Interview with Deon Rexroat of Anberlin

Deon Rexroat of Anberlin

Any preconceived notions you may have had about your favorite bands can be immediately shot down once you’ve gotten to know them. In this world of the “rock star”, rarely does anyone get the chance. I’ve been fortunate enough to call Mr. Deon Rexroat my friend. Oh, and he happens to play bass in a band called Anberlin. I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Deon about the bands recent release, New Surrender, as well as his influences, and Anberlin’s outlook on the upcoming year. In between the beer and friendly banter, I came to realize that Deon is a musician who knows where he stands and speaks with conviction. A solid bass player as well as a friend, I hope you find this interview as entertaining to read as it was conducting it.

Brad Tilbe: I noticed on www.anberlin.com that all of the major sites were mentioned including Wal Mart and in parentheses, indie record shops were included as being important. Is this the collective thought of Anberlin to mention the big names to find the New Surrender album rather than keep it indie?

Deon Rexroat: We use our splash pages as up front news and one of them is a list of all local record stores that the new album is available. We do a lot of work with indie stores because we think they are very important. I found out about a lot of the music I listen to through the “cooler than me” clerks that worked at a lot of those stores. Places like Woodpecker Records in Lakeland, FL, Newbury Comics in Boston, MA, and Relapse Records in Philadelphia, PA before they became an on-line store. Vinyl has made a comeback. The album is an important thing as much as it gets dissected by sites like iTunes. Independent record stores offer a little more niche stuff like Rhino Records in Pomona, CA. Every time we have an album come out we do in-stores at independent record shops. We play acoustic and all of us are there signing albums. Park Avenue in Orlando, FL have always been huge supporters of us as well as Uncle Sam’s in South Florida and Vinyl Fever in Tampa, Florida.

BT: You’ve played for and in front of some very big audiences with some of today’s biggest bands. Is there a point where it gets to be the same old thing every day, or is playing in a new city to new fans still a thrill?

DR: When the crowd in on board with us during a performance it gets us more excited. It’s what we love to do so it’s fun as hell. If the crowd isn’t on board then it’s a challenge to us. We do what we can to get them in to the show and get them involved. We’re not just wasting our time here, we’re here to have fun and you should be out here having fun too. This isn’t work, this is supposed to be a recreational activity, why are you frowning? or talking?, or texting?. It’s understandable when we’re opening for a band. It’s really weird when we’re the headliner though, because we’re the last band and you look pissed off and bored. U2 isn’t coming on after us I don’t’ know what you’re friends told you.(laughs)

BT: How has working with Aaron Sprinkle for so long, and on the new record with Neal Avron changed the sound? And do you feel it’s turned out to be a positive progression in the longevity of the band?

DR: We did 3 albums with Aaron so for us we wanted to kind of stir things up and get some new ideas in there. By the time of the 3 album we were so much on the same page that I didn’t feel new ideas were being generated, it was almost like we were agreeing each other. At that point it was like Aaron was a part of Anberlin. The reason you have a producer is for an objective, outside opinion. It made us realize that with this album we have to do something completely different. With producers everyone has their thing, it’s the same with musicians. It’s their art, the construction of a session as well as an album. Switching from Aaron to Neil, we were defiantly afraid that Aaron was going to be pissed at us. Aaron is a huge fan of Neil and was more interested in the fact that we were working with Neil. At the end of the day it’s our project, and we have to do what we see fit. It does get really hard when you get really close to people and you have to part ways. It’s not because they’ve done anything wrong it’s just the way it happens, it how is works. We’ll probably go with a different producer on the next album. We really like the idea of stirring the pot and getting new ideas and input.

BT: Anberlin recently signed to Universal Republic after being on Tooth And Nail, a well respected indie label with underground credibility with such bands as Me Without You, Damien Jurado, Strongarm, and Copeland just to name a few, why the switch to a major label?

DR: We had resources with Tooth And Nail. We always said we are going to take this as far as it can go. Were not going to step back and say, “oh we can’t do that because people are going to perceive us this way”. There’s a great editorial reply that Dave Eggers wrote about the term sellout. It’s one of the most logical, mind blowing rants you’ll ever read. Basically it says, “Why limit yourself ?”. If it offends your morals and your conscience then yes, you’re selling out if you do this. If you take a stand against something and then go against it then that’s selling out as well… There was a time when I was a teenager and I was getting into a lot of underground punk. The first time I heard Green Day signed to a major I was like, “sellout”. They were on Lookout! Records. Then I realized they sold 60,000 albums with no distribution. They went out there and sold those albums, so who am I to say they can’t move on to a label that will sell those albums for them? This way they can do their thing and no have to hustle their asses off. It’s kind of unfair to tell someone they can’t do that. For us, we had to take our chances and take the next step.

BT: How effective do you think the labeling of Anberlin’s sound is? Such as “Haight St.” being called the “soon to be summer anthem”, and New Surrender as “a cohesive blend of music that will lull you to sleep with gentle harmonies one minute, and shake you to the core via raw, distortion drenched rock riffage the next”. Is it necessary or should the fans be able to decide for themselves?

DR: I guess you always have to do things to sell people. I think there is a difference between describing something rather than labeling something. Describing things helps to draw people in. Terms get thrown around so much like, “here’s great emo rock”. That’s basically like the new grunge. It’s such a broad term now. Look at the bands that were considered grunge in the 90’s. Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Nirvana, among others. None of them sounded alike (laughs). Remember in the mid to late 90’s when bands like Braid, The Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World, Sunny Day Real Estate were considered emo? It blows my mind that kids that are apparently considered emo, you play then The Promise Ring and they’re like, ‘this guy can’t sing” (laughs). This sort of labeling will go away. Everybody needs a label, it is sad but everyone does need a label. Nowadays you can’t just call everything rock.

BT: Reading some of the comments on You Tube about the religious beliefs of the band, do you think being labeled as a Christian band is disheartening seeing is how the band set out to make a truly new and unique record with New Surrender that may just be shelved as Christian Rock?

DR: We get tagged as Christian Emo. There’s times when it comes through but would you call U2 a Christian band? They have lyrics that are Christian themed but who would dare? Obviously we’re not at the level that U2 is so it may be a bit harder to understand. When we first started touring, the bands would have these preconceived notions about us. After a couple days on the road they’d say, “oh, you’re normal, I thought you guys would be weird”. We defiantly got that label from being on Tooth And Nail, for us we stopped caring about it along time ago. We don’t really answer that question anymore. A band’s not even the person, how can it believe in a faith? I’ve never really understood that. We like to let what we do and our music answer that question. Sometimes people misinterpret our lyrics and take them as being very religious even when they’re not. To me, people want to know the exact reason and meaning behind things but, what does it feel like to you? Just let it be that.

BT: I noticed on Tooth And Nail’s page a blog written by you of the Best Songs Of 2007. There are some really different bands mentioned, everyone from Ryan Adams, to Interpol, to Bruce Springsteen. Would you say that your broad taste in music brings something unique to Anberlin?

DR: The way it goes into our heads and the way it comes out it gets filtered in here, all the different styles of music. The way it comes out is the way Anberlin sounds basically. We never try to sound a certain way or write a certain way. The way we sound is the way we sound when we all get together.

BT: When was the decision made to put an effort towards the humanitarian side of life?, rather than just being another band who simply writes, records and tours without contributing back to any global causes.

DR: It’s who we are as people. It’s an interest that we personally have and Anberlin gives us the platform to do something about it. We always felt that if we had the means then we would do something. It’s our personal lives leaking in to what we do. On the last tour, a few guys in Anberlin went to Walter Reed Memorial Hospital in Washington, DC. and visited troops that had just returned from Afghanistan. They said it was one of the most heart wrenching things they’d ever done, but also something amazing that you don’t normally get to do. There’s a lot of things I would do even if I wasn’t in Anberlin, but doing this obviously gives us more of an opportunity. You don’t have to be in a band to help people you know? You can do it everyday and take advantage of your influence, and your impact and your lot in life and do something with it. That’s our basic belief belief behind what we do and why we do it.

BT: What are some thoughts on the range of the Anberlin fan base, and how has it changed from the birth of the band to now? And where do you feel the band fits into the grand scheme?

DR: We don’t really know where we fit in, that’s why we’re kind of surprised. We started out with a pretty young fan base playing with the same bands. Fans seem to be growing with us. As we grow our music grows. We write songs that people like and can hopefully identify with. We did a festival in Australia last year called Soundwave and it was interesting because we found out a lot of metal bands were into us. We made really good friends with a band called Unearth, and the whole time we were like, “were not tough at all, why are all these tough meal guys into us?” (laughs). It’s all music. I guess for the same reasons, we play what we play and we’re into metal, and they play what they play and they’re into our melodic rock (laughs).

BT: Having released four full lengths and a collection of B-sides, played and toured the US, Australia, the UK, and Ireland, what does 2010 bring for Anberlin?

DR: We’re currently in the middle of writing a new album. We have the music for about 15 songs. Vocally, Steven has about 7 or 8 songs demoed out. That’s the main thing we’re working on right now is the new album so that it can be out later this year. One of the other things that we’re really concentrating on this year is trying to get to places where we haven’t toured yet. We’re going to South America in March for a week and a half, which we’re all really excited about. We’ve tried to go twice before and couldn’t because we couldn’t make it work with our schedules. Otherwise we’re just really trying to keep it going, doing something new, trying to write our best album yet. A new year is always a new challenge.

For more complete info, visit www.anberlin.com. Anberlin’s music can be found at your favorite local independent record shop as well as on iTunes, Interpunk.com, Amazon and many more. Videos and live performances can be found on www.anberlin.com as well as on You Tube.

Brad Tilbe About Brad Tilbe

I am 35 years old. I was born and raised in Central New York. I currently reside in Seattle, WA.