble in front of the computer. At 6:00 we go live.
The concert takes about ½ hour. It goes well. We played the songs, joked, and sang Stephen “Happy Birthday” (it was his birthday in addition to the release of the album). Stephen told the audience about the songs and the new album. Afterwards, Stephen got online to chat with the people. The comments left by folks were great. People from Ohio, Florida, Arizona, Illinois, and other regions across the United States logged on to watch the concert. From my vantage point the event was a success.
After things settled down, I asked Stephen his thoughts about both the Stageit.com concert and the release of Wildfires.
“You know, God is good. If that is all I communicated via the show and album, then it was all worth it.”
I couldn’t agree more.
After a wonderful post concert time eating, talking theology, music, and the lure of New Mexico—we load up our equipment and leave our separate ways.
As I drive into the dark, heading towards the Rio Grande River that cuts through Corrales, I thanked God for His goodness; for providing faith, family, and friends—and a heap of nature—for us to enjoy. My hope is that Stephen Christian’s new album will direct people’s attention the Lord, causing individuals to rejoice and sing to the One who deserves all honor and awe. Maybe Wildfires will ignite a wildfire in our souls, burning praise to the King of Glory, Beauty and Love incarnate, providing us with a moment of wonder.
To learn more about Wildfires, click here: http://www.gospelmusic.org/stephen-christian-set-to-release-new-album-wildfires-with-bec-recordings/ or https://www.amazon.com/Wildfires-Stephen-Christian/dp/B071231G21
Photo captions: 1) Anberlin. 2) Anchor & Braille. 3) Stephen Christian live on Stageit.com. 4) The Wildfires band. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon
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