Bro-Am

The Cause: Bro-Am Foundation

The Mission: The Bro-Am began as a yearly charity event hosted by Switchfoot in their home territory of Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, CA. Although originally the event benefited a multitude of charities supporting at risk youth in the California community, eventually the event would grow into a foundation all its own. Now in addition to the summer surf and music festival, the Bro-Am foundation is active year round in providing music lessons to at risk youth and providing homeless kids with resources and safety.

The Band: Switchfoot has masterminded the event and the foundation from day one. Over the years they have had a multitude of legendary artists get involved and share the stage with them at the event itself, and their own music studio in San Diego has hosted some of the year round work of the foundation. Switchfoot wrote their song “Dark Horses” (from 2011’s Vice Verses) as an anthem to the youth they have been partnering with for well over a decade.

Get Involved: You can volunteer to facilitate the event itself, sponsor the work directly supporting children, be a vendor at the event, or simply donate from wherever you are in the world. To learn more, visit broam.org/play-your-part.

 

A Bittersweet Goodbye: A Conversation With Anberlin’s Stephen Christian

This interview originally appeared on NewReleaseToday in November of 2014.

On a rainy Nashville evening in October of 2014, I sat in the back lounge of Anberlin’s bus across from Stephen Christian. In middle of Anberlin’s final tour as a band, Stephen was energetic and warm, refreshingly present in his answers to my questions. The moment, like Anberlin’s career, was immortalized in my mind.

Anberlin began as a cornerstone band in Tooth & Nail’s heyday, gaining their footing with sophomore release Never Take Friendship Personal in 2005 and becoming a genuine force to be recognized with 2007’s magnum open Cities. A major label stint began with New Surrender, leading into the brooding Dark is the Way, Light is a Place and electronically experimental Vital. With the beginning of 2014, they announced their forthcoming disbandment– a year long process capped by final album Lowborn (once again with Tooth & Nail) and a farewell tour.

In this conversation, Stephen Christian reflected on the closing chapter, Lowborn, and Anberlin’s indelible mark on alternative rock (and on him).

So if we could start with talking about Lowborn a little bit: from what I understand, you guys used quite a few different producers on this, and of course you went in knowing it was your final record. Did that contribute to it being a different creative process than on your other records?

Absolutely, simply because we knew that we were absolutely, 100% liberated to do whatever we wanted. It wasn’t like we had managers breathing down our neck, or the label contacting us saying “what’s your single going to be?” It was very carefree.

It allowed me to write lyrics about how much being in the band has meant to me, thanking the fans and then also saying goodbye to them. On no other record could you literally call out fans and be like “this one’s for you!”

Knowing it was our last record, we literally couldn’t care less if it sold one or one million copies. We were just done. That was very liberating.

And yeah, we went to three different producers because everybody got to choose where they wanted to go. Our drummer worked with Matt Goldman in Atlanta, because he felt the best drums he’s ever gotten were at Matt Goldman’s. The rest of the guys wanted to self-produce because they never really got a chance to before, so they worked with an engineer named Aaron Marsh in Lakeland, who used to be in Copeland.

I went with Aaron Sprinkle because I’ve done four records with him and we are very comfortable together. We work really fast and really effectively together. It was a great experience.

Regarding the creative process in general, you guys have both ridiculously strong lyrics and ridiculously strong melodies. How does that work in the writing process? Which one informs the other? Do they happen at the same time?

Man, as cheesy as this sounds, I feel like when the guys write the music, they send me the songs and it’s almost as if the songs sing to me. And I know that sounds so cheesy and arty, but it’s not, I’m being serious. You could literally hand me a song right now, and a melody line would just come.

I definitely always write lyrics that are very personal, very much “hey, this is what I’m going through in life right now, I’m not going to hold anything back.” So I think the amalgamation of the two, with the free flow of thought and of melody and then what’s happening in my life, quickly formulate into lyrics and melody.

I’ll send it back to the guys and they can tell me what they think, if they like it or not. But for the most part, it’s pretty synonymous.

So as you’ve had this opportunity to tour the world knowing that you’re saying goodbye to places– which is a pretty unique experience for a band– has there been a specific moment you could pinpoint where you thought “man, I’m going to miss this?”

I think in London, that was our first major, big show where it hit me. We were walking off stage, and I remember looking back at the crowd, who was just in a frenzy– one of the best shows of this tour so far. And looking back, I was looking at people’s faces and wondering to myself “I wonder if I’ll ever see these people again.” You know? “I wonder if I’ll ever stand on a stage in London ever again.” I think that was a big moment for me.

Have you found that fans in general “get it?” Do they feel like the record is a fitting goodbye? Are they responding to that well?

I think they get that this is not only the last record, but I think they get that this is goodbye. And I think they’re very appreciative. Even the people who aren’t moving at our show, you can see them absorbing it. Usually at shows, there’s hundreds of camera phones. But at these shows, there are very little. People do it like once during the show and then that’s it, because I think they’re kind of like “I’ll never have this experience ever again. It’s not gonna come again.”

Honestly, we as Anberlin will never play another show. It would have to be such grandiose circumstances to change that, somebody sick, or something that’s just overwhelming that we couldn’t say no to. But I think it would take away from the legacy that we built, or tried to build anyway, as Anberlin, and I think it would take away from these shows if we were like “2018 we’re going to do a reunion!”

To me, it’s fine if other bands do that. But for me personally, it would take away from the mystique and the gravity that these shows have. And I feel like if fans heard “oh, they’re going on another tour,” they’d be like “really? That show meant so much. I was going to remember that show, and now? It’s just another show.”

So for me, it’s gravity, and I want to keep that gravity in place.

Which makes a lot of sense. What is the legacy Anberlin has left in your life? We talk a lot about the kind of mark it’s making on the fans. But what are you personally taking away from this experience?

Man, I would have to sit down at a computer and just write a list. Off the top of my head: how to write better. How to write songs. How to interact with other people, how not to deal with other people. Business-wise, and spiritually, and mentally and emotionally– I think there’s just a grandiose list.

I am who I am today because I was in this band, for better or worse. But then again, I don’t think I would go back in time. I don’t know how much I would change, because again, I am who I am, and I’m so blessed and fortunate to be standing right here tonight in front of this crowd because of all those happenstances. And I don’t know if I went back in time and changed one thing, if the course would just veer, and what would be different.

So it’s hard to regret. There’s a song called “Birds of Prey” on this record about that, about how you think “oh, I wish I could change things.” But you wouldn’t be the person that you are today if it wasn’t for the failures and successes that you had in the past.

If you could choose one song as you’re looking back to be remembered by as Anberlin, that you hope sticks with people, which one would you choose and why?

I think “Paperthin Hymn,” for more than one reason. Not just lyrically, but I feel like the summation of all our music is built into that song. It’s melodic, but rock. And it’s thought-provoking, and yet has undertones of faith. And I think that’s the synopsis of the band as a whole.

To highlight a song from the new record, “Hearing Voices” is another one of those songs that’s quintessential Anberlin. Could you just talk a little bit about what was going through your head as you were writing that?

For me, I don’t hear God in an audible voice. Some people do. Some people go on top of mountains, and they can feel the earth tremble or lightning or whatever. But for me it’s the still, small voice, it’s that peace inside of “OK, God’s with me, Jesus is with me.”

I just follow the peace, wherever that is, wherever that leads. If it says “hey, it’s time to leave the band,” I follow. I just fumble after blindly, because as humans we’re just so flawed and full of failure. And so for me it’s about that still small voice, about hearing the voice of God in my own way.

To wrap this up, what’s next for you? Are you going to keep going with Anchor & Braille?

Anchor & Braille for me is a passion project. I love making music that’s very not me, but that I’m into, that I enjoy. But that’s not my future. I’m going to finish out making a record for Anchor & Braille, but next for me– for about two and a half years now I’ve really longed to do a praise and worship record. That for me is where my heart is, where my soul is. I just feel like that’s the next thing for me.

I’m so excited. And whether I tour, or take that seriously or whatever, right at this second it doesn’t matter. You know, the overflow of the heart, that’s what the mouth speaks. And I think that’s where I’m at with that.

Stephen Christian released his solo worship record, Wildfires, in 2017; you can find it here.

Sheep Among Wolves: A Conversation With Project 86’s Andrew Schwab

This interview originally appeared on NewReleaseToday.com in December of 2017.
Project 86 has been around for twenty years now–enough time to learn how to do things right. And with Sheep Among Wolves, they have done exactly that. Spending a full year in the recording process and involving fans at every step of the way, the seasoned hard rock band finally released the resulting full-length album on December 5, 2017.

As the album was approaching release, I had the chance to talk with Project 86 founder and frontman Andrew Schwab about this project’s creation, the crucial role of the listeners and what has kept them going for two decades.

Could you start by catching me up on the PledgeMusic process that you’ve been in for over a year now and the ways you’ve utilized that platform to connect with your fans?

Yeah, it’s been a unique situation. We had two previous crowdfunded albums, one through Kickstarter and one through Indiegogo. And the first one we did with Kickstarter did moderately well, and the second one did quite a bit better, and this one has done great. The PledgeMusic platform has been cool because it allows you to really customize every part of the experience with fans. We’ve been able to do what I think are some pretty unique things to up the engagement and up the investment on the part of the fans. And not just the monetary investment, though that’s great and helps us pay for what we do, helps us do this in general. But also the emotional investment, which is what you really want at the end of the day.

So what we have been doing and the way that we’ve structured the campaign we think is a win-win. Fans get, in exchange for pledging at even the bottom level, a five song EP to download right off the bat. It’s some of our favorite songs that we’ve covered. We’ve never done cover songs, but we’ve had requests for that over the years. We’ve gotten a good response on that.

They also get to listen to the music as we write it and record it. We recorded the album one song at a time in their entirety throughout the process of recording. So we essentially released one song per month to all of the people that have pledged up until recently. And then they’ll get their download just prior to the album release.

So this album is called Sheep Among Wolves. A lot of your albums in the past have been very concept and imagery driven. What are some of the concepts that were behind this record?

While it’s not a concept-heavy record in terms of there being one message or theme from song to song, it’s pretty diverse, I would say the common thread throughout became the album title this time around. The idea of “sheep among wolves” is a little bit of a vague or mysterious concept. There’s a quote in the Bible about Jesus saying to the disciples that he’s sending them out as “sheep among wolves.” Whenever I use biblical references in our music, I always put a severe twist on it. So it’s not just a Christian reference, it’s more a commentary that’s completely a spin on the original concept without contradicting it.

The idea of sheep among wolves here in a modern context as compared to the original intent is the idea that there are sheep among wolves, both in culture at large and in the faith-based culture, but we don’t know who is who many times. And people who claim to be sheep are actually the wolves, and the people who are labeled as wolves are actually the sheep. So there’s a lot of ambiguity in our art, but it’s very striking and bold and contrasted.

That’s kind of the way the album is presented too. There’s a lot of really stark, almost harsh lyrics on this record. It’s meant to make divisive statements to make you think, “OK, who are the sheep and who are the wolves?”

Does that get reflected musically as well? Where does this sit in the broader context of Project 86’s discography?

We’ve always put a lot of effort into having diverse records. So on this album there are some songs that are pretty aggressive while still not being metal or metalcore, and then there are songs that are a little bit more moody and melodic. And the intent there is that we want you to listen to the whole album, not just one song, to sort of chart emotions through a scale, through ups and downs and highs and lows. So there’s a lot of contrast, and I feel like that’s kind of the concept in and of itself: this idea of contrast, but it’s like an exercise in critical thinking in terms of the lyrics. I like to try to give people something to think about.

What does that process of creation look like for you when you’re writing lyrics? Is it lyrics first, then music?

It’s usually the opposite, music first, then lyrics. Nowadays I’m super involved in the music creation, but I’ll have a vocal idea or a thematic idea in the back of my brain as we’re writing. But it’s pretty spontaneous in terms of the music. Then I sort of allow the emotion of the music to dictate where the song needs to go lyrically.

There are some examples of that on this record. Track 4 is called “Freebooter,” and it’s one of my favorites. It’s definitely more a rock song, it’s mid-tempo, it’s haunting. For whatever reason I just thought of being adrift at sea because of the music that we wrote. So I developed a theme for the song around the idea of defining your life by living on the open ocean. Not necessarily like a pirate, but the idea that you’ve put all of your eggs in this basket of being at the mercy of the waves of life. So you can be defined by the highs of that, but eventually probably you’ll hit the low point, which will be not a good ending.

Did the other band members write with you? What did the creative team look like in the studio, at the writing stage?

It was all written by myself and our guitarist Darren King, just us two. We collaborated on some of it over skype and some of it in person as he lives in Nashville and I live in California. So I flew out to Nashville four times to record and write, and we kind of just made it happen. There were a couple other studios involved with tracking vocals and drums. Nowadays technology allows you to share ideas and files, and we made it work.

Part of the thing with this project is that you’re celebrating 20 years as Project 86. And that’s a huge rarity right now, that a band can hit that kind of milestone. What are some of the things that you think have enabled you to have that kind of longevity?

A death wish, for the most part! [laughs]

Playing music for a living and doing it full time is something that every musician dreams of. But once you attain it, you realize “this is challenging.” It’s not work in the sense that you don’t have to go to an office for 8 hours a day, but it presents totally different types of mental and emotional challenges along the way.

I think the enduring motivation for this band really lies in the hands of the people who support us. And I don’t even really like the word “fan,” for the most part, because I think the association with the word “fan” puts such distance between the artist and the person who appreciates our music. And for us, it’s almost like the Green Bay Packers, like the people who support our band are the direct owners of the band. Without being directly involved in the creative process, we try to get them as close as possible. So I think the people who love our band stick by us because they’re invested in it. And we try to go out of our way to make that part of the experience of following our band.

Throughout your history, you’ve entered both Christian market and mainstream spaces indiscriminately. Was that a philosophical choice you made from the beginning? Do you have an ethos behind that?

I think when we started out, we were such young people. We’d come up inside this music scene in southern California going to shows and seeing some real authentic movements in the underground, indie and heavy music world that we lived in, this little subculture that kind of revolved around some of the early bands and record labels that started the faith-based scene in southern California. We weren’t really being intentional about anything, we were just doing what came naturally, which is reflecting our belief system through music that we wrote and liked. And at the time, the kind of music that we played had not hit yet, so we were kind of on the leading edge of a movement I guess.

As we evolved and sort of grew up as a band, we realized “oh, we’re good enough that we don’t have to only play for Christian people.” Well, this opened an entirely different can of worms and presented some challenges that maybe if we would have thought about it a little more intentionally when we were younger as a band, we would have been able to have some different opportunities. But everything happened as it should, you know?

Thankfully, we put out some records that were pretty exciting early in our career, and that provided some opportunities to do a lot of things in the general market. We were on Atlantic for a couple of records and toured with some really well-known bands, Linkin Park, 30 Seconds to Mars, bands like that, who were at the beginning point of their careers who came to know us as a band who had been around a little longer than them. There was some rapport there that was gained.

But our experience has always been that you have to be very intentional in the way you market your band and in what other people will perceive. So very early in our career, we were a little more overt about our belief system, and as we evolved we sort of made that a little bit more ambiguous. But it’s interesting how people respond from album to album in thinking that somehow if the material is different, or if the lyrical content is a little more challenging or ambiguous, that somehow we’ve changed as human beings in what we believe. And that never has occurred.

I think you have to be intentional about what type of perception you try to create, what audience you try to appeal to. And while the band isn’t perfect in that sense, I think we’ve been at our strongest when we’ve allowed the music to speak the loudest.

At this stage, after all the things you’ve accomplished, is there anything you still want to do in the future with Project 86?

To be honest, something that I’ve been hungry for really from the beginning, something that I don’t think we’ve completely accomplished as a band just because opportunity has not presented itself, is to play with more of the heavy bands of the day in a live setting. More in the general market side, proving that our band is legit. I think we can compete with anybody, I think we’ve been given the gifting to do that. And I just would love more opportunities before this thing will end, and I have no idea when that will be, but to hop up on stage with bands that have sold millions of records and play for their audience and show that we can crush it live, that we’re a real band who deserves to be in the conversation of some of the more prominent rock bands out there.

I’m not saying we’re going to hop on stage and show up with the Foo Fighters or something like that. But I think that we deserve to be more in the conversation than we have been, and it’s just been more marketing politics that have kept us from that, because our live show is really strong.

You have kind of referenced some of this with the fact that you made your Influences EP, which is covers, but are there other bands that are feeding and inspiring you creatively? We live in this world where everyone says rock is dead.

It really is. But there are a few bands that I listen to and who do influence me in one way or another. Circa Survive is one of my favorite bands, and I was just listening to them before I called. There’s another band called Thrice that I like a lot. I’ve known those guys for a little bit, great dudes, great musicians. There’s another band called Oh Brother that I really like, a band from the southeast. So there are some bands out there that are cool, doing some unique things that doesn’t sound like everything else that’s been put out.

And that’s the hard thing in rock music, and I think that’s why people are over it. It’s all been done before. [laughs]

In our opinion, all that’s left is songs. If you write a memorable song, any other variable doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what genre of music you play. If you write a memorable song with a great chorus, people will like it.

If you could summarize what Project 86’s mission statement is right now, how would you do that? What is driving you guys as a band?

I would say to continue to push ourselves something that we’ve never written before, something that’s different, not repeating ourselves from album to album, giving fans a new experience each and every time that we create something. And just trying to write honest music from a lyrical perspective. I say honest, just reflecting my emotional experience without having to cater to the expectations of anyone else. So if I’m having a bad day, I will write about having a bad day. I’m not going to pretend that I’m having an awesome day if I’m having a bad day. That’s the beauty of music and the beauty of the kind of music we play is that it’s therapeutic, and I think that that’s an underlying premise to everything that we do. We do write music that we like for ourselves first and foremost. And if we like it, and it’s unique and it’s cool, then other people will like it too. Maybe that’s very simplistic, but that’s the thought process.

 

Unleashed by Skillet: Reinventing and Roots

When you have two platinum albums, Grammy nominations, a massive worldwide audience, a legacy spanning over 20 years and one of the best-known names in both Christian and mainstream rock and roll, it would be easy to rest on your laurels and play it safe. However, playing it safe has never even been on the agenda for Skillet, and long-awaited album Unleashed proves it.

The band spent over three years following the release of 2013’s Rise perfecting a new batch of songs. The result is a sonic shift that some fans may consider something of a rebirth– while for others, it will harken back to the early 2000s, Alien Youth and a very different Skillet. Unleashed’s ferocious lead single “Feel Invincible” establishes out of the gate that the band has scaled back the symphonic rock blend that propelled Skillet from slow-burning success on Comatose to overnight worldwide recognition with Awake. The crucial role of providing texture and dynamic that a string section once filled is now shouldered by electronic elements, giving Korey Cooper’s long underrated programming abilities well-deserved prominence.

Rest assured however that these synths are worlds away from slick, cliched pop constructs. On “Burn it Down” the synths scorch a path underscoring hefty guitar lines, adding to rather than detracting from the song’s aggressive punch. On “Saviors of the World,” the back and forth between guitars, synths and John Cooper’s gritty vocals feel like a reference to the best of the 80s. The old symphonic elements do make at least one cameo on “I Want To Live,” the track on the album that most keenly reminds of Awake.

Lyrically, fans are likely to notice a subtle shift as the songs steer clear of deep water and coast through more celebratory and even worshipful territory. Following forays on the last three albums into topics like suicide, violence, eating disorders and self injury, John Cooper has said he wanted to create something a little different. “I wanted to make a record that made people feel the music– an album that would connect people to the music as well as to each other,” John Cooper has explained. “An album, like some of my favorites, that’d be like a party to listen to, where people could sing along together.”

That perspective is crucial to have when approaching Unleashed. “Undefeated” is an infectious sports-ready anthem much more likely to cue fist-pumping than introspection. “Famous” is one of the album’s more pop-leaning cuts, built from the widely used concept that we are here to make God famous. “Watching for Comets” is a wistful summer love song, a ballad worthy of lighters (or cell phones) raised high.

This is not to say that the album is devoid of Skillet’s trademark deep devotion to the gospel, however. “Stars” puts Skillet’s longstanding passion for worship on center stage with a moving affirmation that the God who holds the stars also holds every moment of our lives. One of the darkest and most lyrically intriguing tracks, “Out of Hell,” voices a desperate plea for God’s redemption over Seth Morrison’s blistering guitar riffs: “I’m suffocating waiting for you, because the angels don’t fly down here / I need you because no one else can get me out of hell.”

Inevitably, we can anticipate that some fans will boil down this album to one question: “is this album heavy?” That would, however, be the wrong question to ask when evaluating Unleashed and sifting through this sonic shift that has both brought Skillet closer to their roots and propelled them forward at the same time. There are certainly moments of both thunderous guitars and more delicately constructed melody– often closely juxtaposed (see “The Resistance” for an example of the spectrum). A perhaps better question I have asked myself when listening to Skillet’s ninth studio album is “did they accomplish what they intended to?”

I would offer a resounding yes to that question. The album is simply an enjoyable listen, even when the lyrics are lighthearted and flashy. Skillet shows complete mastery of the electronic elements they have chosen to introduce, seemingly effortlessly nailing a balance countless other bands have tried to achieve in the past few years.

However, longtime fans should approach this album understanding that for them, it may not be much more than that: an enjoyable listen. And for fans who found their home in the Panhead world because of brutally honest yet redemptive masterpieces like “Savior,” “Whispers in the Dark,” “The Last Night” and “Monster,” this album might not land in quite the same place in their hearts.

With Unleashed, Skillet reveals an unapologetically enjoyable foray into electronic-infused hard rock as the Christ-centered core of their mission continues to hold steady. Although this may not be your favorite Skillet record, it’s a record very worth buying and cranking up in the car with your friends– and it proves Skillet’s continued ability to successfully reinvent themselves.

Related Artists: Shinedown, RED, Papa Roach

Movement One by Wavorly: A Triumphant Return

It’s been four long years, several social media rumors and one reunion show in Mississippi since the last time we had new music from Wavorly. Now it seems the stars have finally aligned for the alt rock group to stage a comeback, and Movement One is the first step.

Movement One is a two track cross between a single and an EP. The first of those tracks that fans heard, “Pressure,” is a swaggering rock track with a hint of a throwback vibe similar to the fusion of House of Heroes’ recent work. Every single member of Wavorly had a hand in writing the track, with some additional help from Josiah Prince (Disciple). The bravado of the chorus feels custom-made for summer nights and underground rock shows as Dave Stovall sings “nobody’s going to push us around / we’re taking over / we are the ones they warned you about.”

Recapturing the more mellow, ambient side of Wavorly’s sound, “Strangers in Love” captures the melancholy and confusion of distance in a relationship. Although guitar riffs certainly drive the majority of the track, the outro is carried by a haunting piano line from Ryan Coon. This duality re-establishes a crucial element of what made Wavorly stand out before.

It’s difficult for a band to make a comeback without their music feeling overly nostalgia-driven and dated, but Wavorly has overcome that pitfall with a confident musical chemistry that proves what we already knew: this comeback was long overdue.

Related Artists: House of Heroes, Deas Vail, Relient K

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