The Future Echoes

Two decades in a band is unheard of, and vocalist and founding member Andrew Schwab and his Project 86 cohorts show now signs of stopping.

Photo by Brooke Long

Introduction by David Stagg

There are very few bands that can say they’ve made it almost 15 years. When Project 86’s breakout album, ‘Drawing Black Lines,’ was released in 2000, crowdfunding was known as preordering. The band went on to put out a number of successful records, bolstered by frontman Andrew Schwab’s unfailing creativity and quasi-Renaissance man status, having penned multiple books and who just can’t seem to let up. Schwab is a directed guy, someone who knows what he wants and will do it because he knows no other way. It gives him a hard-edge and a fighting stance, a perfect fit for his music and lifestyle. And his first child, Project 86, is still a proven love, the band actually being asked by IndieGogo to extend their campaign as it neared six-figure contributions. Now, with the result in the hands of the public, ‘Knives to the Future’ has Andrew Schwab and his comrades ready for battle.

How are you?
Good, man. Are you ready to do an interview?

Yeah, yeah, I’m ready. Are you?
Oh man, I was born ready.

Let’s talk about the Indiegogo campaign first, whose idea it was and why you decided to do it that way. We can go from there.
Well, our 2012 record, Wait for the Siren, was also crowdfunded. It was fairly successful. We set a pretty modest goal — because we had never done that before — at $15,000. We raised a little over $40,000.

We figured out that it cost quite a bit to do a record completely by yourself. We set the bar a little higher this time, about $50,000. We raised almost $90,000, which was great and totally ‐‐ I don’t know what the word is ‐‐ just thankful. It feels like Christmas morning when you’re doing a crowdfund campaign. Well, it’s like Christmas morning for a month or two months or however long your campaign is, because every however many minutes — depending upon where you’re at in the campaign — something else will come in. It’s really fun to watch it build up and accumulate the energy about everything. It’s really unique. I’ve never seen or experienced that before doing this, even around a record release. People just enjoy doing crowdfunded campaigns. It feels like they’re part of it.

OK, so it started with 2012’s “Wait for the Siren.” What inspired the first crowdfunding campaign?
Oh yeah. I think initially most bands who are in the same boat do that, because they have an established foundation. Maybe they are in ‐between record contracts or their contract is up.

Like I said, that is a favorable position to do a crowdfund campaign, and that’s where we were at the time. It was just starting to gain speed — that medium in and of itself, too — so it was definitely a brand new adventure for us. It still continues to be an adventure in a good way, a really good way.

Since you had more freedom doing your last two albums independently, did you all have any goals or ideas that you wanted musically, lyrically, anything like that?
I think, from a creative standpoint, one comforting thing is about doing a crowdfunded campaign is that everything is on your terms. There is nobody breathing down your neck to meet a certain deadline, time‐wise. Believe it or not, that’s a factor in making records, sometimes.

Now, depending on the record and what you’re going for, sometimes having a deadline is a good thing. Some people work better under pressure. I found it comforting on the last two releases to have that little of bit extra cushion to tweak mixes, to spend a little more time on mastering, spend a little bit more time on writing songs or even write a couple songs when you’re in the middle of the recording process.

Some of those factors resulted in making a better record, I think, in both instances. Obviously, no one outside of myself and our circle could deduce that from listening to the record. But I know, “Oh, yeah, I remember when we did this. We wrote or recorded this one harder. This one song that we wouldn’t have had time to if it was an orthodox label release.” Those are a few of the things that work into the artist’s favor, from a creative standpoint.

Moving on to a different topic. Moshing and stage diving has been beat lately. Warped Tour attempted to ban it and several bands are speaking out against it. Do you have any thoughts on that?
We’ve always been a band that’s for kids having fun at shows and not having any rules. Obviously, we don’t ever want anyone to get injured at our show. I can count the times on one hand where somebody has over the years. I understand why it’s become a cause for concern in certain environments, for sure.

I think there is a safe way to go about dancing at a show or having fun at a show without being ridiculous. I have stage‐dove hundreds of times on stage. As long as I’m aware of where my feet are and my elbows are as I’m doing it, no one usually gets hurt or anything happens. There have been a couple of times, over the years, where something freaky goes down. I guess, that’s what you want to protect against.

I don’t know if I can make an official stance on it, because that’s something we’ve done at our shows for so many years.

Let’s talk about your new ministry at Crossroads Church of Denver.
I’m a Director of Young Adults, which is like college and post‐-college up to mid‐-30s. It’s a pretty exciting move for both my family. Prior to doing Project, I volunteered at a church for many years. I did the college group. Prior to that one, when I was in college, I worked with junior high and high school.

I haven’t been able to do that for years, just because of doing the band. When you’re traveling, it’s hard to have a home base. This doesn’t affect what’s going on with the band, touring or records or anything like that. This is a situation (was) complementary to everything I do with Project, which is the reason why I took it. I found it to be appropriate, because I wouldn’t want to take a position and de‐emphasize Project in any way, at least at this point.

Answer this next question however you like. I lived in Denver this past summer, and as you know, it famously or infamously, is a place where recreational marijuana is legal. Before I went to Denver, I was like, “It can’t possibly be everywhere,” but it is. Do you deal with kids using it at your church? Is it a problem?
Well, I’ve been there a very short period of time. To be honest, I haven’t crossed paths with any situation involving that yet. I’ve only lived in the area for six weeks.
I’m sure that topic will come up. I’m sure that it’s something we’ll address officially, within the confines of what I’m doing in the ministry sense, as well. I think the way to answer questions like that — which are essentially grey-matter questions; we’re not talking about essentials of salvation or specific matters of theology. We’re talking about things that are addressed in the Scripture minimally.

I think you can make it a decent case in the Scripture that your God doesn’t necessarily smile down from Heaven upon the idea that we’d be going out and doing that on a daily basis or anything like that.

The jury is still out, man. It’s a complicated issue, because you’re looking at a substance that, in some ways, is safer than alcohol, at least in certain respects. For example, with driving. I think I had to take a traffic school class one time. The traffic school instructor was basically saying, “You know, your reaction time is much slower with alcohol versus pot because (alcohol) boosts your confidence when, in reality, your reaction speed is going down because of it. Whereas with pot, you’re actually driving slower and more carefully.”

Among our generation and younger people, alcohol is generally accepted as not evil in and of itself. The Bible says, “Don’t get drunk.” Don’t abuse it, basically. Don’t use alcohol which leads to debauchery. There are several references to drugs in Scripture but, like I said, they’re minimal. We could make an ethical case.

Getting back to what Paul said, “All things may be lawful, but not all things are beneficial.” Anyone would have to ask themselves, “Is why I’m doing this? Am I doing this to escape my life? How does this benefit my spiritual existence?” That’s an issue that each individual ultimately needs to grapple for themselves.

That goes for a lot of things that are grey in Scripture, not just pot. There are a lot of things that the Bible makes some statement about but doesn’t necessarily go into great detail about a stance. You know what I’m saying? We’re kind of left to fill in the blanks.

I think that comes down to that same idea: Is this beneficial to my spiritual existence? If it’s just — for lack of a better term — a crutch or something to lean on to escape, maybe that’s something that you need to evaluate.

I see your point.
I think it’s important for me — I’m not a lay‐person in church. I’m actually someone who’s in a position of leadership, to present the Biblical side of things and also, to speak the truth in light of that, in terms of how much factual evidence there is in Scripture as to form a belief about a particular subject. Then, guide people down the path of trying to internalize that and apply it for themselves.

You’re also an author, right? You also have a blog, The Tin Soldiers, correct?
Yeah, I’ve written five books over the years, and I just finished one. The most recent book I wrote is called The Tin Soldiers. That came two years ago. Since that, I’ve written a study guide for it as well, which is a book in and of itself. It’s basically a curriculum for guys, for small groups, men’s groups. Just looking at common issues that we deal with like isolation in relationships or dealing with girls to worshiping in church, something super awkward for a lot of guys.

I tried to pick the ten most prominent issues guys under 35 deal with and tackle them through telling stories from my experiences, as well as experiences of other people I’ve talked to while traveling over the last couple of decades. It’s been a really fruitful endeavor so far. I’ve been able to host a bunch of events throughout the country.

Also, at the church I’m involved with now, it’s kind of a home base for those operations. The blog is an extension of the book and study guide, as far as looking at issues that guys deal with. One of the things I try to do on the blog is try to have conversations with other guys who are in positions of influence, and I’ve been able to have some conversations with a lot of my friends. Guys like Matt Greiner from August Burns Red and Dustin Kensrue from Thrice.

I’ve noticed that seems to be a focus of yours: encouraging young men to be spiritually strong. I’m curious, did you go to seminary, or is it just stuff that you’ve learned throughout your reading and your personal time?
I have an undergraduate degree in communications, with an emphasis on mass media and public address. I’m currently going to school for a Masters in Biblical Studies. I’m not quite finished with my Masters, as of yet.

So you speak, write books and sing in Project 86. Do you find similarities amongst the three, or are they completely separate aspects of your life?
That’s a good question. I think with speaking and the books I’ve written and the blog, there’s a definite, direct spiritual communication that’s happening to an audience. I think that is a different hat than creative endeavors.

With creative endeavors, I am able to explore a lot of emotions and experiences and personal things you can’t really delve into when you’re speaking to an audience on a definitive topic or on a passage from the Bible.

With the books, it’s also the same. I’ve written books that are creative-writing influenced or of that sort of genre. In that sense, there is an overlap.

I would say, more recently, my writing and speaking and blogging has been pretty direct spiritual communication.

Then, the things I’m doing musically are a different hat and a totally different exploration of themes, topics, emotions and experiences that are both deep and personal and, in some senses, just not necessarily directly spiritual, if that makes sense?

No, I feel you. Let’s wrap up then with just a couple of questions focused on Project 86. Do you have any favorite songs or any tracks from “Knives to the Future” that mean anything special to you or to any of the band members?
Definitely. I think if you ask any band, they’ll tell you that every song they wrote is special in a way.

There’s one called “Acolyte March.” It’s a pretty angry-sounding song, and I try to put myself in the shoes and mindset of the Israelites as they were about to siege Jericho in Joshua 6. Then, God is kind of speaking through them to the people of Jericho and the hook of the song is, “Your city belongs to me.” That’s one of my favorites.

Then there’s a song called “Genosha” on the record that’s a little bit more personal, about me dealing with my own demons from the past and voices in my own brain. It’s sort of confronting those. I was really happy with how that song came out. Not just from a lyrical perspective, just sonically. It’s a really heavy song, but it also has some dynamic melodic elements to it as well. I feel like it really captures kind of the scope of this particular record.

Absolutely. Now, let’s see the final question should just be something about the music. Let’s talk about your new solo project.
I’m actually about to release a three-‐song single, just initially. It’s called “London Six Echo.” I’m calling it “a melodic, electronic sound,” meaning it’s not, like, fast-electronic beats. Think programmed drones and drum sounds over melodic vocals, but it’s a little bit more layered and emotional than Project.

I don’t think Project fans would, in any way, not enjoy it. It’s just a different facet of my personality as a songwriter and artist. I’m proud of it, and it’s just a starting point. I’m hoping to do a lot more of it in the future, with just around writing the hooks and the project releases and all the other things I have going on. These are the first three songs I have available.

Is this a solo project for you, or is this another band?
It’s another band, but it’s basically a solo thing, meaning I’m working with various people on it; it’s not a centralized band, per se. There are other people participating from song to song, if that makes sense. … I’m trying to think of an artist that this would be an example of. Someone like MIA. She works with various producers, songwriters, from song to song and album to album.

From a lyrical standpoint, it comes from a different angle on things. It’s definitely a little bit more imagination-‐based. Not to get too nerdy, but there’s some slight science fiction references.

I wanted to craft music that takes you somewhere. It takes you to an imaginary world on a more digital realm than Project 86.

Tell me more.
I’ve always been a big fan of electronic music, going all the way back to the early ’90s. I’ve always really enjoyed trip-hop and moody, electronic music; I’ve never been a huge fan of fast dance music or anything like that. More digital‐-based sound manipulation with an emphasis on keyboards, samplers and programming than traditional analog instruments.

I’ve had ideas for this project in the back of my brain for a decade or so, but never really put the time or had the time to explore it. Then, a couple of friends of mine helped me flesh out a few of the ideas that I had, and that’s where these songs came from. Also, I wanted to write, from a lyrical perspective, some of the more fantasy and sci-fi stuff.

What kind of sci­-fi?
The books I’ve read over the years. I’ve really enjoyed books like Brave New World. I know Project has been influenced by that as well, but I guess I’m exploring it in a deeper way here.

There’s a book trilogy, written by an author named John Twelve Hawks, called The Traveler. That’s the first book. That was one of the books I was reading at the time I wrote some of this material. A lot of dystopian scenes, I guess, in the music.

That’s become a very popular genre, which is kind of funny to me. It’s been in the last five years it has become a thing. It used to be that there was only three or four books written that delved into that sort of fantasy and sci-fi.

Another author that I really like is Philip K. Dick. He wrote Blade Runner. He also wrote Total Recall. Those are a few of the authors that sort of inspired some of the imagery, delving into with some of this material.

It’s just fun to write about a world removed from this one. I think C.S. Lewis was really good at that as well. He wrote a lot of his fiction and fantasy stuff.

Did you read Space Trilogy? I really like that trilogy, too.
I’ve never read it. I’ve read a lot of C.S. Lewis. I’ve never read that. That’s on a list of one of the things.

I think you’ll like it.
I guess C. S. Lewis is one influence that unifies everything I do, whether that’s speaking, or writing, or blogging, or musical projects as well.

C. S. Lewis has always been a really big influence on me. He’s a big influence on The Tin Soldiers. The Tin Soldiers, as a concept, is inspired by Mere Christianity and C.S. Lewis coined that term. In essence, we’re saying God is taking us from tin soldiers and is in the process of making us into real men, every step of the way, as if we didn’t have much perspective about what it means to be truly alive. We’re fighting him. The Tin Soldiers ministry and the books are basically exploring how God is trying to turn us from metal to flesh, into real people.

Project 86 was posted on November 21, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by .