Doors open for Project 86
By Naughty Mickie 86main.gif (30778 bytes)

It took only four years for Orange County, California band, Project 86, to go national. Their high energy sound caught the attention of Atlantic Records and has led to their release, "Drawing Black Lines," and a country-wide tour. They were in their tour bus rolling down a Texas highway when I caught up with vocalist Andrew Schwab to talk about their beliefs, their music and their success.

Schwab, bassist Steve Dali and drummer Alex Albert knew each other from the local scene. While Dali and Albert did a stint in a hard-core band, the trio would often frequent clubs together. Still, they all longed for a vehicle to express their personal beliefs in an original music form. In 1996, Schwab, Dali and Albert decided to make their wish reality.

"It was a common vision that brought us together. To do something meaningful with music," explains Schwab. "Behind the music, there was a positive, spiritual element that was our inspiration.''

After meeting vocalist/guitarist Randy Torres through some friends, Project 86 was ready to start something totally new. The band blended hard-core rock, metal and hip hop and created a new genre, "rapcore.'' Next, they added lyrics based in their Christian beliefs. This gave the group the ability to cross into both the Christian and mainstream genres. The results of their efforts were immediately evident.

"There were maybe 400 kids at our first show," says Schwab. "The thing I remember was feeling completely outside of myself. It was surreal."

Despite the response, the band waited for Schwab to complete his college education before making Project 86 a full-time job. In 1998, with a rapidly growing fan base, Project 86 decided to cut their self-titled debut album. It was released on Nail and Tooth Records and landed a spot on the CMJ airplay chart.

Growing up in Orange County gave the band an advantage, which they readily acknowledge. Schwab says that the area is rich in culture and, by being close to Los Angeles, as opposed to growing up in Arkansas, the group has a better grasp of what not to do when it comes to the music industry. It may have also given them the moxie to stand up to the usual constraints imposed on bands hoping to make it big.

"It is becoming a big cliché for everyone in up-and-coming bands to criticize pop and the corporate environment," states Schwab about the sounds of today. "We're getting a lot of watered-down products from a lot of cheesy bands selling records. What's needed is more great bands not willing to change their sounds for the record companies and the music scene.''

Project 86 is one of the few bands that continue to stand by their ideals, even their name denotes the fact that they are different than the usual fare and not afraid to let everyone know.

"The idea behind our name is being '86'd,''' says Schwab. "The idea of being separate or rejected. There's the implied idea that we're not part of a group. and what group that is exactly is up for discussion.''

And, again separating Project 86 from the norm, Schwab is not wooed by the popularity of the Web.

"I think the impact of the Internet has been a little bit overestimated," he says.

Project 86 approaches new material as a group effort with each player doing their part. Dali often brings ideas for songs to rehearsal and Schwab usually writes the lyrics. Schwab takes his time, whether it is hours, days or months, to find just the right words as the tune comes together.

"I kinda run with the emotions they lay down with the music,'' explains Schwab.

He also isn't afraid of sharing his beliefs with his listeners, "Music is an extension of the heart and a way to express what's inside and, while we don't talk directly about God in every song, it's there. Overall though, the songs are about looking inside myself and at the world around me. At the same time, they're very much open to a wide range of interpretations. People who may not relate to the spiritual aspect of the band can relate to the sheer sense of humanity that comes through in our songs. That's pretty universal.

"The fans really connect with the lyrics," Schwab continues. "I get e-mails and letters from people all the time, saying how much the band has encouraged them in their lives. It's something worthwhile to them, even beyond the sound of the music. When I see people singing along at the shows, I can tell their hearts are completely into it. There's nothing better."

Project 86 keeps evolving musically, in fact they have recently added another guitarist, Corey Edelman. But even as they grow and gain a worldwide following, they haven't lost their hometown attitude.

"I'm so proud of the fact that we're able to do something that is impacting people,'' smiles Schwab. "We feel a real sense of purpose in being able to give of ourselves to other people and to maybe help them through the day.''

Well, Project 86, you made my afternoon brighter. After Schwab and I parted ways, I could not help but grin as I popped "Drawing Black Lines" into my CD player and turned up the volume.

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