Project 86 are becoming heroes of the heart
By Naughty Mickie
After their 2000 Atlantic Records debut, "Drawing Black Lines," Orange County, California's Project 86 has returned and is touring in support of their new effort, "Truthless Heroes." It's a good thing too because I've just about worn out the CD. "Heroes" is different as it is a concept album which follows the talk of a character searching for identity in today's society. The work speaks volumes about the group's own experiences as they mature and refine their talents, not only musically, but in life as well.
Project 86 consists of Andrew Schwab (vocals), Randy Torres (guitar, vocals, piano), Steven Dail (bass, guitar, vocals) and Alex Albert (drums). I had spoken with Schwab previously (please check DaBelly's Ancient History under July 2001) and we had mainly discussed how the band was formed and how their Christian values affected their work. This time, I has an opportunity to dig a little deeper and really learn what makes the guys tick.
Schwab calls me while he's on the road and I ask him to tell me about his childhood.
"I grew up, actually I didn't grow up in Southern California, I grew up in a really small town in western Pennsylvania. The population of the town was about 12,000. The name of the town is Meadville. I was an only child," says Schwab. "Music for me, as child, there was no clubs, growing up as a child, there were no shows or clubs, there was really no outlet for music besides the radio or fledgling MTV back then. I guess it was always a sort of means to an escape to an imaginary world, if you can imagine.
"I guess my first inkling of an idea of getting more involved with music was just a dream of being somewhere than where I was growing up. Eventually, events in my life led up to me moving to Southern California when I was in high school. I started getting into shows, going to hard-core shows, and meeting a couple of friends and people in bands out here. It just kind of evolved from there. The first thing I ever did was at age 14, that was recordings and demos when I was a kid." He pauses and then laughs, "I've got my band in the car and they're heckling me.
"When I was growing up, my step-father was in a cover band and he would always allow me to play their instruments, drum the drums, strum the guitar, and I was never good at any of the instruments so I always tried singing because I always felt like it was something that I could do." Schwab goes on, "He always let me borrow his gear and by the time I was in junior high and early high school, I had some friends who we would just mess around and try to do cover songs and write a few original songs. A lot of them were hip-hop oriented. I guess it's more of a joke, but that was my first experiment with saying you could actually, that if you really put your mind to it, do something in terms of creating your own music. To me that was revolutionary because I didn't grow up in Orange County or L.A. where it's just like every other guy on the block's in a band.
"I guess that's always translated in terms of my mentality and in the band's approach, living where we live, in Orange County, it's sort of a music mecca. It's out of L.A. which is a completely separate music mecca. I guess that's contributed to us taking a different approach to the things that are around us because I'm not from around here originally and my take on culture and experience and life itself is of a different mind set. That's what I think of every time somebody asks, 'Aren't you an Orange County band?' Yes, but no. In terms of mentality, we're about as different from the Orange County quote scene than any band can ever be," states Schwab.
"I went to junior college in Mission Viejo and Saddleback College. I graduated, I got four year degree from Vanguard University in Costa Mesa in communications," Schwab tells me about his higher education in California.
He hasn't ever had a true "day job."
"I was in school," says Schwab. "I was in college when the band was getting started. So when I got out of school, we started touring. We've been pretty much the whole time touring."
"What do you do when you have downtime?" I query. "For fun?"
"What we do for fun? We have sort of a random mixture of tastes in the band. Our guitarist is really into RC racing and Alex is into wrestling, he's a wrestler." Schwab chuckles, "I'm kidding about all that by the way. In general, we're a pretty close knit group so we spend as much time together off the road as we do on the road. We actually spend a lot of time working in our studio when we're home. That's where we spend most of our free time. We have a studio in Irvine (California) we built ourselves and we have 50,000 side projects that we're always working on. We're always experimenting with new sounds or messing around with ideas for songs. That takes up a lot of our time."
I ask Schwab if he's learned any lessons while being in the band.
"Infinite lessons," Schwab laughs. "The most important lesson is that you have to change your focus, meaning in the industry that we've chosen at any given day at any given time you can make a decision to focus on the positive aspects of what's going on in your career at that time or the negative. There's always a generous dose of both. Disappointment after disappointment after disappointment is the general rule of thumb in this industry or any type of entertainment industry. You have to learn to have thick skin and you have to learn to focus on the things that will motivate you to keep moving forward in your art. The second most important thing is don't be motivated by anything else besides the creative aspect of what you do. Be motivated the music, be motivated by the art, be motivated by the lyrics. Those are the most important things."
When we spoke, Project 86 was slated to play at Azusa Pacific University, a noted Christina college in California. I wanted to know how they felt about playing Christian venues versus secular ones.
"We've made a decision to not play events that are for the most part in any way still shaded with any sort of small scene, like a Christian scene or a hard-core scene," Schwab replies. "We're trying to play as many events as possible that allow the music to be perceived as objectively as possible and I think that's sort of an evolutionary thing that people have as a band. Especially with our approach on the record lyrically as well. We're a band that makes music, that's our goal. We choose to write what we choose to write about. We choose not to censor ourselves and that isn't received real well by certain members of the religious community which was what we expected.
"But all the artists that we have respect for, whether that be U2 or Nine Inch Nails or Misfits, there's a common element among every artist that we've ever respected and that is the music comes first." Schwab goes on, "They don't censor anything they write about and they're completely honest about everything that they say. With us, being signed to a major label and touring and doing some of the things that we've done in the past and evolving to what the band is now, the logical conclusion that we keep coming to about our identity as artists is that we want to be known as a band that makes music period.
"It's playing a college and the way the show was presented to us is it's just an event, there's going to be a bunch of bands playing. It's probably one of the last times we'll be playing one of these types of events." Schwab explains, "We go from playing that show to playing this show up north, it's called Bandfest and the slogan from the show is 'Beer, babes and bands.' Which is equally silly to us as having as event that's geared to people with only a certain type of religious beliefs or anything like that.
"If I can answer your question a little deeper, in terms of belief and the way that we present ideas in concerts and as a band, I guess the further we go, the more personal it becomes to us and the less we want to use it as a marketing tool or any sort of message like people getting an impression about our band being about anything other than music," sums up Schwab.
I prod to discover whether the band is still seeking to impart Christian messages and values.
"There happens to be a lot of bands that are very conceptual who are sort of on the fringe of Christian music, whether that means a band like Trust Company or Chevelle or Dashboard Confessional or any of those bands, we've played with all those bands before. It's like our particular take as it has evolved is to separate that, in terms of the scope of the band, as far as we can from alienating anyone from our music. Does that make sense?" Schwab pauses. "It's all in the presentation, it's what you do, lyrically and everything. We don't want to censor our music so if we desire to talk about controversial subjects, our lyrics, those are the closest subjects that are to our heart. That will immediately is going to cause people to say, 'Oh, I thought you were this type of band,' 'Oh I thought you were that type of band.' That's what we want to avoid. That's all part of living and learning as you go as a band."
So has Project 86's writing changed from "Drawing Black Lines" to "Truthless Heroes"?
"This time we had a little more time, actually a lot more time, to write the actual record. The conflicts that the band was going through at the time and the things that were taking place in the world at the time really dictated a lot of the lyrical content and affected the theme," Schwab says. "I would call this record, whenever we joked and talked about it, we would say it's our rite of passage. It's our third record and it's sort of ourselves collectively coming into a sense of manhood or adulthood from being children. And that collective experience and all the trials that we went through as a band, the social, political circumstances to get us to a better place in our career with the 9-11 thing and all of the events leading up to war, the turmoil that our nation has been going through, for lack of a better way to put it, that sort of led to a collective identity for our record.
"The record is sort of a reactionary type," continues Schwab. "I guess it would be one-third social commentary or political commentary, one-third musical commentary, meaning for the music industry and ourselves as a band navigating through the industry, and one-third personal commentary and I think that that comes together to form the character that I tried to create for 'Truthless Heroes.' So what you've got is numerous themes weaving themselves into a loose narrative. We had about a year to put it together, so I was able to lay out every step of every song and develop an ebb and a flow to the record and write my lyrics together in terms of a narrative."
And Schwab still writes all of the lyrics for Project 86, as he has from the beginning of the band.
Last time we spoke, the group had enlisted the aid of guitarist Corey Edelman for their tour. I noted that he was not listed on either the album or any of the current promo materials.
"We just parted ways prior to writing the record, mainly creative differences. We have nothing negative to say about him." Schwab explains, "Essentially what he became was a guitarist for the live show and when it came down to writing the record, it just wasn't working and it's not because of anything else, but a different perspective. We've been together for years before he joined the band and when it came down to writing, it wasn't working."
Project 86 plans to tour for most of the rest of the year.
"We were so exhausted after doing this last record because we spent so much time on it," Schwab tells me. "We spent four months in the studio, a month in pre-production and we spent over a year writing without touring very much. We devoted all of our energy to this record and when it was done, which was a struggle, we decided we're not going to write any more music for a while. Then six months since the record's come out, we still haven't written any more music. I'm sure at some point in the next six to nine months we'll start getting into writing again.
"But we've been working on other things while we've been home and while we've been touring, I've been writing a book. The actual story behind the story for the record, 'Truthless Heroes.' If a kid listens to the record and they're like, 'I don't see the story completely,' that's because the story's more implied, I'm writing this book. It's written in the first person like the record, it's basically the story that the record's based on." Schwab confides, "It's different for me because I've never written a full-length book yet. It's going to be a novel, fiction, but it's an interesting effort to partake in."
Watch for Project 86 now on tours with Sevendust and Trust Company and also headlining some of their own dates. You can find out more about them, including when they're coming to your town, but checking out the Web.
www.project86.com, www.truthlessheroes.com, www.sundaymassconsumption.com
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