Project 86's latest album Wait for the Siren was the band's first-ever fan-funded album via Kickstarter earlier this year. JesusfreakHideout.com's John and Amy DiBiase sat down with Project 86's Andrew Schwab shortly after their performance at Uprise Festival in Shippensburg, PA, to talk about the album, its songs, and Andrew's new book The Tin Soldiers...
This interview took place on: 9/15/12.
There really isn't a formula. Sometimes it's a reflection on a significant event; sometimes it's inspired by emotions or a situation I'm dealing with, a relationship--whether that's a friend, family, whatever. Sometimes the subject matter of a song, lyrically, is dictated by how the music makes me feel when it's written. Now, on this particular album (Wait for the Siren), there are some very specific stories and themes and things for different songs. One song specifically on the album, it's a track called "Blood Moon"--it's the most mellow track on the album, is the story of my daughter's birth. She almost died when she was born; we had to have an emergency C-section. We had an abruption. She was down for fifteen minutes without any blood or connection or air or anything. Typically, that equates to brain trauma. It was a crazy situation; there was a moment between when my wife went to surgery and when I was allowed to go into the surgery room where I was just by myself, being angry at God, because I made a "deal" with Him when we found out we were going to have a kid. "I will do this, this, this and this--I will pray, I will prepare, I will do everything in my power to insure that I'm a good dad and everything goes smoothly, and in return you give me a healthy kid and a safe labor." And that wasn't part of the deal. So I was in the midst of those emotions and when I went into the surgery room, I just lost it and just started crying and prayed harder than I've ever prayed. And the only words that could come out were "Jesus, please help!" And he helped! And when she came out, she looked like she was dead, but she came out. When they revived her, I was the first one that got to see her and it was like the peace of God washed over me and I saw Jesus looking at me through her eyes. It was an amazing moment. Not only was she alive, but I knew she was going to be 100% healthy. I didn't have a question about it. So I looked over at my wife and I was like "Oh, she's cool. Don't even worry about it." Cause I knew. I just felt it.
So that's just one song on the album. It's an example of something that I felt I needed to write about. And then there are ones like "Fall Goliath Fall" where, since I'm a dude, I love movies like 300 and Braveheart and Gladiator, all of those epic war movies where some sort of underdog figure is rising up against the oppressive king or ruler. So I wanted to write a song that sort of captures all of those movies and emotions but in a song.
Andrew: Yeah, it was kind of a ying and yang kind of thing. It's the same story out of the Bible, but "Fall Goliath Fall" is taking the concept and using it as a metaphor. Because that's the only lyric in the song that has anything to do with the story of David and Goliath. It really doesn't have anything to do with the Biblical story other than the fact that this is a song written for anyone who's ever felt like they're in a situation that they can't overcome by their own strength--or they're an underdog or they're oppressed. It's meant to be a unifying, uplifting vibe. "SOTS" is looking at the inner-personal and emotional elements of a one-on-one confrontation, using again that story as a metaphor in a totally different light. It was inadvertent and I didn't mean for them to be parallel themes, but they're as distinct as they can be while still touching on that same story, if that makes sense.
Andrew: Yeah, it kind of flows into one another. And if I could put it---y'know, in college, you have macro economics and micro economics. "Fall Goliath Fall" would be the "macro"--the big picture concept, and "SOTS" is kind of the "micro." It's more on a personal level.
Andrew: It does, but I'm never gonna tell.
Andrew: Eh, I just like doing that. I like driving people crazy. *Amy laughs* Anyone that would care, anyway.
Andrew: Oh yeah! Of course! I mean, it's not intimidating. It's not intimidating at all, but it is hard. And it really doesn't have anything to do with the fans-- Let me put it this way: I don't think about the audience when I write the music. My attitude is: if I like it, other people will like it. In the aftermath, there's always those certain fans that are like "Well, I like this record better" or "this is just OK." That's cool. With every album we've ever put out, there's always a group of people that love it and then certain fans that wish it was more like the self-titled record or wish it was more like Drawing Black Lines. You can't please everyone and you have to just make music that comes from your heart and that's honest. That's all you can do. There's going to be people who hate on it no matter who you are, and there's going to be people who like it. I think the challenge for me, thinking about the audience, is how do we reinvent what we do? How do we pull from new inspirational places, create new sound textures, sonics and lyrical inspiration. I feel like we did that on the new album. And I think there are good songs on there; songs that the average rock music listener will listen to and go "That's a good song."
Andrew: I think what people have not known or understood, that I think maybe understand more that followed our band over the years now, is that even though I had other guys previously in the band that were the band members - the vision for the band has always been me. The vision for the sound, the vision for what we are, the heart behind it, has always been mine. I started the band and I've always been the guy who's "executive producer" or whatever, but more so on this album, my hand was directly touching every element of the music.
Andrew: I've always been a little bit wanting to be directly involved with every step of the process, but out of necessity... as this band has gone forward, more and more has been on my shoulders. That's a fact. And with this record, of course. I'm listed as co-producer on the album and that's because I co-produced the album: drum parts, bass parts, writing guitar parts, other instrumentation, percussion as well as vocals and melodies and all that stuff.
Andrew: Dude, it was really gratifying! Sincerely gratifying. Because I worked harder and spent more hours on this album, creatively, than all my others combined. So this is, for me, this is me! This is my baby. It's kind of like an opus. So when it was done, and the artwork came out really cool and I liked the way it sounds--the mix, the production, the album cover--all that stuff, man, it was a lot of hours and thought put into it.
Andrew: It was a little bit of a collaborative effort. I hired a guy to do the art and he did some of it and kind of handed the baton off to myself and our drummer, and we collab'd together on the theme of World War II imagery. Even the logo was an internal inspiration. It was a lot of work, but very gratifying.
Andrew: Better! You know how to market yourself, hopefully, by this stage in the game. For us being at this stage in our career-- or me --know some things that work and don't work, know our demographic, etcetera. And we sold more copies first week than the last one that we partnered with Tooth & Nail. It's definitely, from a direct-to-fan partnership, more gratifying, because those people are really connected to what you do.
Andrew: That's a good question. Y'know, eight records into your career, finding that deeper spot to pull from and pushing yourself creatively and emotionally, it's almost a discipline. You have to really get in there inside yourself and pull -- it's almost self-counseling. Luckily, I had some really strong imagery going into this record that a song like "Blood Moon" was really easy to write. So there are some circumstances, like I was explaining, that happened that really provided that little boost... I've always told people [that] when I don't have something to prove anymore as an artist--at least in the context of Project 86--that's when the game changes, whether that's to myself or whatever. And I think this time around, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do some new things, like writing new drum parts and keys and just going further with those types of things in addition to the vocals. There were some challenges that were there, and new experiences creatively that I was able to overcome. That is definitely infused into the whole lyrical content on the record as well.
Andrew: Everything I do as a songwriter is ear.
Andrew: It's literally hearing it in my head and programming it out in whatever drum program that we're using with the other guys that I'm working with. (Amy: But what about the keys?) It's just like sitting down with the other co-producer and I'm like "I want to do something like this" and I'll pluck it out, y'know? "How about this?" Just a little hunt-and-peck kinda thing. But it's all ear. I've always been an ear guy, instead of a theory guy. There are guys that are really good with theory and guys that are ear guys. I'm an ear guy.
Andrew: Yeah! I just know what sounds good to me. And I can hear everything in my head, y'know? It's supposed to be this tempo and the drums are supposed to be doing this and the bass is supposed to do this and the guitar is supposed to do this. And the vocal comes in and sits like this.
Andrew: Well, yeah, definitely, but I had no direct emotional attachment to the song. I wanted to write through the lens of the emotions of the characters. So I tried to put myself in the shoes of Isaac; what is he looking at when he's laying on that altar? Well, he looks up and he sees his dad with a crazed look in his eye and a knife above his head and says, "Pop, what are you doing?" and he sees the stars above his head, the constellations, framing this crazy picture of his dad who's about to kill him. And then I tried to put myself in the shoes of Abraham putting down his son; what is he feeling? All we know of that story is he was pretty resolute! I'm sure there was an inner debate, but in his actions at least, he was ready to do it! Like, "Hey, sorry son, it's the way it's gotta be!" That was a fun song to write. It was inspired a little bit by Soren Kierkegaard's book "Fear and Trembling." I was reading that at the time. And then I said, "How can I do this creatively? What if it was a conversation written in the first person? That'd be cool." So that's what I did.
Andrew: No, totally! Totally! That's an element of it. For sure, yeah! I was actually kind of reflecting on that, because that was a focal point of that film. And I love that they're truly trying to make it Biblical. It's cool.
Andrew: I tried to write from an ancient perspective on this album. There's a lot of old imagery and wording and stuff like that. Old Testament. The concept and the word itself of penitence, I just wanted to explore, because it's a word that's not used that often. But I think we get caught up in spiritual circles in a lot of peripheral ideas of what this life is supposed to look like. And really, what it comes down to is: Are you going to do what God tells you to do or not? That's it. And you can justify and make excuses for your mistakes or "struggles," but if you want to be a person of faith or be a Christian, you're going to do what God says. That's it. That's, again, real Old Testament kind of stuff. "Do what I say. No question." And that whole penitent theme is like, the person who knows God keeps his head low--which is really hard to do when you play on a stage. I have my own opinions about this whole thing *looks around at the festival* -- "Christian entertainment" or "Christian rock" or "Christian worship," whatever you call this culture that we've invented. Is it right? Is it leading people to God? What about the artists and the people that are on stage; is it cultivating ego? Well, I think it is, and we have to fight that.
Andrew: "Crossfire Gambit." There's a lot of film references on this album as well. "Crossfire Gambit" is from the movie Cloak & Dagger.
Andrew: The concept itself is very uncomfortable to us. It's something you can be extremely apathetic about. And sometimes in order to rouse our conscience in a way that's severe enough, we need to kinda be smacked around.
Andrew: It wasn't specifically referencing anything. If anything-- OK... I would say it was probably partially inspired subsconsciously by this book called "The Traveler" that I was reading. The author is a guy named John Twelve Hawks. It's kind of a dystopian fiction kind of thing. Supposedly, he lives 'off the grid.' Like, he doesn't have any contact with the Internet or phone line or Social Security or anything.
Andrew: Yeah! There was a little bit of that in my brain going on, it was a specific reference on there. That song's a little more personal about just feeling a sense of freedom in this stage of the game in the context of all of the circumstances surrounding this band.
Andrew: Oh, I love that song!
Andrew: Totally my imagination! That was just a story I thought up that I thought would capture what I was trying to say.
Andrew: OK, well, the story goes--for anyone reading who hasn't read the lyrics--So this kid, I didn't give him an age but you can assume he's a teenager and is young enough not to be taken completely seriously with anything that would involve any revolutionary thoughts--he's in his room and he's listening to his radio at night. And, again, it's harkening back to a former time because he's listening on an AM radio. (Like, who listens to an AM radio now, right?) And he hears an extraterrestrial message and it tells him, basically, "You're meant to do something important. You're meant for something distinct." And so he's excited about it, and he's freaked out but he's stoked, so he runs and he tells his parents and he tells his teachers and he tells his peers and everybody says the same thing: "You're lying. You've got too much of an active imagination. Just fall in line and be like everyone else. Just do what you're told and go and become an accountant [or something]." Or in the lyrics, it says "Devote yourself to the legions and pledge assimilation." It's almost like, again, a dystopian picture I'm painting of a world where there's almost a forced military service where you're supposed to fall in line or there's dire consequences. Almost like a "Brave New World" type thing or something like that.
So he won't shut up about it and he's completely ostracized from his social group or his village, which is what is in the song. He's completely banned, legally, and banished. It's almost like David--banished to live in the hills by the people in power. Well, when he gets there, he realizes he's not alone and there's other people who are living in the hills as well--other kids who spoke out about something and were banished because of it! He also discovers that they heard the message as well, and the reason why they were all told that "Your imagination is too active" is not because the elders, the leaders, don't believe him, but because they're afraid. They're afraid of the power that is represented by the message that they heard. And they're afraid of losing their power. So they all unite with sticks and stones and makeshift bows-and-arrows to form an army and march back on the village and conquer it. I just liked the imagery! And it kind of ties the album together in the sense that it gets back to "Fall Goliath Fall" with this military kind of imagery, but old school--but not guns [but] swords! Shovels! Rocks!
Andrew: A little bit of that, yeah! I dunno. I get into that kind of stuff-- metaphors and stories...
Andrew: Maybe! Maybe. I've never written a piece of fiction, or at least not a long piece of fiction. Right now, I'm just focusing on editing my new book, The Tin Soldiers: Becoming Who You're Meant To Be. It's a book written primarily for guys, but not solely for guys in a sense that this is a book that ladies can read and buy for their guys who maybe don't read as much. It's almost a devotional. You can turn to any page and read a one to two-page entry and get some spiritual encouragement as well as maybe some humor and some stories and entertainment. It's an easy read but still packed with hopefully some spiritual depth.
Andrew: Honestly, just meeting so many hurting guys in the last decade and a half. My band personally appeals to guys a lot. Our demographic is like 85 percent guys. And they all have similar stories, they all deal with the same things. So the book is broken down into chapters, but on given topics such as addiction, to lust, relationships, all those kinds of things. Just kind of sharing my experiences.
Andrew: A little bit of that, yeah! There's a chapter for married dudes, there's a chapter for single dudes. And it's not the cheesy Christian self-help stuff; it's just real life stuff that I wanted to touch on because there are so many hurting guys. I haven't gotten life all figured out myself either, but I wanted to do something with the platform that I've been given with these guys who I think will at least listen and give me an ear to share with them some of the things I've been through along the way. I feel like it was a book that needed to be written.
Andrew: It's taken from a section in "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis where he talks about the question of 'what if we could bring our toys to life?' Like Toy Story. And say we had a tin soldier, like a metal soldier is what they had back in his era was a big deal, y'know those little Army guys. If you had the ability to bring your toy to life, how would he feel? Well, he would probably resist you and fight you and think you're killing him because all that he knows is metal. He doesn't know what it's like to be a real person or a real little man. And that's kind of how things roll with God. He's in the process of making us into real people who are fully alive and living the way we were meant to be. But we don't know what that looks like. It seems very foreign and uncomfortable to us, so we resist Him and fight Him, even sometimes without knowing it. And that's what guys do in our lives when we give in to vices and we remain apathetic, lazy and purposeless. It's really a book about identity and purpose.
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