AN NRT EXCLUSIVE ARTIST INTERVIEW
Abandon Unleashes The Searchlights
Josh Engler, lead singer and primary lyricist for Abandon, speaks with NRT's Andrew Funderburks about the release of their debut, full-length album, Searchlights.
 


San Antonio rock act Abandon recently released their first full-length album, Searchlights, after their ForeFront Records' label debut last July with the release of a self-titled digital EP, followed up by another EP in April of 2009. Searchlights combines the best tracks released by Abandon over the last year plus three never-before-recorded songs, “Confession,” “Here We Are Now” and “Safe In Your Arms.”

With a sound that has been likened to popular bands U2 and The Killers, Abandon comprises brothers Josh Engler (vocals) and Justin Engler (rhythm guitars), cousins Dave Vela (drums) and Stevan Vela (lead guitar) as well as Bryan Fowler (bass). They formed as part of their church’s worship band, eventually moving on to play local shows.

NRT Contributor Andrew Funderburks recently spoke with Josh Engler, Abandon’s singer and primary lyricist.

Hi, Josh! Thanks so much for taking your time to do this interview with NewReleaseTuesday.com!

I appreciate you having me!

Tell us a little bit about how Abandon was birthed and the journey of the band in music to where you are today.

We were originally a worship band that started playing at local places around San Antonio, Texas, like water parks, parades, and downtown by the Alamo. In 2005, we booked our first national tour, which lasted about a month and a half. Since we were independent, we did it all on our own. I think it was in 2007 that Chris York from Forefront Records heard us in Nashville. We were playing a showcase and opening up for Kevin Max. Chris came in and saw us and he liked what he saw and heard. He later contacted us on our MySpace page. So MySpace helped us get our record deal. Now we’re working with Chris Stevens, who was the producer for Searchlights and has also worked with tobyMac and Sanctus Real. It’s been a great experience working with him, because he’s such a neat guy and good producer. We love his creative direction, and we now have our first full-length album from Forefront Records.

I’ve already listened to the entire project and loved it. My favorite song off of it is “Hero.”

A lot of people like that song, even though we’re more of a rock band. It’s more for us a down-tempo song, stripped down with just a piano and cello. We’ve had a lot of good feedback on that song. It’s kind of surprising and cool, but to us it’s more like an album closing track. We’re performing that song live at our shows now because of all the feedback.

What was the inspiration for the beautiful melody of this song?

Stevan Vela, our lead guitarist, wrote the initial part of this song. As we’re writing songs we get them in so many different ways and stages. Sometimes I’ll come to the band with the whole song written. Sometimes the other guys come with a verse, chorus, or the whole song. Stevan brought the majority of the song “Hero,” and we all really liked the message behind it. It’s basically our take on Jesus—who He was to the world, who He is to us individually, and who He is to the church. It’s telling the story of Him, as He’s walking on the earth, and about His life. We paralleled Him to a hero, like Batman or Superman. We know that when this person is on the scene it’s going to be OK. He’s going to save the day. We know, in the end, that’s the truth. We know Jesus has the power to do anything that we would want Superman to do. We wanted to parallel Him, our Savior, to an action hero, but in a soft way. The song, with the piano and the cello, gives people something to reflect on.


I noticed a lot of the songs off Searchlightsdealt with the subject of brokenness. Did you guys decide that this subject would be an intentional main theme, and if so, what was the reason for choosing it?

We didn’t really go into the writing process of the songs with a theme in mind. It mainly came out of our experiences with a public high school program called the Seventh Project. We go to schools during the day and give moral education and play a few songs for the kids. Then, at the end of the week, we have a rally and present the Gospel to them. It’s been wonderful, and I feel that working with this program has shaped us as a band. We’ve been writing the songs on Searchlights for the past three years, while working with the Seventh Project and with public high school kids. If there is a theme of brokenness on the record, then it’s really a parallel of the brokenness that exists in public high schools. These songs show what public high schools kids struggle with—things like depression and suicide, which both have a strong influence on high school kids. We named the album Searchlights because it’s kind of like a rescue effort. It’s our heart to help and inspire these kids, to show them that life is worth living, and to show them that God has a plan for their lives. This is the message we want to get across to them. It’s a shame that we can’t talk openly about that during the school hours, but we do get to invite these kids back to the after-school rallies. So Searchlights was born out of our experiences in public high schools.

What was the bands favorite part of recording this project?

[Laughs.] It was probably just watching the quirkiness of our producer, Chris Stevens. We just got a kick out of watching him. He’s a genius when it comes to music, and sometimes people that have such a high IQ level can have some really interesting quirks and personalities. We also got the opportunity to co write some of the songs with some Nashville songwriters and to work with some other producers there. We’re from Texas and we don’t get up to Tennessee much, so to be able to go to Nashville for the first time was a really great experience.

“Confession” is another one of my favorite songs off this project. Can you tell us what inspired the writing of the song?

“Confession” is about realizing that God has a purpose for your life. In ourselves, we are not capable of anything. Basically, we are worthless because we’re prone to selfish desires. The human nature is to take everything for yourself and tear down everyone else around you in the process. You can see that in a very raw way in third world countries where dictators run the countries. We’re very greedy, which is the very root of our human nature. So “Confession” is saying I cannot do this on my own anymore because I’ve realized what’s inside of me. This song comes out of personal experience where I’ve been broken and shed tears realizing that I need to help other people. Like Paul says, “The things I want to do, I don’t do.” This song is a result of that experience, but there’s no real result to the song, other than opening up the topic of saying, “Realize this about yourself and lean on God. Confess to Him.” That’s really what “Confession” is about. It’s about taking that first step.

Can you tell us of any stories, which stand out to you, of a person that was affected by your music or by a certain song?

We have had multiple messages, mainly from young girls, who relate to the song “Hold On.” This is the primary song that people respond to. However, there have been many people, both men and women, who write and say, “That’s my song. Anytime that song comes on the radio it brightens my day and gives me something to hope for.” I can tell you one story about a girl who wrote to us. She said that she was in the middle of searching iTunes to find some music to play while ending her life. She was sitting there at the end of herself and in the most desperate situation that anyone could be in. She confessed that it was self pity—that she was into her situation, which was a very selfish way of thinking. She was searching on iTunes to find a song that would make her feel good about what she was doing and give her some energy to start cutting herself, ending it all. I guess she looked up the name Abandon, thinking that there would be a song by a band named Abandon to help her out with what she was about to do. Then she came across the song “Hold On” and started listening to it. She dropped her razor and felt the presence of God around her. It caused her to stop and rethink what she was doing. She told us, “I just want you to know that this song has given me hope. I’m going to change my life. I’m going to start going to church again for the first time in many years.” That was the most in-depth response to any of our songs.

It’s just amazing how God can work sometimes!

Yes! I don’t know how to describe it! You write a song and hope that it will affect someone’s life. We pray over our music when we’re recording it because music is powerful, and it does have an effect on people like that girl. Music can pull on people’s emotions. We want God to be in this music. You know when David, in the Bible, played music, evil spirits would have to leave because his songs were anointed by God. So I pray over our music, that God will speak through it in a similar way.

If any effect could be placed on the lives of the listeners of Searchlights, what effect would you want that to be?

Mainly, we would want the listeners of this project to get the message of selflessness. If you listen to “Song for the Broken”, it’s a view of what’s going on in our world right now. Live beyond yourself. The name of our band, Abandon, is about that also. The real meaning of the word, according to Wikipedia, is “to leave without the intent of ever returning.” When Jesus said, “Take up your cross daily, and die to yourself,” that impacted me and made me want to do that. But there are so many elements of that verse that we could live out every day. The heart behind all of our music is to live selflessly, to love your neighbor as yourself, and to love God. If you get that out of our music, then we feel like our job is done.


Who has been an inspiration for the band's lives and music?

As far as the sound, we’ve been compared to The Killers. We respect them creatively, as far as music goes. dc Talk was another big influence to all of us growing up. I never got to see them live, which is actually a big disappointment. I really wish I could’ve caught them in concert. I’m originally from Indiana, so I never got out to a show because they were either too far away or I found out about it too late. Both dc Talk and delirious? have made a big impact on us. Being a worship band, we listened to all the cutting edge King of Fools songs. Those are just a few of the bands that have shaped our musical tastes over the years.

What Bible verse or chapter has the band laid its foundations on?

The whole thing. [Laughs] We haven’t really picked a single verse, except for Luke 9:23, which says, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” We believe that the whole Christian lifestyle needs to be based on everything out of the Bible. We’re not those people that say, “The Old Testament is for yesterday. Jesus came and lived only by the words in red.” We believe that Jesus came and fulfilled what was spoken about Him in the Old Testament. I try to be as much of a theologian that I can. I try to study God to find out more about who He is and to get closer to Him as much as I can. You can’t take one part of the Bible away from the other; it’s all inclusive. You can’t pull one thing out or add anything in. Abandon is based on the whole Word of God.

Do you, or do any of the members of the band, have any comments or thoughts of encouragement you would like to leave before we cap off this interview?

Thanks for listening to us. We’re really honored to have so many good things said about us. Every review that I have read about our band is positive. We’re so grateful for the press being nice to us and for people listening to us and taking our music into their homes. So be blessed, love God, and show love to others around you. Share your faith, and be the searchlight. You can own it. You can own the stage. You can be a searchlight. You can help someone else in need and be that helicopter coming in to rescue that person who is drowning. Live as a searchlight.

Thanks so much for taking a little bit of your time to do this interview with NewReleaseTuesday.com Josh! May God use Abandon’s music to shine into the lives of a broken world.

Thank you!

Andrew Funderburks is a fan of a wide range of Christian music including punk, pop and black gospel. His interests include missions, writing songs and drama. He currently lives in Houston, MS.

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