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Project 86 Waiting For The Siren
by Jon Fisher
Contributor on 2012-08-21 15:04:10
Contributor Jon Fisher talks with Project 86's Andrew Schwab about their new band members, the decline of Christian music festivals, touring, and their new album "Wait for the Siren"

So the new album, “Wait for the Siren” is coming out on August 21st, and I’ve listened to it several times, and it’s definitely a great listen. You’ve got a new line up for the band. Did you approach writing and recording differently for this album than in past albums?

Oh yeah, definitely. I started the band in 1996 with a vision for it and I went out and found guys. We lost a couple of guys at the beginning and then found a pretty stable line up for a few years. This is our eighth CD release. After our third release, which had guys who part of what people think of as the original line up - kind of the old-school version of Project, the band started evolving.

Guys started to want to tour less and less, and eventually each guy left in turn about two years apart from one another. So the evolution of the line up has been a steady one for the past seven or eight years. This album I took on the most on my shoulders as far as the vision of the music as well as the vocals, lyrics and the execution of the songwriting process.

I co-wrote the album with my friend Andrew Welch, who until very recently played in Disciple, and another friend of mine, Blake Martin who played in A Plea for Purging. They’re guys I knew were really creative, very good song writers who have worked with bands a lot. So they’ve been friends as well as involved in music for a very long time, and I knew them to be competent and, from a taste standpoint, to be the right guys to partner with for the new songs. So I was really excited to working with some guys that I knew to be passionate to be part of the Project while at the same time could execute the vision that I had for the music. It was a blast.

The first song on the CD, “Fall, Goliath, Fall” might be one of my favorites. To me, from the lyrics and the overall sound, has the feel of a call to arms. In an election year is this a political song or is it more a call to spiritual arms? How do you view that?

That’s an interesting question. I was just talking to someone about that earlier today. The only Biblical reference in this song is the chorus, and that “fall Goliath” which is obviously referencing the David and Goliath story. I wrote that song from the perspective of an artist. The independent artist these days is the underdog. Even though the labels have lost more and more clout, it’s just become increasingly challenging for bands to just make it today. When I say make it I don’t mean sell 500,000 albums, I mean just survive and provide for your family and making a living doing what you love on a level that you know is a professional level. So the surface element of that is a call to arms for all the independent artists out there, all the guys in bands, all the song writers and all the people who love rock music, the heavy music thing.

The way to make it in this industry is not to follow the current or the trends. The way to have a career is to make a splash and to make unique music. You see so much today that there’s, at least in heavy music , you’ve got a lot of bands doing sort of the metal core sound or some version of that. A lot of bands kind of do an active rock kind of sound. I could go down the whole list there.

I’ve always believed that if you write music that’s unique and that’s passionate and that’s real, you can have your own sound and have something that’s different. On that song we used a hammer dulcimer which in some sense no heavy band has ever used, at least that I know of. So I wanted to try and make it sound like a warrior battle, warfare kind of song. It’s kind of my personal reflection as an artist.

To be honest, it’s for anyone is who is an underdog, who needs to overcome an obstacle. That’s why it’s the reaction is so strong even before the album is even out. When we do our shows that song, even though it’s not even released yet, is getting a bigger reaction than any other song we play during our set. It’s pretty cool watching that happen.

You know, you mentioned the dulcimer in there, I thought I heard some bagpipes on the album too, or am I mistaken?

There’s a track, it’s track 10 and it’s called “Ghost of Easter Rising” and that’s an uilleann pipe which is an Irish pipe. There’s a little bit of the Irish instrumentation throughout the record to give it some consistency and feel. The dulcimer is the one that you’re going to hear the most, it’s on several tracks.

But yeah, there’s an uilleann pipe which is the Irish bagpipe basically. It’s a smaller pipe on “Ghost of Easter Rising”. I think somewhere in my heart I’ve always reserved a small space for the context of the movie “Braveheart”. I’ve always wanted to write heavy music with that sort of spirit in mind where the righteous battle against the evil empire or tyrant or whatever. So that’s kind of a theme throughout the whole record.

Can you tell me a little more about your new book “The Tin Soldiers” that is coming out soon?

It’s a new book that I’ve been working on that will be released at the same time as our new album. It kind of touches on some of the same themes that are on the album but expands on them. The book is called “The Tin Soldiers” and it’s taken from a C.S. Lewis quote where it’s basically what if you could bring toys to life. What if you had a metal soldier and you had control. You would think you were killing him or spoiling him because he doesn’t know what real life is like.

C.S. Lewis compares that to the process of God trying to make us into the type of people He would want us to be. He says that basically Christ had to come to earth and He inherited a body of flesh, or metal in this case to be in the process of becoming a real man in being directed. He had to be killed in the sense of His own earthly desires, betrayed by His friends and then killed physically. Finally He came back to life and He was the first real man that was alive. So the book is written for guys and it’s written to a lost generation of guys, my generation and younger, mid-thirties all the way down to teens.

We seem to be a demographic that, by our own fault, and through the fault of the church as well, have become lost. We don’t know who we are. We don’t have any example that we follow. We’re isolated. We all lead secret lives of pornography and sin and all these other things and ailments. We’re very cut off from one another.

We’re disillusioned with church, and we don’t know who we are. So I wrote this book to be a catalyst and encourage lost men and lost guys. There are some experiences that I’ve gone through in the past ten or twenty years in my band and my travels and finally I’m hoping that this will be a catalyst so we can get a new type of friendship among guys across the land.

I’m planning to support it by doing a tour all by myself across the country to start with, meeting in homes in strategic locations, where guys can come out and be themselves. They can watch football or play Battlefield or Cornhole or do these things that guys do, and then take off the gloves and really be real with one another. It will be groups of 5 -25 guys getting together. I’m praying that this can really fill a need in the lives of guys who don’t have examples of leaders and don’t have tangible ways to connect with one another.

Wow, I mean I have a son who is nineteen, and I just think about that age group that you’re talking about and how irrelevant church has become to a lot of boys or men.

Yeah man, you know the funny thing is, it’s a chicken and the egg kind of thing. Because you talk to church leaders and people in the book publishing world, and the response is “Oh, that’s a lost demographic. Oh, those guys don’t read.” You talk to pastors and they’re like guys need to stop being morons. The problem is that they don’t have anyone to look up to. All the aging voices in the church don’t speak directly to them. Those are not voices that get their respect.

So this is kind of your second stint as an independent band, and I know you mentioned it being tough in the music industry. How does it feel not being tied to a record label?

To be honest, it’s a good feeling. You know we launched a Kickstarter campaign and then we secured really good distribution for the record. I feel like it forced us to be really focused on the way that we market our band and present our band. It’s all work to be an independent artist, that’s for sure. There are a lot of hours involved with things behind the scenes, but it’s kind of cool man because it makes like you’re stepping out in faith and music is that much more pivotal and crucial.

People who are supporting you feel it’s more tangible and that makes them more motivated to get behind you. So you really feel like you’re part of something real.

You mentioned this being our second stint as an independent. We released “Songs to Burn Your Bridges” as an independent, but I think always think that we had in the back of our minds that it would get picked up by another label. And then the rights were picked up for that album and the rights to the next two. I don’t think we’ve ever really imagined ourselves going down that path for very long. Whereas this feels really independent. So it’s really exciting man. I mean, I can’t stress enough how important it is for the fans out there to support us by picking up a copy of the record or pre-ordering it, because it’s making it possible to do what we do in a very real way.

You just said you were six days out on the road. What are your plans for touring to promote the album?

Well, we’ve got a number of festivals this summer. We’re sort of a week into that. We’ve started on the west coast and did some dates with The Wedding and I am Empire. Then we’re going out and routing all the way from the west coast to the east coast.

So we’re going to some album release parties, and we’re actually making the new CD available all through August, so you can get a copy of the CD in your hands before the August 21st release date. For the fall, we’re just about to make a major touring announcement for a tour that we’re going to be going out on in October. September we’re also playing festivals and one-off dates and the album release parties and things like that. So we’re going to have busy rest of the summer and the early fall at the very least.

Along those lines, I wanted to ask you a question that I had recently asked Tim Skipper from House of Heroes when I interviewed him. Festivals like Cornerstone and Spirit West have struggled or stopped completely and I wanted to ask you what you think the reason might be for the struggles of a number of these Christian music festivals.

In truth it’s across the board , there’s only been a few that have been thriving, and I think it’s just like the regular industry as a whole. A lot of these festivals have been a little bit slow in adjusting their business model. The way that they’re approaching just ticket prices and the way they’re booking bands, etc. The festivals that are doing well at this point are the ones that give high value for a low price.

I have the benefit of being on both sides of the fence and being involved with festivals that are struggling and the ones that are doing well. You’ve got to have a venue that’s affordable, that has a good deal of sponsors, and you need to have a lower ticket price with a high value to attract attendance. It seems to be a slippery slope. A lot of these old-school festivals are used to charging $200 or $150 for admission. No one has that kind of money to go to a Christian festival, so you have to find a way to lower your ticket prices and get sponsors to hop on. That’s the way I think it’s going to work, but yeah you are seeing a lot of these festivals dwindle and even go away.

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What current bands would you say influence you right now as far as sound and maybe even lyrically? Who are you listening to right now?

That’s a good question. I get that question a lot and I never really know how to answer it, it keeps changing. I don’t always listen to the current “it” music at the moment. There’s always a mix on our touring vehicle. We’re always playing a mix of old stuff and new stuff. Some new things that I really like are the newest Black Keys record. My friends are this band called The Overseer that’s on Solid State records which I really like as far as heavy music.

If I was to say honestly what we’ve been listening to the most on the road thus far, we have a playlist of The Clash that plays during our load-in and load-out as well as in between the bands because everyone in the band is a Clash fan. So it’s always a mixture of new and old.

One of my all-time favorite songs of yours is “Destroyer” and I really love the video you guys did for that too. A number of your songs have a darker, more apocalyptic tone to them. Do you ever catch any grief from other Christian artists or just in general because of that?

Never direct grief (laughing). Grief would be in the sense that we’re not necessarily a pop band. Grief would be in avoidance of moms and children (laughing) to a band that’s a little scarier or whatever you would call it. Nothing direct though. Thank you for saying that about “Destroyer”, that’s definitely our favorite video for sure, one of my favorite videos personally, if not my very favorite. And I love the song too.

What is your favorite scripture?

That changes too. I would say favorite is Jeremiah 29:13 which says: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Is there any particular outreach that you’re involved with right now or particularly passionate about?

Well, that’s a good question. I’ve been working and the band has been working with an organization that is setting up a shelter in the streets of Ethiopia for these girls that are prostitutes basically. They help get them off the streets and educate them so they don’t have to sell their bodies to support themselves. That’s a really cool thing to be a part of, to see tangible things in terms of seeing lives being changed.

I’ve been involved with them since 2010 and I can see being involved with them for years to come. We’ve also done campaigns with several organizations over the years, and one of those was Charity Water and that was a campaign that we did in 2009 to set up a well, a fresh water well, in Haiti. So I believe strongly in charitable works and reaching out in practical ways too. Other people have it a lot worse than we do, and that’s something that we’ll continue to do while this band still exists.

When will you be back in the Pennsylvania area?

We will be playing the Uprise Festival on September 15th in Shippensburg.

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