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RNS Robot interviews PROJECT 86
September 23, 2009

From a group poised to be "the next P.O.D.", to one which nearly self-destructed earlier this decade, Project 86 have travelled a distinct path towards their current role as the unlikely "elder  
statesmen" on Tooth & Nail Records.  And on the heels of their seventh full-length album, the apocalyptic Picket Fence Cartel, the group shows no signs of slowing down.  Vocalist/lyricist Andrew  
Schwab was kind enough to conduct an e-mail interview with me; unsurprisingly, the thoughtful Schwab had some interesting things to say (even if he doesn't think British actor Simon Pegg is as dreamy as I do) ...

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RNS ROBOT: What has the response to the new album been like so far?

ANDREW SCHWAB: Very positive, both from a sales standpoint and a fan  
feedback standpoint.

RNS ROBOT: What was the writing process like, compared to other albums?

ANDREW SCHWAB: The writing process is always an adventure and never the same twice.  This time we really pushed ourselves in specific directions with sounds and approach to create a cohesive sound and focused emotion.  I like the results.

RNS ROBOT: In your opinion, in what ways is Picket Fence Cartel different from Project's previous work?  In what ways is it "trademark" P86?

ANDREW SCHWAB: I think it's dark sonically and lyrically while still retaining a very obvious hope.  These are things that have defined us along the way and I think they are very obvious on this release.

RNS ROBOT: Many reviewers and fans have remarked that Picket Fence Cartel has a more "spiritual" lyrical emphasis.  Do you feel that the new disc is any more or less "spiritual" than your prior lyrical efforts?

ANDREW SCHWAB: I guess it may be a little more straight forward, but  
if I broke it down line-by-line you wouldn't think it was any more or  
less spiritual.

RNS ROBOT: Project 86 has often been "misunderstood," at times to controversy.  At this stage of the game, does it matter to you how listeners interpret the group's art?

ANDREW SCHWAB: I think the only thing that matters is that we make music that connects with people.  The rest of what people say is based on hype and trends.  We know who we are as a band and what we are supposed to be doing, so that's what matters.

RNS ROBOT: The cover art - or lack thereof - on the new disc has thrown people for a loop.  What is the concept behind the minimalist design?

ANDREW SCHWAB: The anti-layout was intentional.  Sometimes less is more.  What is more powerful--a collage of octopus limbs and baby doll heads or simply asking the question:  Who do you belong to? Which of those two is going to stick in people's heads far after the music stops playing?

RNS ROBOT: You're going out on the road with some great bands this fall in Children 18:3 and Showbread, and have promised to play songs people never heard live or haven't heard for a long time.  Any hints on what Project fans can expect on the "Picket Fence Cartel" tour?

ANDREW SCHWAB: We are approaching the show quite a bit differently this time around.  Expect a longer set with some deep cuts and lots of "mood."

RNS ROBOT: What are the chances of hearing "Chimes" or "Another Boredom Movement" on the tour?  Or a b-side like "Lucretia, My Reflection"?

ANDREW SCHWAB: You will have to come out and see.

RNS ROBOT: With band members living in different areas of the country and the lack of a permanent drummer, is Project 86 planning, at anytime in the near or distant future, to follow the paths of peers Starflyer 59 and Stavesacre and become more of a "studio band"? Or can fans expect to see the group continue to tour heavily through 2010?

ANDREW SCHWAB: The band will be touring heavily through 2010.  We only know one way to do this thing, and that is as a full-time outfit.  You never know what could happen, so I am not going to say never, but most likely we will not be going the route of Stavesacre and Starflyer 59.

RNS ROBOT: When you live on the west coast, it is quite a journey, but I attended Cornerstone for the first time this past summer.  How has the Cornerstone experience changed since you first played the festival (for better or for worse)?

ANDREW SCHWAB: Cornerstone has always been a great experience.  It has become heavier in terms of the bands over the years.  Now it's like 75% metal and hardcore bands, and there are at least 40,000 generator stages all going at once.  Because there are so many bands now, the competition for people's attention becomes quite comical.  Down the "strip" of the festival you see neon lights, billboards, bands performing on the tops of campers, megaphones, etc.  It is like Vegas, only punk rock.

RNS ROBOT: Steven Dail has been doing a lot of work on the production side of things in recent years.  Outside of Project 86, what do each of the current members do in terms of "work" in the music industry?  How has being in Project afforded the group these opportunities?

ANDREW SCHWAB: I think most of the things we do outside of Project can be traced back to Project in some way.  Steve engineers, produces, and mixes.  I am a freelance journalist and author.  I also get the chance to speak and do spoken word events from time to time.

RNS ROBOT: Several years ago the band expressed a conviction to not play churches because they were "not appropriate venues for rock music."  On the upcoming fall tour Project is playing at least one church venue.  Is this an exception to the rule or has the group's stance changed on churches as venues for rock music?

ANDREW SCHWAB: As long as the venue has adequate sound, security, staff, and insurance, we will play anywhere.  Churches many times did not have the aforementioned in the past, so it made for some logistical nightmares.   Within reason, we always want to give the people who come to our shows the best show possible in exchange for buying a ticket.  As long as the venue doesn't inhibit this, we will do the show there.  But there are always exceptions.  We can go punk rock when it's necessary.

RNS ROBOT: Project 86 has travelled an interesting road as a group of believers in the music industry.  What are some of the negative things you see in the current faith-based/Christian music scene?  What are the positives you see?

ANDREW SCHWAB: I think one of the biggest obstacles right now is the idea that anyone can be in a successful band.  The market is very oversaturated.  This causes all kinds of problems for artists who actually do this for a living.  It is also rare these days that bands do their own thing sonically.  You just see a ton of bands who are trying to sound like what kids are into right now.  I guess this has always been the case, but it has never been this extreme.

The positives out there right now are that you can reach a ton of people for free just by working Facebook, etc.

But I am not going to lie.  It is more difficult to earn a living playing music right now that I have ever seen or experienced.

RNS ROBOT: In the spirit of positivity, what advice does the group have for any young bands making a go of it today - particularly faith- based ones?

ANDREW SCHWAB: Check your motives, first and foremost.  Why do you really want to play music?  If your heart is in the right place, then you can do no wrong.  But be prepared to sleep on floors and to not be able to make enough to live on.  Have a backup plan in other words.  Just be wise about how you approach things and be realistic with yourselves.  1% of 1% get to do this thing on any sort of full- time level--i.e. making a living doing this and only this.

RNS ROBOT: Seriously. How great is the flick Hot Fuzz?  Simon Pegg is cute, isn't he?

ANDREW SCHWAB: I haven't seen it, actually.

RNS ROBOT: Is the new album's title an homage to the 1997 "At The Drive-In" song of the same name?

ANDREW SCHWAB: Basically.  We felt like that statement captured what we were trying to say with the album very well.

RNS ROBOT: What are your thoughts on the standards of Christian media in terms of reviewing albums?

ANDREW SCHWAB: I don't read very many of them, so I can't offer an opinion.  In general, it seems like Christian reviews always give the artists the benefit of the doubt, whereas Revolver, for example, has no problem saying they dislike something.

RNS ROBOT: In terms of the Christian community, how should music reviewers approach their work differently from mainstream reviewers?

ANDREW SCHWAB: I think honesty is the best policy, always, when it comes to journalism.

RNS ROBOT: Should Christian reviews be "nice" to adequate or poor albums so as not to hurt our brothers and sisters in the faith?

ANDREW SCHWAB: I think there is a such thing as tough love.

RNS ROBOT: Do Christians just have lower standards for music than they ought, especially those who have no context for music outside of the Christian world - a condition which means they are often not aware of how derivative some Christian market bands are?

ANDREW SCHWAB: Of course.  I think it has gotten a little better in certain circles, but in general Christian music was created to be a "replacement" for "secular" music.  As long as you have Christian people who believe their kids should not listen to "secular" music, then you will have bands and labels who are going to market themselves to those people.  and naturally, these people are bit more closed off to popular culture, and therefore propagate an ideal of lesser art forms.  For me personally, I have always just wanted to make music.  Not Christian music, just good music. And my worldview shouldn't detract from the relevancy of the art itself.  We have never wanted to make music that is solely for Christians.  I think when you do that, you definitely limit yourself as an artist and become more worship/Christian commerce.  We have never wanted to be that.

RNS ROBOT: What guitars and gear are Randy and Steven currently using live and in the studio?

ANDREW SCHWAB: Gibson guitars.  Fender basses.  Ampeg bass rigs. Framus guitar heads.

RNS ROBOT: On any given Project 86 song, how much of it is "Randy" and how much is "Steven"?  Are there particular songs in the catalogue that are... let's say, a "Randy song" or a "Steven song"?

ANDREW SCHWAB: Typically we write songs together.  Steven writes more of the music than Randy does, though.

RNS ROBOT: How much do you contribute to the musical side of the songwriting process?  How so?

ANDREW SCHWAB: I am involved in all the songwriting.  We generally work together on everything as much as possible.

RNS ROBOT: When you write lyrics, do you present them to your bandmates for critique/approval, or do you have complete artistic freedom in that area?

ANDREW SCHWAB: They trust me to do my thing, but I want to hear their input along the way, for sure.  If something sounds weird I want  someone to tell me.

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Thanks again to Andrew Schwab for his graciousness in answering these questions. Project 86 are hitting the road this fall on the "Picket Fence Cartel Tour" with Showbread, Children 18:3 and The Wedding.  Tour dates and album information can be found at www.project86.com  and myspace.com/project86.  The group also regularly updates  www.twitter.com/project86band.
 

Ryan Ro [www.RNSrobot.com | www.twitter.com/RNSrobot]
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
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