After consistent touring and critically acclaimed albums like Cities
and New Surrender
has certainly made an impact upon the alternative rock world. But to go even one step further, you can add the title of history makers
to the list of the Florida natives' accomplishments.
Anberlin's single The Feel Good Drag
holds the honorable distinction of being the longest-charting single ever (29 weeks, to be exact) on the Modern Rock Charts. That track has continued to thrive, with its most recent achievement being one of the latest additions to the Guitar Hero: Warriors Of Rock
As with most artists, however, Anberlin is pumped to move forward with a new collection of material on the fifth studio album Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place
. With veteran producer Brendan O'Brien
(Stone Temple Pilots, Black Crowes, Pearl Jam) at the helm, Anberlin was pushed out of their comfort zone at times but with satisfying results. Guitarist Joseph Milligan
said that he has never been more pleased with the songwriting/recording process, which is now a highly collaborative effort. When Milligan talked with Ultimate-Guitar.com
recently, he discussed his personal approach to Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place
, the dynamics with fellow guitarist Christian McAlhaney
, and what it feels like to finally have a coveted slot on the ever-popular Guitar Hero
UG: There was a recent quote from your vocalist Stephen that stated, 'I feel like we're on the brink of something... either world domination or destruction, but either way we're on the brink. Was there a difference in the songwriting or chemistry this time around?
Kind of all of the above. We wanted to put our best foot forward. If this isn't better than anything we've put out, then obviously we're not moving in the right direction. We've always said that if we see ourselves backsliding instead of moving forward, that's the day we're done. The dynamic of this one was a lot different. A lot of people were throwing ideas into the pot all at one time. Songwriting in the past has been kind of selfish. We have the best group of songs that I think we've ever had. You're getting more than just three guys' opinions on everything. Our producer Brendan O'Brien was instrumental as well.
What was it about Brendan's work that interested you? Or did he approach you?
That was the scary thing. He approached us after we made contact with his management. We expected the hold-on-a minute finger. He actually was really receptive and he came out to watch us play a show. He came onto the bus after and we talked for over an hour. There was a great, great vibe between all of us with him just right off the bat. We have nothing but the most massive amount of respect for him for what he had done. It's kind of daunting being in a room with a guy that produced pretty much everything you grew up listening to. Thinking about working with him is super-intimidating, but it pushes you to work that much harder. While we were in the studio, it was really no surprise that he was operating on all cylinders all the time. He pushed us to do the best job that we have ever done working on a record. It was definitely a dream come true working with him.
Is he an accomplished guitarist as well? Did he offer specific tricks or techniques for finding a tone or setup?
"We wanted to put our best foot forward. If this isn't better than anything we've put out, then obviously we're not moving in the right direction."
He's actually a pretty incredible guitar player. He would be sitting there talking to me about a part, and while he's talking to me he's sitting there playing this insane riff on guitar. He's one of those people that just upsets you because he can sit at a piano and play anything flawlessly. When you're playing the guitar part, he plays it like he's played it his whole life. It actually took you time! It's funny. He has an amazing ear for tone, as does Tom Syrowski, his engineer. We got some amazing tones, a lot of stuff that I never even thought of. Brendan would run a guitar through an organ amplifier. That was interesting. But yeah, some really cool stuff thatI have never heard of. Brendan is a gearhead and a guitar nut, so it was fun. It was definitely a learning experience.
Did he have a lot of new equipment available or did you stick with the tried-and-true setup?
We always stick with Gibson Les Pauls. Brendan had some Les Pauls to use that were amazing. There was some crazy stuff that I had never seen before as well. There was one guitar that was a standard 6-string electric, but it was made completely out of metal. It was a baritone as well. It had a really, really interesting sound. We used that on a couple of songs. Amp-wise, it was everything you could possibly think of. We ended up using Marshall, Diezel, Port City, Vox, Fender. He would teach us to think outside of your own boundaries, and I think that's a good trait of any producer.
Let's talk a bit about your dynamics with Christian McAlhaney. Did you take on most of the lead duties again?
For the most part it's still that same way. The writing dynamic shifts back and forth a lot now. As far as playing live and in the studio, I'm usually the lead guy. What he plays is not necessarily the bare rhythm. He ends up having a lot of different voicings that would normally be pretty basic. That actually brings a lot in what he plays. He uses voicings in just the rhythms he normally plays. It brings out more of what I play as well.
The Feel Good Drag now is apparently the longest-charting single ever on the Modern Rock Charts. Had you heard about that?
I heard something like that!
When you wrote that song, did you have inclination that it would have such an impact?
Not at all. I wrote that song the day after I got home after finishing our first album for Tooth and Nail Records. It went on our second album and it was track number seven or eight. It never got much attention. When we were doing our first record for Universal, I think it was Stephen and I said, It would be kind of cool to re-release the song as a B-side or something. It never got much attention. The next thing we know we finish it and Universal is wanting to push it as the lead single. We had absolutely no idea that it was going to do what it did.
It must be cool to know that it's showing up on Guitar Hero, too.
Yeah! Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. It was actually a huge honor. I remember playing those games when they came out. It's just like, Oh, it would be awesome if we could just get one song on there! Even some of our friends ended up on the game and it was like, Oh, man. So then we get invited and I'm excited to fail at the song I wrote!
You did a cover of New Order's True Faith. Do you have any other cover ideas that might pop to the surface?
It's kind of funny because everybody has such a different taste in music. Stephen and I have talked about covering Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me, which is a Smiths' song. I don't ever see all of the guys being on board with that. We always end up doing New Wave songs because it's the only genre that everybody can land on and agree on. It has the only songs that everybody across the board is okay with, and sometimes it even takes some nudging then. I look back at the covers we've done, and it's been The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, New Order. They're all kind of in that same vein. I think it's only because it's so difficult to get all five of us to agree on one cover song. It ends up working out.
I recently discovered that Anberlin is quite active in humanitarian efforts. Was there one incident that inspired that movement?
That's what's funny. I'm one of the guys on the sidelines, holding up that signs that says, Go, guys! I'm all for it, but I just haven't been all that involved with it. Stephen started an organization called Faceless a few years ago. Stephen and Deon in particular have been to India and Haiti. These humanitarian efforts were organized by friends of friends. I guess Stephen wanted to simplify it and have his own company that took care of organizing the trips. A lot of people have come forward to help out. I think that's great. It's been something that the whole band has been behind from the get-go. We've done shows for different organizations like that. None of us have ever shied away from any opportunity to help like that.
There is a limited-edition vinyl version of the album that is coming out. Do you personally still collect vinyl?
"There was a great, great vibe between all of us with Brendan O'Brien just right off the bat."
Yes, I do. I was so excited when our last record came out on vinyl. I'm really excited for this one. It's just a cool thing for people to have. Ninety percent of the kids that end up getting this stuff have us sign the record. They don't really want to play it. They just want to have it as part of their collection. I'm psyched to have anything out on vinyl.
You'll be touring for the next solid few months. Do you think you'll be touring into 2011?
Most likely. Whenever these record cycles start, we usually hit the touring as hard as we can. We want to fire on all cylinders. We're not going to rest on this one at all. We have the big tour starting at the beginning of September, and we're going to try and do more festivals. We're playing Soundwaves this year in Australia. I never really thought we would end up playing with Slayer and Iron Maiden! It's going to be great.
What words of wisdom would you offer to musicians wanting to break into the music industry?
Honestly the best way to go about it is independent touring as long as you can. Then when it's the right time to move on, move on to an independent record label. Work with them and go as far as you can go with them. Then if the time is right, then move on to a major record label. You can only grow to the pace of your own band. If you try and rush that, you're going to end up being a flash in the pan. If you try to sidestep or skip steps, it's just not going to be natural. It's just not going to happen the right way.
What playing techniques or methods would you recommend for fellow players?
Honestly, it's listening to classical arrangement. There are so many more voicings than in your standard bar chord. There are so many and it's going to sound like Spinal Tapor something lines intertwining. There is layer upon layer. Listen to the different voicings in classical string arrangements, and then apply that to your own music writing.
Interview by Amy Kelly