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Blackened Blue Eyes
by Charlatans UK
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Project 86
October 2003

Check out the new Project 86 album, "Songs To Burn Your Bridges By" ... available only at www.project86.com

In early 1996, in the wake of the mid-90's rock phenomena, four wide-eyed, Orange County youths came together in an ambitious undertaking. Armed only with sheer audacity and a touch of boredom, these four music fans asked themselves a simple question: "Why can't we make music that matters, too?" It was a reasonable question, having come of age during an era when super groups like Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, and Tool were conquering everyone and everything with sounds of pioneering, brutal honesty. They had no idea, as it would later turn out, what they were getting themselves into.

The four began writing riffs and beats, following the formula of their hardcore and metal predecessors, clumsily wading through rehearsals in a random dojo in sunny Mission Viejo, California (a friend of the band hosted martial arts training, and since there was no cash available for studio rental, it had to suffice). After two months of frustration that reeked of mediocrity, enough songs were written to record a demo. They pooled their collective funds from part-time work and spent three days in a studio tracking a few songs. Like thousands of ambitiously naive groups that traversed the same path before them, the band thought that what they had captured on tape was pure genius. But after showing it to dozens of peers and family members, one word was apparent over and over again: derivative. It was in the wake of this disappointment that the band found not only a name, but an identity. Project 86, a reference to being "86ed" as an act of isolation and rejection, was born from the depths of defeat. It would prove to be a running theme for the band for years to come; disappointment is only failure when you lie down and succumb to it.

The band played many local shows opening for anyone and everyone they could, playing everything from high school football fields to churches to LA clubs, vowing never to alienate any type of audience from their sound. Again, this wide-eyed, childlike attitude would serve as both their biggest hindrance and asset, as they convinced themselves they would defy stereotypes and musical boundaries. But, their sound was condemned as immature by the local music press. The disappointment stung, again. Nonetheless, the four kept writing, kept playing. A very sincere energy was slowly beginning to develop out of the refining fire of live shows, and a small, devoted following began to pop up whenever the band played. These tiny shocks reverberated as far north as Seattle, home of Tooth and Nail records. Though most of the staff was opposed to signing the band, the label head saw something that the others did not. Within twelve months of recording their first note, Project 86 signed a multi-record deal with Tooth and Nail, and recorded their debut release with producer Bryan Carlstrom in Los Angeles.

A national tour, opening for a variety of independent acts, quickly ensued as the debut, self-titled record dropped. The band's sound had quickly progressed (much to the surprise of everyone at the label) and record sales were shockingly strong out of the gate thanks to vehement self-promotion by the band. Their Helmet-meets-Rage Against The Machine-sound resonated with the late 90's rock audience. The lyrics were thoughtful and sincere, yet severely desperate. While on the road the band formed allegiances with the then upstart P.O.D. (who was looking for record deal of their own) and Blindside (who was another Tooth and Nail act). The three bands launched a six-week national tour in May of 1999 which would solidify a large following for Project 86 for years to come. At this point, with 30,000 scans under their belt and a substantial national following, the band reflected in awe. Goals were exceeded. They had only just begun.

The sophomore effort, titled Drawing Black Lines, was produced the by reputable Gggarth Richardson in Vancouver, BC. This record, as the very apropos title suggested, would be another defining point. Unearthly guitar destruction had met a new level of lyrical urgency, in what many in the music press deemed as one of the best metal albums of 2000. The band had also caught the attention of Atlantic records just prior to the record's release, and Tooth and Nail licensed the album to them for what would be a joint effort between the labels. Project was soon working with a legitimate management company (Cook Management, home of POD, Blindside, and Year of the Rabbit), and launching heavy touring under the guise of their major label debut. The world belonged to Project 86, or so they thought. The thought of signing to a major had always seemed other-wordly, unattainable. Aspiring musicians were always preaching that you "make it" when you sign a major label deal. Again, it would prove to be a little different on the inside.

As Project grew in fan base, record sales, and sonic identity, they also began to shed their childlike skin. The cold realities of radio, tour support, major label politics, legal dilemmas, and miniscule royalties began to wear upon everyone in the band. They watched their peers land huge tours and radio spots while they struggled to make ends meet. Their income stream was being eaten by two labels instead of one, and a year into Drawing Black Lines they were running out of tour support to stay on the road. Nonetheless, they had scanned 100,000 records on DBL and had opened for a number of large acts. Promises of the "next record being the one" were swirling around both labels and at their management company. But somehow there was a stale taste in the air. Was this it? Was this what it was all about? Record sales, politics, radio, and hype, only leading to empty promises from industry types?

Going into their third record, the band was swallowed simultaneously by enormous expectations from their record labels and rumors of a buyout situation, whereby Atlantic would secure their back catalog and "free" the band from their lopsided deal with Tooth and Nail, offering them a brand new deal. A large battle began very early in the writing process between the Tooth and Nail camp, Atlantic, and the Project 86 management team. It seemed that music was no longer what it was about to everyone who surrounded the band. As Project tried to distance themselves from business matters and write their third record, pressures continued to mount. The resulting album, titled Truthless Heroes was about a fictitious character who was powerless amidst the evil forces which surrounded him. Produced by Matt Hyde, the album was more progressive, less dated, and more song-oriented. Anthem-like choruses met punk rock zeal in a dark, satirical comment on the music industry. The album debuted at number 110 on the Billboard Charts despite the confusion surrounding it.

When all was said and done, after sixteen months of writing and recording, hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment, and countless sleepless nights, the band was bought out of their deal. Freedom, finally. A future in legitimate musicdom. But there are no guarantees in this business, as they quickly found out. While the first single "Hollow Again" was reacting at radio, the record was not receiving competitive marketing attention from the label. The record business was reaching a state of crisis with declining record sales in late 2002, and very little effort was being shown toward developing acts. The band parted ways with their management company and both record labels in a strange twist of events in early 2003. Truthless Heroes had sold 70,000 copies in nine months. Most bands would have hung it up in the wake of drama, disappointment, and disaster at this point. No record deal. No manager. No back catalogue. No support. But Project 86 would prove their mettle (and metal?) in the end.

Isolation refined them. Thoughts of writing again resurfaced, this time with a new maturity and resiliency. The anger and frustration at the folly of the music industry was focused into sound with a reborn tenacity. Songs came together faster than ever before, after cutting the cords that bound them. The band collaborated once again with producer Matt Hyde and wrote a brand new record, less than one year after Truthless Heroes had been released. With nothing to cling to but the music it all flowed naturally and poignantly. The band spent a total of two weeks writing, eight days tracking, and four days mixing their most ambitious endeavor to date, Songs To Burn Your Bridges By. Somehow along the way they became veterans who had somehow retained a youthful approach to emotion. Schwab's lyrics are even more disconnected and disparaging on the new record, with clever stabs at all those who had opposed him in the past, including himself. Songs to Burn Your Bridges By flies in the face of everything that corrupts honesty and integrity, both in music and relationship. One is left with a devastating power and discord that celebrates the death of unhealthy relationships, both professional and personal. The dense sound is reminiscent of post-Refused progressive hardcore, with a touch of Marilyn Manson, Sick of it All, and Misfits. They also manage to bring it down in several hallowingly haunting tracks which speak subtly of Soundgarden and even the Pixies.

In songs such as "The Great Golden Gate Disaster" Schwab proclaims, "I used to want to change the world in brotherhood, us two. But now, my friend, I only want to save it...from you." The frontman encapsulates a self-depricating, depraved, screaming vocal style and mixes small hints of spoken melody that consistently communicates his emotion with a level of sincerity that few can manage. Randeath highlights the droning riffs with tasteful psuedo-leads, as Dail and The Hatchet merge as one, in dense rhythm and force. This album is not just a bitter backlash, though. Project has somehow shed any inhibition about themselves, spiritual, sonic, or otherwise, to put forth a sense of hope when all seems lost. In the song "Safe Haven," the frontman pleads, "Just crawl across this desert heat and become tragic with me. And now that we are not alone you know that we could never be." By the end of the of the record you are cheering along with them as they rant phrases such as, "Fight, fight, for our tomorrow...fall to stand, surrender to follow." Project 86 seems to have finally found themselves in the midst of trial, alone and just fine, without which their would be no fuel for their burning bridges. And here is their proof, in the form of ten beautifully destructive tracks, that fire can both refine and purge. This truly is a record for anyone who wants to set fire to their past and move forward to a hope-filled future.



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