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Project 86

With only two weeks til street day of the band's seventh studio album, Picket Fence Cartel, we met up with Project 86's frontman Andrew Schwab at the Allentown, PA stop of the Scream The Prayer Tour to talk further about the album. This interview is a follow-up to our exclusive first interview about the album (before we heard it) in May. This interview discusses the album, its artwork, and the meaning behind several of the songs...
This interview took place on: 6/30/09.
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  • Jesus freak Hideout (John DiBiase): So I wanted to ask you... why the cover art for Picket Fence Cartel? Picket Fence Cartel
    Andrew Schwab: Well, you have to see the whole thing. It's intentionally minimalist. It's anti-layout. That's what I'm calling it.

  • JFH (John): Can you describe a little about it?
    Andrew: It just asks people a question, basically. I think it'll make sense when people see it. It's intentionally nothing.

  • JFH (John): It's pretty drastic from the last record (Rival Factions).
    Andrew: Yeah, intentionally. It's supposed to be: If you remember here nothing besides the words that you read on the inside of the package, that's what we want. The music would just be a backdrop for that one question.

  • JFH (John): Was this record deliberately more spiritual? Because especially "Destroyer" and on down to "To Sand We Return"...
    Andrew: I mean, I didn't set out to write something that was more, y'know? I think it's probably just naturally where I'm at right now is to write in that sort of way. Definitely the bookends on the record are really, hopefully, triumphant in that overt kind of way. Yeah, I don't know. I didn't sit down and say "OK, I'm gonna write more spiritually this time." It was just kind of where I was coming from when I was writing at the time. I'm at a good place right now, personally. Being in that band right now is my favorite place to be. We're having a really good time on this tour (Scream The Prayer) - better than we've had in a long time. I just feel like God's Spirit is hovering over us right now. It has to do with out of a desire to focus more. And we had a really good crowd tonight [at our show]. The best so far on this tour.

  • JFH (John): Better than last night?
    Andrew: Last night was really good in a different way. Because we were playing in a town we have never played. And I didn't go inside the venue at all before we played, so I had no idea what anything was, what it looked like, anything. When I went in, every band that had been on stage was like, "Dude, the crowd's tough! The crowd's tough!" And then we went on and when we were done, they were like, "Dude, you guys got the biggest response tonight, by far!" Everybody said that.

  • JFH (Kevin Chamberlin): Does it change the way you play -- going somewhere that you've never been to and not actually walking in beforehand? Does that change your mindset?
    Andrew: It's a different mentality. Like, I think, "I gotta go in there and win people over." That's a totally different show going in than when it's our crowd. And you know right away, right off the bat. Like tonight, I was like, "OK, this is our crowd. We have a good crowd here."

  • JFH (John): Pennsylvania's usually pretty good for you?
    Andrew: Yeah! And I went into this tour thinking we were kind of more almost like an underdog, cause it's so much of one thing (metal), and we're different. And honestly, it's been great. There haven't been any disappointing shows - like the kids just don't like us or something. We've had, not only a core group of our fans, but I think there have been a lot of people who maybe had not listened to the band that much, didn't know who we were, etc.

  • JFH (John): Has it been the same set for you each night?
    Andrew: For the most part, yeah. We threw in the heavier stuff. We play the fast song on the new record ("Two Glass Eyes"), a good smattering of older/newer stuff that's going to translate well. It's just going to be boom-boom-boom-boom - as heavy as we can. Because that's the crowd. It seems to be working.

  • JFH (John): Tell us about "The Spectacle of Fearsome Acts."
    Andrew: The lyrics on that one are pretty straight forward. It's just about doing something you regret and the idea that you can take for granted the little decisions that you make. I think every time that we sin as people - we make a decision that's ultimately self-destructive - we think we can get away with it. "I can indulge, I can do this little thing and it's not going to matter. It doesn't affect who I am. I'm really a good guy, I just do 'this.' I have this little secret vice," but it's not how life works. Life is a series of small decisions that lead to a destiny. And each small decision leads to a consequence. And that's something that I've fought against, too. I want to lead my life in such a way that I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. But that's not life. That's not real. We're accountable for every small thing that we do alone or in front of people. It's just about that idea, that you can try to play with fire but there are consequences to your actions, basically. And we have a short life. We have to take every day like it's our last.

  • JFH (John): Yeah, cool. Because the line about "like David sowed his seed," intrigued me and I was curious how it fit into what the song is saying...
    Andrew: Consequence. The one action [David with Bathsheba] lead to a whole generation after generation of consequences.

  • JFH (John): Which is a scary thought.
    Andrew: Yeah! That's the point of the song. It's supposed to scare you a little bit, hopefully.

  • JFH (John): How about "Cold and Calculated?"
    Andrew: That is a song that is about ill-gotten gain, greed. It's about the idea that... I think sometimes, for me at least, I have a tendency to look at someone who's doing really well in life, but who I don't look at as a nice guy, and who's gotten ahead by stepping on other people, and say, "Dude, why does it work that way?" Why is it that you can't be nice in this life and "get ahead," or whatever? It's always the guys that are aggressive and kind of like shady or jerks that get ahead. And so I tend to be like, "Why is life like that? Why can't you just be the nice guy and get far in this world?" It just doesn't work that way. But the reality is that that guy doesn't have peace. As much as we would have a tendency to envy someone who we think has it all, that guy doesn't have peace. That guy doesn't sleep at night. That guy is a slave to whatever his treasure is, y'know? And in the end, he loses everything. Because he'll come to the end of the road and look back and realize that none of it mattered. The stuff we accumulate or the cliche things that the world tells us are currency, whether that's popularity or money or physical appearance, etc...

  • JFH (John): "He who dies with the most toys wins"
    Andrew: Yeah, dude! I mean, that guy is going to reach the end of the road and be an empty person. Maybe that's written just for me to remind myself to not look at the stuff that the world's offering and want it. So maybe that's why that song was written, just for me.

  • JFH (John): How about the song "John Hancock With The Safety Off"?
    Andrew: That song is probably top three for me lyrically on the record. And it's got some good imagery going on. I wrote it from the perspective of being an artist, and starting out in this industry, and you kind of have to work your way to a point of being able to provide for yourself and have a sense of clout and power and empowerment from a business standpoint and also from an artistic standpoint. You're earning respect, you're earning from the crowds that you draw and the experience that you gain, wisdom, and all these things. I try to write about our experiences. There's a line in the song that says "These portraits of assets have turned from pictures into revolvers," meaning - you reach a point of empowerment if you're lucky enough or blessed enough in this industry to where you can kind of pave your own path. It's a little bit of a cocky song, in so far as, we've had a lot of people stand in our way in a way and not believe in us. I guess that's true for every band, but we've had a lot of obstacles, people who still don't give us respect after how many years? I just look at the path that we've walked as a band, for better or for worse, and I look back on the decisions that we've made and I'm stoked about where we've been and where we've come from and where we're going. I feel like we're more focused on God now than we've ever been. And I feel like we can still get up there on stage and deliver it as powerfully even on a tour like this, as any of these bands. It's just one of these songs that's written in the perspective of the musician who's worked really hard to try to overcome a lot of things. You have to overcome a lot of things just to be able to stand up there on that stage. And it's just about that, man, and the politics of music and the industry. If you can get past all that stuff and win those battles, that's when you can truly enjoy the fruits of your labor, y'know? So that's what it's about.

  • JFH (John): That's cool. Yeah, the things that really got me curious about the song are the lines like "Cure the radio" and "Cure the video..." and stuff like that...
    Andrew: I changed it. It was originally "Kill the radio, kill the video..."

  • JFH (John): See, that's what I thought you were saying [before I read the lyrics]!
    Andrew: Yeah. And I switched the word "kill" to the word "cure," because I felt like it was even bolder. Being solution-oriented to the dilemmas that you face along the way. Because you can allow obstacles to jade you or you can overcome those obstacles. It's an encouragement to those who are still fighting that battle.

  • JFH (John): What's the story behind "The Butcher?"
    Andrew: I kind of wanted to write a song that was about this sort of fictitious character that was kind of a bully. And it's sort of for anyone who's in a position of one-downed, whether that be at work, or social circle, in a relationship, whatever, where you're kind of being bullied by someone. It's sort of written to empower, being able to respond to someone who's like that. Realizing who you are. Having confidence in who you are and taking stock in yourself for the sake of knowing that I'm OK, God has me, I don't have to fear a human being, no matter who they are or what they're doing. I don't have to fear that. Easy for me to say because maybe some people are in situations where they can't fight back. But maybe it's a song of encouragement for someone who's in that position where it's like, "Dude, this life is this long *makes a small space with his fingers*." The line says, "You know I'm already dead," meaning we're mortal and we don't live very long. So I'm going to have peace no matter what you're doing to me, you can't touch what's inside of me. That's kind of the running theme in every song I write anyways, in some form. And there's a moment at the end of the very last song, when it comes back in. I think that is the crux of the whole record. Y'know, it says, "Who do I belong to?" - that whole thing. We have some stage banners that we weren't able to use tonight, but it says "Project 86" on the back and it just says "Immortal. Eternal." - that whole thing - on it. "Who do I belong to?" That's the question of the record. "Who do you belong to?" because everybody has a god. Everybody has something that they treasure in their hearts, even if they say that they don't, they do. Everybody has a god. So who do YOU belong to? And that's the [album artwork] layout. That's the question. It's intentionally minimal. I want people to go, "That's it?!" And YEAH! You better believe that's it!! Cause that question is way more important than any art we can put in any kind of layout.

  • JFH (John): And I guess that works well with everything moving towards all-digital releases anyway. Less people are buying the package.
    Andrew: It was a little spoof on that as well. I think people will dig it when they see it and they read it and they realize we did this on purpose with an intent behind it. It's obvious that we didn't cheeseball the layout or anything like that. A lot of people are asking that, though, "DUDE! What's up with the layout?! It looks like it's made in Corel Paint!"

  • JFH (John): I was really disappointed at first. I was like, "Reaaallllyy??" I mean, I figured you had a good reason for it...
    Andrew: There's gotta be a good reason!

  • JFH (John): Well, there isn't ALWAYS a good reason. And I figured with you guys, it had to be a good reason.
    Andrew: Well, I would never let something come out that didn't back up what we were trying to do. It was honestly just to say this question is way more important than anything else we can put on this page. And the simplicity of it makes it more powerful, I think. The people that I showed it to were like, "Wow, that's cool! It's totally simple and nobody's going to expect that!" But when they see it, they'll get it... hopefully! Maybe some kids will gripe about it. Dude, even when we put out Drawing Black Lines, you can't please everybody! Somebody's always going to be griping about some things!

  • JFH (John): Oh, I know!!
    Andrew: So we just do what we do.

  • JFH (John): Yeah man, I know exactly what you mean. But yeah, that song, "To Sand We Return," is a powerful song. I like how it - and the album - just end the way it does too.
    Andrew: I like the Led Zeppelin part too before it. We got real "Stairway To Heaven" right there. But yeah, that ending... at some point, I'd like to take that ending and I want people to learn the words to the end of that song. My dream is to be able to play a show a year from now, some kind of big show, and have every person sing the words to the end of that song. And we'll just go into the end at the very end of that song. That would be killer!

  • JFH (John): I'm getting chills -
    Andrew: Yeah, dude! Gives me chills!! *laughter* That would be amazing.

  • JFH (John): Do you have any videos planned?
    Andrew: Yes! No final treatment or anything. We're talking to a friend of ours who has shot some cool bands. I don't know. These days you don't want to spend a crazy amount of money on some video. It's more about coming up with the right idea. So we're in that process right now, but I'd love to have a video.

  • JFH (John): Do you have an idea which song yet?
    Andrew: I think it's going to be "Dark Angel Dragnet." I think that one's the most "single" type song on the record. It's got a good chorus.

  • JFH (John): Now, with the last record, you had some b-sides and you put them out on The Kane Mutiny EP. Have you thought about doing something like that again?
    Andrew: We don't have any b-sides this time around. We just recorded all the songs that we liked. Eleven songs. It's not a super long album, but it's average length I guess.

  • JFH (John): It's good........ better than ten!
    Andrew: Ten was short! (Rival Factions) We had recorded fourteen and then we ended up where only ten of them were cohesive. It was like "Kane Mutiny" and "Route 66"... I guess, in retrospect, we could have put "Kane Mutiny" on there. Originally, that was going to be the first song. And then we were like, "Ehhhh, we're not feeling it." So, I don't know. Yeah, I think people were a little disappointed we only put ten on the last one. I don't think we'd ever put just ten again. *laughter* Unless one of them was like fifteen minutes long.

  • JFH (John): What inspired releasing this album as your first vinyl release?
    Andrew: We've never done it before. And we've always been in a situation where legally we couldn't do it or something? This time we could, so we did it.

  • JFH (John): And there's nothing extra on it?
    Andrew: You get the vinyl, it's got the different artwork, and you get the mp3 download of the record.

  • JFH (John): And the creepy artwork...
    Andrew: Yeah. The artwork's killer! So I would love to throw one of those on my desk or wherever, on my wall.

  • JFH (John): And I was wondering... are there any songs old or new that you'd like to play live that you've never played?
    Andrew: I'd like to play "Cavity King," but I don't think that'll ever happen. Just because of the way that song is written, it's like virtually impossible for us for us to play it in any way that would sound good live.

  • JFH (John): Really? Why so?
    Andrew: It's more of a Steve question. There's just certain songs that sound good [live] and certain songs that don't. And that's one that we've rehearsed a few times and it just didn't sound... good. There are certain songs like the new one we're playing, "Two Glass Eyes," it's killer live. On the record, it'll probably be a track that people are like, "Oh, that's cool." and move to the next one. But live, it's perfect for this tour.

  • JFH (John): It's funny, because it's probably one of the last songs I'd think you'd play tonight. But it fits the audience.
    Andrew: Yeah! Exactly! And it's actually really fun to play live! It's cool.

  • JFH (John): So, how'd you make the switch from Steve [from bass] to guitar?
    Andrew: Steve's a really talented guy. He's just as good at guitar as he is at bass. He played guitar before he played bass in another band that he was in. And it was just a fun idea that we had. We knew Randy wasn't going to do this tour, so we recruited this guy Alex who's playing bass for us right now from just a friend of a friend. And moving Steve to guitar was pretty much a no-brainer. It's working out, I think.

    Project 86's new album, Picket Fence Cartel, is available now wherever music is sold.

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