Ahead of the band’s 20th Anniversary Livestream, Andrew Schwab reflects on the making of Project 86’s defining ‘Drawing Black Lines’.
“Rising up against this wickedness
And unphased by your endless myths”
And with that Andrew Schwab and the rest of Project 86 introduced themselves with raging intensity to the mainstream rock audience with “Stein’s Theme” – the kickoff track of their 2000 defining album ‘Drawing Black Lines’. By the time the bridge had dug deep and exploded with vigorous ferocity – the band had unsuspecting listeners gripped. The album would go on to sell about 100,000 copies and “P.S.” would land on the ‘Blair Witch 2’ soundtrack alongside Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, System of a Down and more.
‘Drawing Black Lines’ dropped with heightened expectations: a fresh record deal on Atlantic Records, world-renowned producer Garth “GGGarth” Richardson (at the time known for producing Rage Against the Machine’s timelessly iconic self-titled album) at the helm, and packaged with an intimidating marketing pitch of being “the next P.O.D.” (thanks to their anointment as the next Christian hard rock band taking the big step into the mainstream immediately following the smash crossover success of P.O.D.’s ‘The Fundamental Elements of Southtown’ – also released on Atlantic).
They would deliver a defining achievement that would cement their legacy in the early 2000s, putting together a brutally poetic rebellious dark hard rock album in a very nu-metal era. With the focus not on how fast and explosive they could be at all times but an honest effort to evolve their rock sound into diverse and complete journeys utilizing moments of soft zen folded into their viciously harrowing spine chilling vocals, wild crunching fierce guitars, barreling & tantalizing bass lines and heart-pounding drums.
The lyrics went from introspective on the previous record to critical explorations of a raging society. Lyrically, it stayed in the protected lanes of Christian rock but Schwab was drawing his own black lines of what he would put in there – expanding the view into serious dark despairing themes. Words that carried a punch and left bruises to be not forgotten while the music matched that. That combo felt dangerous and it would profoundly spark the fire of rebellion for many searching for a cause.
“You hate us ’cause we’ll never go away
And like some sort of fungus we’re growing every day
And our knuckles aren’t dragging so I guess that leaves to say
Our message isn’t stopping until you drag us all away”
This Friday January 15, 2021 @ 8 PM ET Project 86 will bring that danger to the screen when they perform ‘Drawing Black Lines’ in its entirety for a unique livestream experience. (Tickets, limited VIP opportunities & ‘Drawing Black Lines’ era merch available here.)
Ahead of their live stream performance Andrew Schwab looks back at Drawing Black Lines at 20 years old.
KNOTFEST – Leading into the recording of Drawing Black Lines, what did you want the album to sound like? Did it come out that way or did the sound evolve – and if so, what influenced it to do so?
Andrew Schwab – Going into the record, the goal as a band was definitely to write something heavier, darker, and more unique. We had a chip on our shoulders in the sense that we wanted to prove what we were capable of as a unit. At the time, our bass player, Steve (Dail) really took the reigns of presenting great song skeletons and ideas that the band really built upon. Many of these songs were solely written by him, and others were a collective effort. The members at the time…Steve, Randy (Torres), Alex (Albert), and I, were of one accord creatively (which is a rare thing in bands!).
We were focused on wanting to deliver something special. We were young, hungry, and motivated to prove we could hang with the heavyweights in heavy music. We also were truly having fun (and this cannot be overestimated) making music that we were proud of. We were enjoying ourselves and it was all so simple…we wrote and recorded the record quickly. We didn’t overthink it. It was organic, raw, and honest. In hindsight, this was a magical moment in time where we caught lightning in a bottle. We weren’t even aware of what was happening because we were just “in the moment.”
What were your goals & expectations prior to the album releasing, and how did that progress once Atlantic picked you up?
I can’t say we had specific goals, other than to make a record that far exceeded our debut release. It had to be dark, heavy, and honest. We wanted songs that would translate well into the live setting. We just wanted to prove that we were a band to be reckoned with, to be taken seriously, so to speak. And even though we came out of the faith-based scene, we wanted to show that we were a band that deserved to be in major label world, or the mainstream. We were all pretty focused on just making music we liked…we each had a job to do within that, and what came out was something that far exceeded our own expectations.
Vocally – you more or less found your sweet spot perfecting your now iconic intense yell on this album. What brought on this evolution and was it intentional or organic?
You know, I struggled with finding my own “voice” in the first part of my career with this band. I think that’s a normal thing for vocalists, and artists in general-you tend to lean on your influences when you first get started. I host a podcast (PIONEERS PODCAST on Patreon, iTunes, etc. – that’s my shameless plug!) where I talk about the creative process and spend some time looking into the idea of self-discovery and finding your own, unique voice as an artist, no matter your medium.
‘Drawing Black Lines’ was definitely the moment where I found my own voice for the first time, and in some ways it was a bit of an accident. Early on, I shouted in a higher register, and on DBL I intentionally wanted my voice to fall to a lower, more “meaty” place. It was a bit uncomfortable at first, but I liked the result. It was a bit toughersound.
I also found another gear of emotion in the studio-we all did, in fact. It was just a great environment to really explore the song meanings and the experiences which inspired the lyrics. The way I recorded the vocals was interesting and unique…instead of setting up in a vocal booth, the producer (GGGarth) set me up in the drum room with an SM58, which is the mic I use for live shows. I was free to run around the room in dark, as if I was performing at a show. I was alone, so I could do anything I wanted. I felt very free and vulnerable. GGGarth mentioned this was the same approach he took with Zack De La Rocha on the first Rage album. That was just a very cool feeling…to know I was in some ways standing in the same shoes of such a legendary vocalist from such an iconic album and band. It was just a dreamlike scenario for a young band.
Drawing Black Lines is extremely well known for its lyrical enlightenment and intense nature, what was your state of mind at the time and what outside influences created that?
Oh man, it’s hard to quantify that. I usually write about what I know, and what I am feeling at the time. I think that’s one thing that defines the lyrics and sentiment of the band…emotional honesty (or at least that is something I try to shoot for). This record was thematic in the sense that each song has very well-defined concept that is different from the others.
For example, “Stein’s Theme” is about embodying a certain defiance, a certain attitude…punk rock, respect, loyalty. “Open Hand” is about community and friendship. “Set Me Up” is about redefining the “scene” as one that is inclusive, rather than exclusive. “Sad Machines” is about the fallen state of humanity. The record as a whole is dark without being super negative in its sentiment, and I am proud of that. I always try to write in such a way that is thought-provoking.
How have these songs evolved in a live setting over the 20 plus years since you first played them for a crowd? What things are you most excited to show people? Any particular track you haven’t played in awhile you’re ready to let loose?
Honestly, DBL is one of my favorite albums in the band’s catalogue, so to revisit these in the live setting is so much fun and very nostalgic. While some of these songs have evolved a bit over the years in terms of how they are performed, we have been very intentional about recreating the album sound for this specific performance. For example, at only one time in the band’s history did we have two guitarists, and it was on this album. So for the live performance, we have two guitarists. It’s funny…certain songs are so much fun and have aged very well, and others are more like time capsules. My favorites are probably “23”, “Chimes”, “Open Hand”, “Me vs Me”, and “Stein’s Theme.”
What track off the album would you love to make a music video for right now? What would the concept be?
Thats a great question. I think we needed to make one for the first four tracks, TBH. As far as concepts go, that’s a tough one. “P.S.” would need to be the darkest thing ever…David Fincher direction? But more thriller than horror. Metaphorical. Stein’s should be some sort of live concept, but maybe on Mars…all red, craters, blood planet, etc.? I’m just spitballing. Me vs. Me should be reminiscent of the movie split…somehow? This is how my thought process would begin at least.
“Twenty Three” is a 12:58 chaotic masterpiece culminating essentially in an artistic noise ending to a complex album. What did those sounds and that ending mean to you then, and has it changed at all in the 20 years since?
It was just a great moment with band that was spontaneous and typified a great album. I was in the control room and just watching the mayhem unfold, so it’s not like I was doing much besides cheerleading on that one! It was a proud moment, and I super thankful that moment happened with those guys…great memories from 1999. It was just a mass of destruction.
Fun story…I was actually mad when I recorded the screaming Vox at the end of that one. One of the guys ( I think it was our drummer, Alex) was pushing me to scream the part heavier and I was annoyed, lol. In the end he was right, because it sounds cool!
When the album dropped you said “Drawing Black Lines is not just a catch phrase or an album title… When I am faced with challenges, my true character is revealed. And only by drawing a definite line, which separates me from every wrong choice, will I be able to be all I am meant to be.” 20 years later – what does the phrase “Drawing Black Lines” mean to you?
It’s about setting boundaries, while also breaking them. I know that is a contradiction, but here’s what I mean: It’s only inside of boundaries that relationships can flourish or be healed. Boundaries can be harsh, but you have to respect them. When I say I have “drawn a black line,” I mean, “I know who I am and what my purpose is, and I am not going to stray from that.” It means you may disagree, but you will at least respect it. When I say it means to break boundaries, it means pushing past what you think you are capable of, which is what happened on this record. Four guys made an album of music that equated to more than the sum of our parts. In many ways, it was a miracle.
“Hear the silent ignorant voices spew:
“You’re all a pack of disoriented youth”
He lives to see the day those voices end
But until then I’ll send this…”
Tickets for Project 86’s livestream performance of ‘Drawing Black Lines’ in its entirety are available here as well as DBL era merch. Performance is Friday Jan 15th @ 8pm ET.
Limited VIP options including an unplugged set (chosen by the audience) with band Q&A are still available for tonight, Thursday Jan 14th at 8pm ET.