An Interview with Nate Young from Anberlin – By Kirsten Walsh

After an intense rock show at the Ram’s Head Concert Venue in Baltimore, MD, I was escorted out the back door of the venue and onto the Anberlin tour bus. Of course- as a fan of their music- this was super awesome. I was introduced to drummer Nate (Nathan) Young, and settled in for the interview. Since 2002, Anberlin has been making music non-stop. With 7 studio albums and numerous singles, b-sides, and extra tracks as well as side projects, the quintet has squeezed in the time to release at least 8 official music videos. Their videos include everything from cheesy green screen to spooky woods to most recently a cavernous expansion of earth with what appears to be terra cotta versions of humankind. With a new deluxe album- "Devotion", which includes the songs from "Vital" (released in 2012) as well as much much more, and another music video on the way, there was a lot to talk about with Nate, who told me visuals are important to the band and him- in every manner.

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KW: How much creative direction do you guys actually have in your music videos?

NY: All of it. I mean, it starts from us with an idea- not that every video we’ve done I’ve come up with, or us as a band, but as far as the guiding and directing of it, its all us for sure. Whether someone writes it and we kind of tweak it, we’re very much involved with it. That’s really important. I don’t know if its just from my love of videos and movies, but I just think its really important. Visuals have always been really important for us in general, about whether its us onstage or in music videos. For me, its just really key to make sure it fits in with the song and the music and the vibe.

KW: Cool. And you said that you’re inspired by movies.

NY: Yes, very much so.

KW: What movies inspired you for your more recent- well, you guys have gone from “Readyfuels”, which-

NY: Which we had- Okay- That one we had NO control of. Because that was our first video, so the treatment that was given to us was like “You’re going to do it in front of a green screen…”- and at that time, this feels so funny saying this, but that was a long time ago, so green screen was a new thing I felt like, at least to music videos. That was in 2002 or 2003 that we did that video, so they were like “We’re going to do a green screen, and there’s going to be explosions and like its going to be crazy”, and they literally pitched that to us. That was when the movie “Behind Enemy Lines” came out, and we thought it was going to be like that, with stuff flying, just super intense. So we did it, and we got the first edit, and we literally thought it was a joke. We really thought it wasn’t real. And we were like, “this is green screen! You can put whatever you want behind us, and this is what you chose?” So anyways, that was out of our hands, that was the only one. So I just wanted to clarify that before we moved on.

KW: No, of course.

NY: That was NOT our idea. Fireworks? Nope.

KW: But you still let it be released?

NY: Well at that point we couldn’t do anything about it. I mean, we were a new band, and the label was like “we don’t have any money to change it.” And they took a TON of time to do that anyway, so we were just at the point of “we’ve got to put it out.” I mean, looking back on it, it is what it is. Its bad, but its still like at the time- for us, we wanted to set ourselves apart from “scene” bands that were doing videos of them playing in a dark alley or a warehouse. That was what was going on, so to me, that’s what sets it apart from that, even though its not good. You know what I mean? So yeah, we kinda just had to put it out.

KW: You guys have now matured to “The Unstable” video, which is the most recent music video you guys released. In a lot of interviews I’ve read with you guys, you leave a lot up to the fans to interpret whatever they want into it.

NY: Yeah.

KW: And you guys haven’t really come out and said anything about what “Unstable” the video or the concept came from. Can you say anything on that now?

NY: Um. I mean, I guess that does kind of stem from the movies I’m into. I mean, I love Terrence Malick and stuff like that, to where it doesn’t spell everything out for you. Its not like this is exactly the story, its just more about a feeling, and a lot of people don’t like that. "Unstable" was the same kind of thing, where we came up with a general idea, and the idea was to execute it with it being very visually based, but still having a storyline within it that doesn’t fully spell it out. The original name for it was "Adam and Eve", but its not based on that direct story. That was kind of just the working title, just for that vibe of video. So I think that does give a little bit of insight without fully giving it away. For all of our videos, we don’t have a theme or a story for all of them, so we do let it be up to the people to decide and so thats kinda been the decision we made to not put too many things out there that spell out the whole story.

KW: Right. Recently, you guys have released the lyric video for "City Electric", and you guys are kind of captializing on this YouTube, lyric video phenomenon. Are you guys happy with that?

NY: No. I mean, if this is honest, I hate lyric videos. I think it dumbs down music videos, and to me, how far are we going to go where its like….I know its cool, kids want to learn the lyrics, but now they can’t even read the lyrics out of a thing, its like they have to watch a video and have it spelled out like a little kid video, so I don’t like them at all. It reminds me of the old videos where Mickey Mouse’s head was bouncing along, and it was like " Lets sing along"! I fought it for a long time with manager and label, and I guess it just got to the point where it was a necessary evil, because they just get so many views and people love them for some reason. So if it was just my choice, I wouldn’t do them ever. It is like a watered down music video.

KW: Well, and with City Electric, you guys released that recently. Have you guys seen a response from the fans? Do they know the words? Are they singing along?

NY: Yeah. I mean, maybe they were, and if that’s the only way to get people singing along, I guess its doing its job. But I would like to think its just because the song is out there. You know what I mean? People listen to it, and like it. That’s how I used to sing along to songs, back in the days, by listening to the songs. But yea, its been a good response so far. People have been knowing the words.

KW: Now, when you guys have a music video- with MTV, FUSE, and all those music video channels have turned to reality programming. So when you guys come up with a concept and do a music video, what is your target- YouTube, Vimeo, internet, or still TV?

NY: No, its not TV, because like you said, they’re barely playing anything, and also they are very limited on what they’ll show, like violence or whatever. Not that we have a ton of violent videos. So if you’re even thinking about that, it would have to fit within that small thing, and its still not guaranteed that it would make it on TV. So its just like, "we can’t do this, and this", so we don’t do it, and then they say "Oh, even though you followed the rules, we’re still not going to play it."- if the song is not big, or whatever. So personally for me at this point, I think you really have to do something different and unique to get people to notice it. You want someone to watch it and pass it along to someone else and say, "have you seen this video?” Because that’s how I see videos- my brothers or my close friends are like “man, this video is crazy!” It just has to have “that thing”, whether its visual or a story or something that makes you feel a certain way. So for me, that’s what I would like to do with videos. I think performance videos have kind of been overdone. Because I feel like in the heyday, when everyone had tons of money, they were making insane videos. P.O.D. made the best performance video I had ever seen, where there was a slow motion car wreck, and they’re playing. At that point, its like to try to do another one or recreate that would feel like its just spinning the wheels and just doing the same thing. I think it just has to be really unique, but I would say we do our videos for the internet and just for people to pass around amongst themselves, just to get it out there.

KW: You guys haven’t released a full performance video, playing to a huge crowd- like Good Charlotte (“Festival Song”), that I’ve come across. Is that your choice?

NY: We did one, kind of, that wasn’t a music video. We released it as a tour promo for the other side off “Vital”, and to me, that’s as close as we would ever get, just because I feel like its been done so much. So I guess that is our decision. When we come to do a music video, I don’t want it to be reminiscent of a live show, personally. I think it should be a completely seperate experience. If you see us live, no matter how good the video is, I don’t think it could capture how it feels live. So I wouldn’t even try. I would try to do something that is a completely different thing.

KW: And with “Vital”, you guys have said that you were writing songs to match your performance style, so you still don’t feel the videos would capture that?

NY: I think what we meant by that was that we wanted it to be as aggressive as it could be, because people will listen to our records and then they see us live, and they say “Man, your records are way more tame.” They see it live, and we’re more energetic. So for us, that’s what we were trying to match more, I guess, sonically, and I guess the songwriting as well. Its possible with a video, I just never really- I think if you got a chance to do a music video, I think you would want to do something no one’s ever seen as opposed to stuff people have already seen. If you’ve seen our live show, and then watch a video of it, people could be like “that’s cool, and I was there”. That’s the cool part about it, but for someone who wasn’t there, or has never seen us live, it doesn’t work. The point of the internet is to be viral and people passing stuff around, and I just can’t see a live show being passed around like that. I personally feel like a music video needs to be more.

KW: I can agree with that. So what are your favorite music videos? You mentioned the P.O.D. video, but what else?

NY: Well, that was when I was a kid and thought “this is crazy!” because it looked just like a movie. I like weird videos though. Yes, there’s limitations with Anberlin where we can’t get too weird because I think people would get really bummed.

KW: You guys have gone mainstream pretty much with the videos for “Impossible” and “Feel Good Drag”, but before then, you had “Godspeed”- and we were talking about performance videos…

NY: Yeah, that is a performance video. That is ALL performance video. “Feel Good Drag” was when I started taking over more for videos. That was the start of me really working closely with the process. Before that, it was just other people. We were still involved with the process, and we still picked and chose stuff for the videos. Deon wrote the treatment for “A Day Late”, which was his whole idea. But from “Feel Good Drag” on, was when I started taking on more.

KW: That seems to be when the videos seemed to take on a new direction, and get a little more obscure.

NY: Yeah! Its working. Because “Feel Good Drag” was a dream I had, for the most part. That whole thing was based on a dream. With “Feel Good Drag” I think everyone was just pumped with how it worked out, and I really enjoyed doing that, so since then its kind of been a set thing, where I’m involved with the videos. And that’s my favorite thing, one of my favorite parts of being in the band is being able to do that. So, “Godspeed”, I loved it. The guy that did it was great, he’s just got really cool ideas, and that was the goal was to do this raw, energetic video, but I still do have some issues with that video as well. Stephen sitting down was not the best idea, and I fought it back then, but I was outvoted. Who sits and sings a heavy song with a big microphone? Anyways……moving on…..I’m being very open and brutally honest now.

KW: That’s good! So were you onset for the “Unstable” video?

NY: No. I wish. It would’ve been awesome.

KW: Was any of the band?

NY: No. That was a thing where we worked really closely with the director and we scouted together online and found the right place, and then we decided we didn’t want to be in that video at all. I wanted to be there just because I thought it would be really fun; to be a part of the process and help direct, but the budget wasn’t there for me to fly out.

KW: Is that a goal for you- to start directing videos?

NY: I would love that. I really like the creative side of it, and the writing process of it. So yeah, I guess directing is where I would like to go. I wouldn’t do director of photography/ cinematography. I think its awesome, I just don’t know enough. Its more technical. I can say “that’s good” or “make it look like that”. But I would love to direct. Especially for other bands, because when I hear new records, I start thinking about that stuff.

KW: That’s awesome. I have a fan question from Kelsey in Florida: “Impossible” is one of my favorite songs, and I want to know how you came up with the story and the special effects?

NY: I guess that was the same thing where we had the base of an idea. I had this idea of not fully knowing what’s going on in the video until the end, and there’s the kiss, and it didn’t fully work out the way I pictured in my head. I mean, its good! You’re limited with stuff, and you don’t have an unlimited budget to where you picture something and then bring that to fruition exactly how you see it. Its rarely identical, but I think it turned out okay. We worked closely with the guys making the video, just going back and forth, “what about this?” and “lets try this?”, and “what should this shot look like?”.

KW: Nice. Looking back, in 2007, you guys had two songs featured in a horror film called “House”. Do you guys want to have your music out there in more films and TV shows (they have also been featured in “The Vampire Diaries”)?

NY: Yeah, for sure! I would love that. I think some Anberlin stuff would fit. It just depends on the movie, but yeah, that would be awesome! Especially for me, loving movies. Of course, it depends on the movie- that can kind of ruin a song, or ruin a movie, depending on if it fits right, but yeah, I’m all for that. If it can fit the moment and add to it, I would love to do that. I do scoring and stuff like that too, which I love. That’s where I fit more. Writing in score is more of a natural thing for me to do than to even write band songs. That’s just where my head’s at for some reason, so I would love to do that kind of stuff in the future.

KW: So what is the next video that you guys are going to be planning or shooting?

NY: “City Electric”. We’re shooting it the day after we get home for two days. Actually, I’ll be there for three days, but we’ve been working on it for a while. Its going to be again…..a weird one. If it turns out the way we’re planning it and the way we’re working on it, it’ll be something we’ve never done before, and I’m really really pumped about it.

KW: Did you come up with the concept?

NY: I worked really close with some guys. I had an original idea, and I wasn’t pumped on it, so we kind of reworked some things. But the jist of the idea came from someone else, and I added some things, and took out some things. We have this group on some app where we are constantly talking all day back and forth, sharing images and ideas. But we’ll be working on it as soon as we finish this tour.

Fans should expect the video for “City Electric” soon, and you can find out more information on the band’s Facebook (www.facebook.com/anberlin) and website (anberlin.com). They are also very active (and interactive) through their twitter page (@anberlin) and instagram (instagram.com/anberlin). You can also check out their music videos on their YouTube page (www.youtube.com/user/AnberlinVEVO )Their fall “Devotion” tour wraps up in the beginning of November, and then the band, who have been touring the majority of this year, will finally have a break! Thank you to Nate and the rest of the band!