Project 86 just recently hit the 20-year milestone and is reaching another milestone of their 10th album. Front man, Andrew Schwab, speaks about what’s gone into this album and how fans are engaging with their crowdfunding the release.
Side Stage Magazine: Thank you for taking time to interview this afternoon.
Andrew Schwab: No Problem.
Just a quick run down, you guys are celebrating 20 years as a band this year, right?
Yeah. 2016 was our 20th year as a band, so now we’re actually past that.
Oh, OK, and all original band members?
No, I’m the original band member, but it’s significant in billing under the band name. Basically, I started the band and we’ve had some other guys come and go along the way. It’s been largely the brain child of one person, essentially me.
That’s pretty cool. Congratulations, either way. Where did you get the name for the band? Project 86.
Well, when we started the band, it was super cool to have a word with a number after it, in the 90’s. We thought the idea of picking a number that had at least some sort of relative significance to what we do would be a cool idea. It took us a while to pick out what that number was. We came upon that number, 86, because of the idea of being removed, rejected, or cast away. I thought that was an interesting twist for the motivation for the band what we were trying to do. Because the goal is always to play music that we like, on our own terms, and do it in a unique way, and that’s sort of a risk. It’s a lot easier to sort of emulate what other people have done or what’s current and fashionable, rather than try to forge your own path. But it was always really important for me and for the band from the beginning to create something hopefully unique and different than what other people do. It was a risk, essentially, what we were saying was for Project 86, even if we’re rejected, we’re going to stick to our guns and we’re going to take this risk.
I like that, because you guys definitely have a unique sound. You’re not mainstream at all. I think it allows you to be true to your voice as an artist.
Yeah, and that was the most important thing and has always been the most important thing—to not make the same record twice. When you put on a Project 86 record and if you’re familiar with the band, hopefully that is a patented sound and a one-of-a-kind. So, I feel like that’s one of the things we’ve been able to accomplish as a band through the years, sort of retain that unique sound. It’s not metal, or rock, post-hardcore, new metal, or radio rock. It kind of sits in the middle of all that and hopefully holds a special place to the people who follow us in their hearts.
Yeah, definitely. I saw you guys are crowdfunding your new album. I come from a filmmaking background, so I follow new movies being crowdfunded, and I noticed that it connects them with their fans on a new level, because the fans then feel like they’re a part of making that project. Do you have that feeling from crowdfunding your new album?
Yeah. For whatever reason, our fan base really connects well with that model, and this is our third campaign to fund a record that way. I feel like I’ve gotten to know even better, cause every record you learn a little bit more about your fans and your demographic and the people who like your band, and I feel like we’ve gotten it down to a science. The balance between giving the fans something that’s new enough and giving them something that they love enough, whether that’s visually or musically and keeping them engaged.
This project has been incredible, just the response, even just today on this very day, when we’ve been running this campaign for over a year and the engagement level has just not gone down. I think we’ve averaged in the last week, 25-30 new pledges every day, which is phenomenal. It’s phenomenal for the amount of time we’ve been doing it. I mean, we’ve had ebbs and flows at various points throughout the campaign. More engagement and less depending upon if we’re putting out new material or something new for people to interact with.
It’s just been incredible and we’re still running it for a short period of time more until our album is out. People are still coming on board and preordering our record and our vinyl and getting merch, things like that. Today, I just posted all the album art. This is the first time, this is our 10th album, and this is the first time I’ve created the album art myself, from a graphic standpoint. The response has been really strong. I think as you give the fans and the people who care about the music a glimpse into the process, I just feel like that just makes it so much more special, and that’s why people engage with it, and spend money to be a part of it, cause it’s a special thing that you get to be a part of.
That’s pretty cool! And I thought this was the first time you were doing this and thought that you were blazing trails doing it like this, but to hear that this is the third time you’re doing this, that’s pretty impressive, because it seems like crowdfunding is still a pretty new concept.
Yeah, it’s new enough, and thankfully, it hasn’t been abused to the point where people are over it, at least for our fan base. And we’ve tried really hard to make each one of these campaigns unique in and of themselves, and this particular campaign is totally different than the other two that we did. This time around, we’ve basically released one song at a time, in addition to a full EP of material, and tried to really pinpoint things that maybe other crowdfunds or other bands have fallen short on.
One of the biggest complaints from people is “I pay this money upfront and then I don’t get my stuff for a year,” or “I pay this money up front and I never get my stuff.” It’s really just a perception in certain people’s minds that you’re just donating to the band and they just take their money and run basically. We really tried to structure this thing so that people get rewarded through the entire campaign with stuff that nobody else would.
From the beginning, we gave people a five-song EP just for pledging at any level, and then they get to listen to one song, and basically have one song per month while we write the record and record it. So they’re getting 15 songs over the course of the year, whereas nobody else has access to it. That’s in addition to really frequent updates, and I’m sort of walking everyone through an oral history of the band- turning into more of a written history now cause I don’t have much time to do the recording, but I was basically just sharing photos from my closet and garage of the history of the band and doing a voice recording and a written history of the band for each chapter. So, essentially, people are getting stuff throughout the process, and I think that’s why it’s been successful.
I think it lets the fans know just what all goes into an album, how much work goes into it.
So, you guys just came back on tour from Europe this month?
Yeah, I’m just getting over my jet lag actually in the last couple of days.
It’s really rough, I feel you!
Yeah, it’s real. I used to get it worst going East, essentially, going over the Atlantic Ocean. But now I don’t really get it going to Europe, I just seem to get it coming back. It seems to evolve. I’ve been to Europe a lot, like 25 times. I remember my first time, and I’ve never experienced anything like that—just going into a coma in the middle of the day, and just not being able to function, and being more tired like you just had surgery or something, under anesthesia. That’s how I felt coming home from this trip. We were over there a couple weeks, long enough to adjust to the time difference. Just being useless at like 4 in the afternoon.
The shows over there were amazing.
It must be the adrenaline.
Yeah. I mean, you can only drink so much coffee.
But we have a really great fan base in certain countries in Europe, so the shows over there are always really exciting. I think because we’re not oversaturated over there, so it’s always really special. We played Germany, Holland, Norway, and Switzerland when we were over there and all the shows we played were just phenomenal, so we’re looking forward to going back soon.
So are you guys going to go on tour again? Do you have tour dates after the album release?
As of now, we’re in the middle of booking a bunch of different things for the beginning of next year. We didn’t really plan on a tour around the release since it’s so close to the holidays. And we found that touring in December is not always the best strategy, especially because of the weather. We wanted to wait a little while for the album to be in people’s hands and we’re planning on doing some release shows the early part of next year, and we’ll be announcing that relatively soon via our [social] media and website.
Are you going to try to go back to Europe?
Yeah. The goal is always to get to Europe about twice a year, and sometimes that ends up only being once a year. We have a few things that we’re working on over there right now. Sometimes they work out. Touring is a matter of getting the right venues and the right dates for the band. The goal right now would be to get back over there next fall.
That seems like a good time to go. Are you going to play any festivals coming up? That’s the big buzz right now.
European or domestic?
Yeah. Essentially, this is the time of year when we’re being pitched for anything and everything. In terms of what’s on the books right now, we’re doing a couple of smaller events and festivals—multi-day festivals but smaller, like 3,000-10,000 people. One’s on the East Coast, next September in Pennsylvania, called Uprise and then there’s another festival in California in July and that one’s called Joshua Fest. And those are on our website as well.
Is there anything you want to add about this release of your album, like what went into it or how special it is from the other ones? Not only is this a big accomplishment of being your 10th album, but what makes this one special?
Obviously, every band is going to say their latest release is their best record, because they want to sell the record and get people excited. You know, for our band to be around for as long as we have, the expectation is the best record is going to be the earlier ones, and you just don’t have the same fire or motivations and the music suffers. It’s really hard, and I speak this from having done it, it’s really hard having to continually reinvent yourself as an artist and keep making material that’s as strong as the earlier stuff. I feel like we’ve been a unique band in the sense that we have tangible evidence that we’ve actually made songs, our later records in our career are the biggest songs in our entire catalog.
I don’t know why we’re able to do this, other than the fact that there’s just been an intentional effort or strategy made to find the motivation to write music and be constantly aware. Like, people don’t care. You might think that this record’s awesome, but the reality is people are going to compare you to earlier records, where they were introduced to you. There’s always a strategy involved to write music that will engage the crowd and engage our audience and hopefully win new fans over for fans of heavy music.
I think the first track on this new record rivals probably about every track on our entire catalog. It’s a track called “MHS,” it’s pretty aggressive for us. I think people who like heavy music should give that song a shot. If it’s the first time listening to the band, I think they’ll dig it. It’s got all the elements of what makes a good Project 86 song. It’s aggressive, it has a fire in its belly, you know what I mean? As far as telling people to buy the record, I’m just encouraging everyone to check out our pledge music page. It’s pledgemusic.com/project86. We incentivize everyone to preorder the music right there, because you get a free EP. It’s 5 songs, and it’s called Influence EP. We recorded cover material of ours that’s inspired us over the years. We did a Soundgarden cover, an Ozzy cover, Beastie Boys, and there’s a good eclectic mix of songs on there that represents the diversity that is our sound.
If you like rock music, you like heavier music, more melodic, we’re in a spot that engages a wide variety of fans. We made a good record. It’s special because it has songs on it with engaging lyrics that’s thought-provoking while also rocking. Check it out!
I’m excited to check it out! And just talking with you, it’s very apparent that you put everything that you are into your music, and you’re creating music because you love music, and that you genuinely care about your fans and you genuinely want them to be a part of your career as possible, and I think that sets you apart from mainstream music as well.
I appreciate that. That’s really encouraging. I think that’s really an accurate summary of how we approach this thing, and it’s good to hear that reflected back.