Latin America 2018 

I often talk about sex trafficking from stage.  Sometimes I’ll go months without coming back to the front lines either in Latin America or Southeast Asia.  It’s not that the reality of what I’m talking about becomes less real, but the freshness of my broken heart wears off after time passes.  It is so shocking and so horrifying to be in a conversation where a child is being sold for sex.  It is disruptive to my emotions to be the person pretending to buy a 15 or 16 year old on the street or to be secretly capturing evidence of my friends undercover with The Exodus Road having similar conversations. 

A little over a week ago I was talking to a woman with a girl that looked maybe 12 years old.  The fear in the child’s eyes was obvious.  But the complicated collision of circumstances that put her in this situation must be unraveled if we’re going to be able to help her.  We can’t just run with her.  We have to find a way to prove that someone is controlling her and profiting off her misery.  This is hard to do.  It requires strategy and best practices and the combined effort of a lot of compassionate people.  We don’t want to just rescue her - we want to find out who is pulling the strings behind the scenes so that we can disrupt their operation. 

So we spend time at tables like this one and in rooms like this one.  Strategizing.  Planning.  Learning.  Practicing with our technology so that we can bring our best combined efforts to the front line.









Last week on the street in Latin America I was talking with a girl that might have been sixteen years old.  She leans in and whispers in my ear “¿Quieres que sea tu amigo por la noche? Yo me ocuparé de ti.”  which means “Do you want me to be your friend for the night?  I’ll take care of you.”  She’s a child!  Her makeup fails to cover up her adolescence.  She should be in school but instead she’s offering sex to tourists.  Her perfume is strong.  The area is crowded and the wind is blowing through the palm trees.  There’s armed police there for the purpose of keeping things safe for tourists.  It’s really embarrassing to walk down the street with a young girl - it’s  embarrassing for the girl too.  She sees the way people look at us but this is her life.  And she’ll never know I’m just pretending.  I must do this work with compassion and we also must get evidence that is actionable.  It’s a tight rope walk and it can erode my soul if I’m not careful.  Even if I am careful I guess. 

What would I want someone to do if that was my daughter?  If political circumstances or extreme poverty prevented me giving her options I’d hope there was someone like my friends with The Exodus Road out looking for her.  How do I love my neighbor as myself?  How do I love my neighbor’s daughter as I would my own?  This is how we show love.  We continue to get better at it.  We continue to get more strategic and effective.  We fall short.  We fail.  Communication breaks down and we re-group.  But we’re trying to do a little bit.  Loving one girl at a time.  I can’t afford to worry about the big picture.  I can only do what I can do.  I only have so much power.  But I do have some power.  I do have some privilege.  What will I spend it on?  If I have the ability to do something about this tragedy and I do nothing than what kind of person does that make me? 


There’s plenty of reasons to do nothing.  Fear is one reason.  Fear of danger, of failure or of the obvious liability of this kind of work.  Courage is moving forward in the face of fear.  Another reason would be that ever present and gnawing voice that tells me what I’m doing doesn’t matter.  “There’s millions of girls stuck in this - does it really matter?  Another girl will just take her place”.  I have a hard time drowning out that voice.  I think it’s a more subtle way that the enemy of justice keeps good people from getting involved.  I’m not naive enough to believe we’ll end trafficking in my lifetime.  I hang out with some people that are and in some ways I envy them.  But I do know that I can do something.  I will take small and seemingly insignificant actions with all my strength, heart and mind. 

Photos by @kristenprivett

What Undercover Work Looks Like  

- What does undercover work look like?  

- What does the training look like?

- What's the hardest part? 

- Do you ever tell the girls who you really are?  

These and other questions from Billy Hallowell of Faith Wire in an interview with David Zach about our work with the abolitionist organization The Exodus Road:

Click here:

These products were made by Agape International Mission by survivors of trafficking (and other organizations we partner with) as referenced in the interview.  


A Conversation with Herb Longs from TCB 

First of all, congraulations on the upcoming release of The North Star. Tell us, how long has this record been in the making and what does it feel like to have the finished product ready for release?  

We started recording these songs a year ago in Southeast Asia.  We had some melody ideas and a ton of the lyric written already at that time but most of the lyric was in the form of couplets - little bunches of rhymes without a home.  Some of the lyric started falling into place on tops of buildings within a couple blocks of the red light districts that I’d work at night doing casework with Matt Parker of The Exodus Road.  The way I work lyrically is collecting a bunch of thoughts and turning them into rhymes.  From Psalms or lines from movies and documentaries that move me - or from stuff I read from people I look up to.  Philip, my brother who produced this album, wanted to be able to more accurately tell the story so last January we took our wives on a trip to put ourselves in close proximity with the sorrow and the horror of sex trafficking.  It is from those streets and those jungles that these melodies began the birthing process.   

How would you describe the sound of this record to brand new listeners? And, how does it compare and contrast to your prior work? 

There’s way more lyric on this album than ever before.  I’m reaching back into my early days writing songs 20 years ago.  No need for typical song structure.  In the 90s I listened to a lot of rock that was influenced by hip hop.  Some of my favorite bands from that time period used fast spoken word.  So there’s that hip hop element, combined with my first love of the rawness of the grunge movement but then there’s the electronic element that Philip is so great at.  The nostalgic sounds of the JUNO synthesizer act as a kind of glue between elements that we are borrowing from such opposite genres at times.  This album doesn’t sound as polished as Daylight or Resuscitate.  It’s more interesting than Commodity - it’s more rock and roll than Commodity even.   


Can you give us some insight into your motivation to spotlight human trafficking victims and the anti-slavery movement with this new release as well as prior collections? 

I’m more motivated to use my platform, my melodies, my time and my art to help shine a light on slavery and injustice.  This motivation is amplified by continually being in the presence of enslaved, exiled and marginalized people.  The only way we can do this work is if we stay in love with these precious people.  There’s a desperation in these melodies which comes directly from a desperation in my heart.  I want to see change.  I want to see freedom.  I want to see justice.  My heard aches for justice.  I really want something different for my friend who is being sold night after night.  Her feet are tired.  She misses the simplicity of her former life farming in the countryside.  She misses her mother.  She misses her sister.  I want something else for her than the awful reality of her life stuck here in a brothel at the age of 15 or 16.  I know her story and the story of hundreds of girls and women just like her because I spend a lot of time with these ladies.  My friends work tirelessly in Latin America, India and Southeast Asia with children and women being trafficked across boarders and coerced into the sex trade.  Our team here in the US is amazing and the technology that we’re operating is helping in the fight.  I see what can happen with a song, an album, one voice, five loaves and two fish, one concert, one deployment - seeing the results of those small contributions to freedom and justice have moved me to continue to do what I can to recruit ordinary humans to frontline work.  I’m not just spotlighting the problem of slavery with this music - I’m trying to amplify the voice of the abolition.  I’ve been inspired by human beings that have decided to lay down their life in the service of a Kingdom where the oppressed are cared for, where the exiled are taken in and where the captives are set free.  These songs are a celebration of the rising tide of ordinary people who are not content with looking the other way.    


Can you share some of the most moving experiences you have had on your deployments with the international anti-trafficking organization The Exodus Road? 

I’ve spent the past five years of my life in close proximity with extreme sorrow and suffering.  I am consistently in rooms full of teen age girls that are being sold for sex to men who fly from all over the world to take advantage of them - being sold by men and women who are taking advantage of their extreme poverty.  What moves me is the resilience in the eyes of these girls.  The defiance in the face of their enslavement.  It’s hard to describe it but there is a gleam of hope I get.  These are some of the most gentle souls I’ve ever met.  They are smart but uneducated.  Their high heels are often times too large.  Poor in spirit and full of grace.  Almost all of my time spent with girls in the sex trade has been undercover with the pretense of wanting to purchase them.  A couple months ago I got to go to Cambodia though.  All of Remedy Drive’s t-shirts are being made by survivors of sex trafficking.  This was the first time I got to spend some time talking to girls that have been rescued.  It was really moving and inspiring to me to see them on the other side.   

How would you say your walk with God has developed while writing and recording this new record?  

I think my whole life I’ve been told that a “walk with God” is all about reading and praying.  Something clicked five years ago - technically that’s called a “talk with God”.  The walking part has to do with following the instruction that is so clearly laid out over and over again in scripture - we’re required, by the words of the prophets and the teachings of Jesus Christ, to lay down our lives.  The poor and the oppressed are mentioned 2100 times in scripture but this culture of ours minimizes the instruction of scripture to a mere afterthought.  People say consistently - “what’s really important is your relationship with Jesus” - all that social justice stuff is something he’ll fix when he comes back.  You can’t fix it anyways”.  But then when I read about what God says about what it means to know him it looks like something the prophet Jeremiah said: 

“He defended the cause of the poor and needy, 

    and so all went well. 

Is that not what it means to know me?” 

    declares the Lord.” 

So my walk with the Lord, or my relationship to the King of the universe has become more focused on what Jesus talked about when he talked about his kingdom.  He summed up the whole of the writings of scripture by equating loving God with all your heart with loving my neighbor.  In 2018 our neighbors are looking for freedom from slavery, for clean water, for refuge from exile, medicine and shelter from war.  “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”  It’s so easy to look the other way when someone is literally bleeding in the ditch while we travel on our way to worship as they did in the parable that Jesus gave about the Good Samaritan.   There are about 10 mentions in scripture where God says “I don’t want to hear your prayers or your songs because you shut your ears to the cries of the oppressed”.  I don’t want that to be said of these songs.  Like Frederick Douglass says “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” 

At the same time, when we’re heading into a dangerous situation with The Exodus Road or pretty much every time I’m getting onto a flight, if you were inside of my head you’d hear the ancient words of David the psalmist crying out for protection and guidance to the King.  I’m quite in love with scripture but in the last few years I’ve stopped editing out all the 2100 parts that tell us our religion is a sham if it isn’t about daily taking the cause of the marginalized.   

Were there any songs that were particularly challenging to write or record on this new album?  

There are a lot of questions in the song Sunlight on Her Face.  It’s a song that really bled from my veins.  It’s a conversation with God about his apparent absence in the life of child stuck in prostitution.  It was really hard to write the words “I write a love song for a prostitute”.  It was a hard for my wife to hear me sing that at first and we talked a lot about it.  But then she came with me a year ago to see first hand and we sing that song together.  “She prayed to you but you never came” - that line and a few others sound a lot like my namesake.  A shepherd that became of a king in ancient Israel.  He said a lot of similar things - fortunate for him he had a career in politics to fall back on in case people weren’t comfortable with the questions he raised with his songs.  I’ve got all my eggs in this basket.  We’ve got to write honest songs.  We’ve got to ask hard questions.  God knows that our children are asking the same questions.  God knows the girl that is stuck in a brothel is saying “where are you God?  Why don’t you show up?”.  Maybe he’s just waiting for us humans to start showing up before he moves in the way that we’re all hoping for.   

Which track are you most excited for listeners to hear and why?  

Brighter than Apathy is the best song I’ve ever written lyrically.  There’s a lot of heavy material on this album and a lot of hard things to say.  This song is a celebration of those who are using their time and their talents in arenas of mercy, justice and compassion.  “And when we’re gone - in ages to come the sages will write - so raged the bearers of the light - so waged the few with all their might against the terrors of the night”.   

Are there any plans to tour with the release of the upcoming album? 

We’re putting together quite a few dates for the spring, hitting the festival circuit this summer and we’re in negotiations on some international dates.  I’m also speaking a lot on college campuses about the abolition movement and The Exodus Road.  

The Currency of Our Lives 

We started recording a new album this year.  We recorded at our hotels on the red light streets of Southeast Asia during the day while doing investigations and casework with The Exodus Road into the early morning hours.  Trying to write songs of hope, freedom and refuge against a backdrop of war, slavery and exile.    

Maybe a song can help part the waters in the sea of indifference.  Maybe a melody can be a guide for us to pass through on dry ground.  It was someone else’s songs, someone else’s art, films and quotes from courageous abolitionists of history that pulled me into the modern underground railroad.  And it’s these songs of freedom that I have to offer to the resistance.  These songs of freedom - it’s all I ever had.  We’re going to spend the currency of this rock band on freedom.   

We have our lives.  The currency of our lives.  What if we spend our lives on freedom, on justice, on compassion?  What if you spend the currency of your time, your art, your youth, your platform, your privilege, your moral capital, your creativity, your imagination, your sweat and blood, your camera lens, your paintbrush, on someone else?  

No one else has your fingerprints.  No one else has your voice.  No one else has your sphere of influence.  No one else has your five loaves or your two fish.  Imagine what it could turn into if we were willing to let it go.   

Here’s my time.  My voice.  My song.  My melody.  What if I spend it on freedom - mercy - compassion? 

Maybe we can tear a little corner off the darkness.  Maybe we can keep the darkness at bay.  And then eventually the darkness will be overcome by the light. The corruption, the evil, it simply can’t endure.  By the very nature of corruption, it won’t last. It will crumble, it will turn to powder and dust.   

The light, on the other hand, will last forever.  Your bravery will echo throughout all eternity.  There is an enduring quality to our selfless actions. Something that will outlive us.  Something that will outlive galaxies.  

The goodness, the bravery, the courage, the selflessness. It’s already there inside of you, it exists, you just have to wake it up.  The fear is real, but courage is moving forward in the face of fear, and your bravery will inspire courageous actions in others.  It’s contagious.  Like ripples.  Ripples turn to waves.  As we join the rising tide of ordinary people who won’t look the other way. Speaking up for those whose voice is drowned out.   

We are propelled forward by a strange force—this longing to participate in the freedom of another human being, this purpose, it burns in the deepest chambers of our souls. It’s blue fire in our veins.   It’s woven into the very fabric of our DNA.  It’s tugging at our heartstrings. 

And I know your role in all of this will be different than mine.  Your passion might be directed somewhere else in the arena of justice, or equality, or mercy.  But it could be your life’s work.  And it very well might cost us our lives.   


we have just one life -  

what will we spend it on? 

and when we’re gone 

in ages to come   

the sages will write  

so raged the bearers of the light  

so waged the few with all their might 

against the terrors of the night 

- David Zach 

Brothers reunite to change the world at 110 decibels  

An incredible journey: Brothers reunite to change the world at 110 decibels - Story by Erin Anderson - Lincoln Journal Star 

They use the same words: 





Words that describe the professional rift that became way too personal -- and the riffs that brought brothers David and Philip Zach back together at Philip’s Lincoln music studio. 

David and Philip were two of four brothers that made up the Christian rock group Remedy Drive. A fallout between them led to Philip and brothers Daniel and Paul leaving the band in 2010. 

It was a split that divided the Omaha family beyond repair -- or so the Zachs thought. 

Redemption also defines the work that reconciled David and Philip in a musical mission to educate the world and eradicate the lucrative underworld of sex trafficking. 

After three years without speaking, the brothers collaborated on David Zach’s upcoming Remedy Drive album, “Commodity.” The album is based entirely on David’s undercover experiences in rescuing children and teens from the brothels in Southeast Asia. 

The album comes out Sept. 23. 

But the title song, “Commodity,” has topped Christian music charts all summer long -- 13 weeks to date, seven of those weeks at No. 1. 

On Sept. 7, Remedy Drive, and Philip Zach’s band, Arrows and Sound, will perform on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln East Campus at 7 p.m. The brothers will perform individually with their own bands, as well as together on songs from “Commodity.” 

* * * 

There are many layers -- and many tears -- in the Zach brothers story. 

At its core is family. Mike and Cheryl Zach of Omaha raised six kids -- two daughters book-ending the four boys -- Daniel, David, Philip and Paul. 

In 1995, the brothers formed Remedy Drive. They were teenagers -- Daniel, the oldest, was 17; David was 16, and Philip was 14. Paul, the youngest, joined in 1998, when he was 14. The brothers hit the Christian rock music scene fast and hard. In 2001, they quit their jobs, loaded their gear, their wives and a skeleton stage crew into a van and hit the road. They played 150 shows that first year. Four years later, they were performing 200-plus shows, spending 280 days of the year on the road. 

From handing out fliers to tearing down the stage, they did everything themselves. 

“We just started writing songs because we loved to make music,” David recalled in a telephone interview from his home in Nashville, Tennessee. “We didn’t know the rules, or how it worked.” 

Philip took on much of the scheduling, branding and merchandising. After six years on an independent record label, the brothers signed with Warner Brothers' “Word Records” division in 2008. 

With professional pressures, family and band relations grew more complex -- both good and bad, Philip recalled. 

The men not only grappled with creative differences and stressors, but also brotherly baggage and newlywed hurdles. Relationships became contentious and divisive, Philip recalled. Brothers had to choose between brothers. 

“We tried to fix it by adding more people, but instead of getting easier it got harder,” Philip said. “Simple decisions became massive decisions. 

“David and I were the focal point of the tension. The other two brothers had to take sides, plus there were three wives and a crew on the tour bus with us. We were on the road 280 days a year. If something bugs you one day, every day is the same. One day it became too great.” 

“We just got lost in it all,” said David. 

By 2010, they had eight albums and were performing in concerts here and abroad. 

"Professionally, we were doing great, but on the personal side we were suffering so deeply,” Philip recalled. 

Especially Philip, who in addition to his struggles with sibling David was grappling with scarred vocal cords. He was unable to keep pitch. His voice turned raspy. 

“I could not trust it to hit the notes I wanted it to hit,” Philip said. 

On the advice of doctors who said the issue might resolve itself -- if he didn’t speak at all -- he remained silent for four weeks. 

When that failed, he had surgery, followed by four more weeks of recovery-induced silence. 

When Philip left the band, many assumed it was because of his voice. 

“But the relationship with my brother was the main thing,” he said. 

“Paul pushed us to take a break from each other for our sanity,” David recalled. “He said, ‘In three or four years you will thank me.’” 

Neither David nor Philip believed it. 

“I walked away from my brother, hoping to save our relationship one day,” Philip said. “Watching him (David) drive away to Nashville was one of the greatest moments of failure in both our lives. 

“It was excruciating. I didn’t realize how important that relationship had been. Everything in life was contextualized by it. It defined me,” Philip added. “I hated that I couldn't fix it -- or was too selfish to. The candle was burning at both ends and too broken. … The things we said to each other. I felt it was this unfixable problem. There was no hope in it. Felt it was our last chance to walk away and maybe sometime be friends and brothers again.” 

* * * 

The lone member of Remedy Drive, David moved to Tennessee and found three new bandmates to take the place of his brothers -- Dave Mohr, Corey Horn, and Timmy Jones (who later was replaced by Tim Buell). 

While David pursued performing, Philip turned to recording. After working with a friend at Coda Record House for nine months, Philip opened his own recording studio, The Grid Studio, in downtown Lincoln in 2011. 

“I immersed myself in the fascination of feeling the sounds that move our souls. How it can change the way the body responds to the world around us,” Philip said. “I was fascinating by the ability of sound to make you think about life in a whole different way.” 

In February 2013, Philip released his own album, the self-titled “Arrows and Sound,” which is all about grief, loss and dreams falling apart. 

“It was therapeutic and rewarding,” Philip said of making the album. 

Meanwhile, David embarked on his own journey of redemption. For several years, Remedy Drive had performed benefit concerts for Invisible Children, a group dedicated to raising awareness about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, which has kidnapped children from their villages and forced them to become sex slaves and child soldiers. 

But it wasn’t until David watched the documentary “Kony 2012” that something stirred inside his soul. 

Then daughter Ava, 4 at the time, asked her father: Why not God protect those boys? 

The question is a refrain that plays over and over in his head. 

“I had nothing to say, other than hold her and say ‘I don’t know. I really don’t know.’ 

“It was the beginning of a tug on my heartstrings. What am I really doing? What am I building? I spent 20 years writing songs. I have a nice house, a tour bus, all this sound equipment … but what do I have to show for it? 

”The way I respond to things I don’t understand is to write about them. I started writing lyrics and melodies.” 

Then Matt Parker, founder of Exodus Road, a nonprofit organization dedicated to extracting and rescuing children and young women from sex traffickers, approached David to ask if he would write music alerting people to the plague of sex trafficking and slavery -- an industry with an estimated 27 million humans being bought, sold and bartered in 2014. 

As Parker talked about Exodus Road’s work going undercover in brothels, identifying victims to be rescued and providing the proof to criminally prosecute these sex traders, David had an inspiration. 

“I felt such an urgency to be involved in it. I didn’t just want to take and fund this -- although I do want to fund it -- but I want to help them find freedom,” he told Parker. 

“How can I expect this to happen if it is not real in my life? If it is just something I talk about?” 

He told Parker: “I want to do what you do.” 

The following morning, David told his wife, Anna, of his plan. At first she hesitated. But then agreed. 

“This is our legacy,” she told David. 

He has been to Southeast Asia twice, living with an alias name and a phony story about being an American tourist on a sex vacation. 

Under this pretense and armed with a hidden camera, he meets with madams and mob bosses, sizing up the commodities and brokering for a night of sex -- all in the name of evidence gathering … 

He can swallow his disgust, knowing his ruse will make a difference in a young life. But he struggles to stay in the role when he looks into the eyes of the victims. 

“They see my face as a predator’s. That affected me in a way I wasn’t prepared for,” David said. ”To be sitting next to another human being for sale and having a mamasita (madam) negotiate the price for the girl next to me, and knowing that she (girl) knows what I am there for supposedly … it is so heavy. It is hard to remember that this is justified. Is this going to make a difference? Is there a chance we are really going to rescue this girl someday? 

“Most of the time the answer is no,” David said. “It is devastating.” 

He tells the story of June, a girl no older than 13 sitting beside him in a bar as her madam tries to broker a deal. In keeping with his role, David buys the girls a drink. Most ask for alcohol, but June asks for a soda pop. It breaks David’s heart and reminds him that this girl is a mere child -- not all that much older than his own three children safely home in Nashville. 

That night, he had hoped to help June escape. But the situation quickly turned dangerous when suspicions arose. David and Parker were forced to make a quick exit, leaving June and the other girls behind. 

“It was the hardest thing she never knew and will never know,” David said. “We will never have a chance to tell any of these girls that I was not there to sleep with you.” 

He wrote “The Wings of the Dawn” for June. 

“I was imagining what she would sing if she could sing,” David said. 

* * * 

David’s heart was tender for strangers a world away, but his heart was hard when it came to Philip. They didn’t speak, except for an accidental slip during family functions. 

“My son was always asking to listen to Uncle Phil’s album,” David recalled. 

But the older brother resisted until one day he could no more. 

Thinking back, David said it was probably the first time he really listened to Philip’s music and heard it through a professional ear. 

“I realized Phil is really good at what he does,” David said. 

He discovered a newfound respect. And he approached Philip with a crazy notion: Maybe they could work together on his new concept album “Commodity” -- an album all about justice, freedom and redemption. 

Everybody warned the brothers not to do it. 

But David and Philip figured they didn’t have much to lose. 

“For some reason I thought there was just enough chance, just a glimmer for the potential of redemption, and for whatever reason the risks were worth it to me,” Philip said. 

They shared ideas back and forth. David sent demos. 

“It was the first time since 1999/2001 that I was creatively dreaming with my brother without an ounce of tension,” Philip said. 

David came to Lincoln to record. He remembers the night he picked up the mandolin and began playing, and Philip put a beat to the music. 

“We were collaborating in a way we had never collaborated before,” David said. “It was a close working relationship that bled between the music and notes. It was magical. You could feel and sense the magnitude of what we were accomplishing.” 

Philip called it amazing. 

“Something happened, something in the room that was hugely powerful about what we made. There was this sense, not just him and me, but something else soaking and saturating (the room) -- grief, loss, triumph, joy … everything we had been through together was present as we explored sound together.” 

After 20 years in the business, David said this moment was the first time he ever felt true success. 

“Commodity” is not just an album. It’s about real people, Philip said. Real people his brother has met and hoped to save. Stories David shares with the world in stereo at 110 decibels a night. 

“As I sat with my brother and wrote, there was this momentous feeling that we are doing something important,” Philip recalled. 

“Everything we had been through was built for this purpose. For this piece of art that can hopefully help these girls all over the world.” 


“If you say something is unfixable, it can be fixed,” Philip said. “This has given me hope for the planet and given me hope for redemption.” 

On a smaller scale, David said he hopes others will see a path to reconciliation, too. 

“And I hope that someone who is going through something like this reads this and will have hope. Because there was not hope for us,” David said. 

Until there was redemption. 


Music Times Interview 

Here's an interview I did with a great lady named Kim Jones of Music Times.  We ended up talking for an hour on the phone about human trafficking and the fight against it. 

"Remedy Drive's song, "Commodity," has spent six weeks at #1 and the story behind it has already made the rounds. In this exclusive interview, David Zach goes deeper into why he is so passionate about human trafficking and doing something to stop it. 

Kim Jones - Human trafficking has become a buzz word in the media, but many people really have no concept of what it is or where it happens. How did you personally go from seeing it in the news to actually taking a trip with The Exodus Road to see it up close and personal? 

David Zach - My first attachment to the injustice to children was watching the Kony 2012 video where boys are kidnapped from their villages and then brainwashed to fight a war for an insane warlord. We had been doing benefit concerts to raise awareness on this issue with a group called Invisible Children over the last 5 or 6 years. But when I watched that video my heart was moved in a significant way to get in the fight. It was then that I started writing a lot more lyric specific to injustices towards children and wanting to get in the fight but being scared to. I met with Matt Parker from The Exodus Road. He has 3 kids just like I do. I realized when we were meeting that if I'm going to have any impact calling people to action - real action on the front lines - then I need to be on the front lines myself. Awareness and advocacy are important - but I want to multiply action - so I asked if I could be trained as an undercover operative and join him and Delta Team (the Southeast Asia branch of The Exodus Road) on covert missions into the darkness. 

Kim Jones - There are so many NGO's (non-governmental organizations) that work within the international trafficking community, what was it about The Exodus Road that drew you into a partnership with them? 

David Zach - The majority of the emphasis with NGO's that I've seen is either rehabilitation and restoration after a victim is rescued or awareness and prevention before someone is taken captive. There is a massive deficit in the NGO community of groups that are actually going in and facilitating rescue. Rescue doesn't mean anything if we don't have great partners in our coalition that we can work with to restore dignity and hope to a victim - but I believe in rescue and that is where my heart was pulled. It's more dangerous and it has a higher level of exposure to things no one wants or should see. Once I started to see the infrastructure and vision of what The Exodus Road is doing I was drawn more and more to leverage everything I've built in 14 years of making music and touring - to support them and tell the story of the brave operatives that are empowering rescue. 

Kim Jones - When you went on your trip with them, I know that you mentally and spiritually prepared yourself - but what did you encounter that you absolutely were not prepared for? 

David Zach - There was nothing that I encountered that I was prepared for. You can't prepare yourself for what it feels like to sit with a 13 year old that's for sale. I had to pretend to be someone interested in sleeping with a minor and for many people that I met - that's all they know of me (even though I went under an alias). The other thing that was hard is seeing footage and surveillance of gangs that are trafficking 8 year old boys by motorcycle. And then being on a mission to find out more about the traffickers by waiting at a place where they frequent for lunch. Seeing this guy 10 feet from me that I know is such an agent of evil - that was pretty strange. But we got his address that day and we found out more about his network. Riding on a motorcycle taxi on the wrong side of the road - that was the scariest part. More scary than walking into a place with mafia security etc. Those motorcycle taxi drivers are crazy. 

Kim Jones - I know that there are things you can never un-see - the things that can haunt your dreams. Is there one story, one young face that you will never forget? 

David Zach - Her name is June and I remember her better than most of the other girls I met because it's easy to remember her name - my birth month. I know that you can't just break down the door and run out with a victim but that night my heart couldn't make sense of it. I wanted to just take her hand and run - but instead we had to leave her there in that karaoke bar on the outskirts of a major city in Southeast Asia. What made it worse is I had to get in a taxi to the airport, then fly to Japan and then to Denver and then back home. And she's still there enduring that hell night after night. 

Kim Jones - Now that you truly know the horrors of human trafficking, how do you come home and tour (or even be off the road, at home, being "normal") knowing that many of the people you see every day have no clue what horrors could be right down their own street and often, don't want to know? In other words, how do you not just want to grab people and shake them, yelling "Wake up! This could happen to YOUR child! This isn't just a 'boogie man under the bed' story?" 

David Zach - Ha. I don't grab people by the shoulders - but I play rock music at 110dB and tell June's story over and over - night after night. I'm going to challenge everyone that hears our songs or reads these interviews to reevaluate this sub-culture of ours that cares so much about redecorating our places of worship that we spend a mere hour or two at per week. That's where we're sending our precious 10%? For comfortable well designed sanctuaries with overpriced sound systems that can't even exceed 95dB? It's like buying a Lamborghini for the congregation but then not driving more than 35 mph. Maybe we should spend our treasure, our time, our influence, our intellect on sanctuary for the oppressed. Maybe we should invest our lives on something much more valuable than our comfort and our security. Who decided that christianity should be safe for the whole family? I don't believe it. It's time, as MLK Jr. said, to live with a dangerous selflessness. I aim to call the righteous out of indifference. If a songwriter from Nebraska can carve out a couple weeks to Southeast Asia to be trained as an undercover operative - what can you do? I can't afford a two week vacation with my wife and kids this summer because this is what we're investing our time off into. And we're doing the same next year. And my kids wonder if I'll make it back when they dropped me off at the airport. "They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and they loved not their lives even unto death." 


Rescue is Coming  

i was in southeast asia with the exodus road for a good portion of this month. 

i met a girl last week whose name was june and two of her friends - we sat at a table together and i bought her friend a drink.  these girls were being offered to us for around $60 each and they barely seemed to be 13 years old.  it was this odd dimly lit room where karaoke was being sung in a language i didn't know.   june's eyes were really pretty - she was probably 95 pounds and she barely would look at me - her smiles were forced and it was obvious she didn't want to be there with us.  the operative from the exodus road's delta team was able to gather evidence of the negotiation with the girls' handler and then in a rush we had to pay for our drinks and get out of the place because he felt things were no longer safe for us to stay there - while i was fumbling with the money to pay a group of four scary looking guys came in the back entrance.  the adrenaline of just being in that spot - the strangeness of pretending to be the very thing i despise - the heavy tropical air - and the fear i had at being discovered -  i didn't sleep that night except for a bit in a taxi that smelled like curry and a bit more at an airport.  i couldn't get the reality of what i had just seen and been part of out of my mind.  and i still can't one week later.  those baby girls are still there - somewhere in southeast asia - being sold against their will.  i am haunted by her beautiful eyes that should be innocent at her age but have seen indescribable cruelty. 

i spent 10 days in several cities and the countryside of southeast asia shadowing matt parker of exodus road and the coalition of remarkable human beings that have made rescuing children from sex trafficking their focus in life.  i sat in on meetings where matt gave high tech gear (like james bond type stuff) to the head of an anti-trafficking police unit - these units are underfunded and understaffed and this particular officer was like a kid in a candy store - not just to get the equipment, but to have the support and the help in the investigations.  that equipment was provided by funding that came through the exodus road.  i heard the high level officer talk in specifics about different rescues and raids where the equipment helped.  i was in a couple of safe houses funded by the exodus road that are used to have meetings (away from the danger of corrupt law enforcement overhearing the rescue plans sand surveillance operations).  i got to see case files from delta team on a bunch of traffickers and rings of pedophiles and was sworn to secrecy about the identities of the operatives and specifics about the tactics used to gather intelligence. 

at one point i got to be a "trigger" (still not sure what that word means in this context) for a surveillance mission on a network of guys that are using southeast asia as a place to do crimes against children.  even though i wasn't in any danger, when the guy walked into the restaurant we were at, my heart was pounding in my chest because i recognized him from the photos pinned to the wall at the safe house , and for the first time the realization sank in that i'm doing something, something very very small, but something that is going to contribute to taking this guy off the street and maybe even protecting a child from his evil intentions. 

and yet who am i?  i've spent the last fifteen years of my life chasing my dream and my rock band just trying to write songs that are meaningful.  a month ago i'd never even been to asia - the only places i've traveled to are germany and the netherlands for concerts - but now here i am on the other side of the world, participating in something, in a very small way, but still participating in something that i believe will contribute to pushing back this evil.  before last month i'd never been in a brothel in my life but matt took me into at least 30 brothels in an effort to identify underage girls being sold, potentially trafficked from poor farming communities and villages in the hills down into the commercial sex industries of the major cities - hidden inside the clubs, out of view from the mainstream.  these places i was in are places i'd never want my daughters to know i've been to - and yet matt has been in over 800.  and he says it's because good men aren't going into these places that the forces of evil are able to operate with such impunity.

but i'm only one person - and looking up at the stars on the other side of the planet i felt like the smallest thing in the world - up against this force of darkness and oppression that goes so deep.  it's so complicated.  what can i do?  i'm just a songwriter from nebraska.  but there i was trying to sleep in the red-light district of one of the biggest centers for forced prostitution in the world.  trying to sleep at a hotel that they rent by the hour.  i put a shirt over the pillow case and wore a hoodie over my head.  but i didn't really sleep that night either.  thanks in part to the terrible cover band across the street from our hotel that played till 3am.  i feel so small under the starlight.  it feels like the fight isn't making any difference but i can see the lights floating out in the distance.  i can hear the bright notes over all the dissonance.  can i make a dent in this?  is there any hope for change?  will the righteous rise again from indifference?  maybe we can take back these daughters from the heartless - maybe we can tear a little corner of the darkness. 

the reason i went to southeast asia is because i want to be able to help raise awareness using the small platform i have with my band and whatever other influence i have.  i'm talking about it to other parents at baseball practice, on airplanes, after concerts and train rides.  but once i was over there i realized i don't want to just talk about it.  tomorrow morning i'm going to write a red x on my hand and on the hands of my babies before they go to school.  because i think that a red x will help shine a light on slavery.  but i think it takes a whole lot more than a red x to made lasting systemic change in the lives of the oppressed and this system of oppression that is so prevalent today.  i hear about a kingdom where the oppressed are found and the captives are set free.  i want to figure out how to be part of that kingdom today.   i believe in what the exodus road is doing, i've seen it first hand and i intend on returning as often as i can between tours and recording.  and i would love for you to help us rescue these children.  justice is in the hands of the ordinary.  rescue is coming! 

i'm dreaming of a sweet sound of liberty - a railroad underground to deliver me - 

i'm a soul inside a body - i'm not a commodity - no - untie me i've gotta be let go

David Zach - 2014

The Story Behind Making a Counter Trafficking Album 

This is a transcript of an interview between me and my friend Francesca Torquati.  She's always been great at helping me gather my thoughts.  We had this interview in the studio while recording songs from Remedy Drive's new concept album on counter trafficking and freedom called Commodity.   

—As I sat down to ask these questions a metronome clicked in the background, pieces of the half-finished songs from Commodity found their way under the door from Philip’s workspace so that the air was full of this ambient noise of distortion and incomplete melodies while we spoke, and David knelt down beside me and spoke slowly, pensive, taking his time to say what needed to be said— 

On approaching Philip: 

“I started listening to the Arrows and Sound record when he put it out and my son started asking for song number 5 all the time and he’s always asking and my daughter would say ‘hey can we listen to uncle Phil’s album?’ …and the more I listened to it the more I realized, man, Phil has some talent. He really knows how to pull out emotion through all these, these sonic landscapes.” 

“He always had it, but I never gave him space when we were in the band together. And I realized actually, when we were working on Jack’s birthday cake, that man if me and Phil can just kind of divide and conquer and not both try to do the same thing at the same time we would actually be pretty good collaborators because he made Spiderman and I made the walls that Spiderman was climbing on for Jack’s birthday cake,” (this was a year and a half ago) 

Do you have favorite songs, ones that speak to you more in different ways? 

“There’s three that stand out, Commodity, you know, is so personal to me, and so, and it’s so mean and so compelling when Phil and I stumbled upon this bass sound and it just kind of rumbles through, it just captivates me and it almost casts a spell over me. And then another one is Under the Starlight, and on that one, both of those songs, two years of lyric ideas that everyone told me I couldn’t use got stored away and all of them got put into those two songs, and most of the lyric broke my heart—from articles about boy soldiers or articles about child trafficking and there’s little lines that I pulled out of movies and quotes from articles…so those two, but then Take Cover was a song that, I knew it was a great song, and I was too scared to find a lyric for it because I knew the melody was perfect—and the melody just came out of thin air one day—I sat down and it just came out in 30 seconds and there’s this melody and then I was almost too, I didn’t feel like I could find words for it, so it took me forever and then one day the words just came.” 

What day? 

“I don’t remember the day but it was, it was a day that I’d been reading a lot about these boys in the 90’s in Liberia that were forced into battle.” 

Who are the songs for, who does the album belong to, in that sense? 

“I want the songs to belong to anybody that feels like they’ve been taken advantage of, or oppressed or diminished. Anybody who’s felt like they’re under some kind of control of someone else, some sort of selfish structure that would take our essence and would squeeze out our souls and drain us of our vitality, and hopefully this album is a place for us to acknowledge that that is the dark reality of existence at this point of history, but also hopefully that acknowledgement will be a sort of freedom for any of us that have dealt with that sort of oppression. And, in acknowledging it, but also moving towards hope.” 

The night you recorded Commodity? 

“Well I had been messing around with changing the last line of the second verse, and my dad had told me, he had read from a psalm to me earlier that day, this line that I remembered when I was a kid but I hadn’t thought of it in a long time and it was ‘the sides of the north, the city of the king,’ and so I moved some lyric around and got rid of a lot of lyric so I could say ‘carry me on six wings to the sixth rung on the sides of the north in the city of the bright ones’ and no one had really—it was time to record and I hadn’t really shared it with Phil yet, but I don’t know, it just felt like there was this sense of urgency and sense of purpose to the song being recorded. The whole band was here, me and Phil were here, and there was just this sort of eerie, eerie, haunted, beautiful thing happened where all of us were almost in tears and it was, we all knew that what we were doing was bigger than ourselves, that moment was bigger than anything we could try to come up with on our own, there was an inspiration and there was a muse and there was an importance that was beyond us.” 

You tried to get Commodity on Resuscitate and couldn’t, is it relieving that it has a home now? 

“I think it wandered like a ghost for the two years that it was put on the back burner, but it was still so deep in me, that idea, and even more so because it was a lyric that I was told wouldn’t work, or couldn’t work, or shouldn’t be said, and that it was not positive, it wasn’t encouraging, it wasn’t…so for me to reinvent it, you know I tried to find a home for it several times in three or four different versions of the song and all of them were trying to be a different song—some of them felt too much like Daylight, some of them felt too much like a ballad, and then this chord progression came out of nowhere. It’s not a new chord progression, you know I’ve used it before, a ton of people use this chord progression, but it was just so, it just wrote itself the fourth time around.” 

Why do you think the songs are just coming to fruition now? 

“Sometimes I think that whether or not we know it, it’s time for this album. It’s time for songs of freedom protesting oppression, protesting humans being taken advantage of, a counter-trafficking album, an underground railroad album, it’s time for that to be heard. And I don’t know how many people are going to hear it, but when people hear it it’s going to move our hearts. My dream is that it moves hearts the way that so many beautiful pieces of art have moved my heart and all that inspiration from other artists, I think Philip did such a good job at helping capture that…there’s a story of Phil and myself, the story of child soldiers, the story of girls and boys being trafficked in Southeast Asia, that story is finding it’s way into the melody, in between the notes and in the quiet spaces between the lyric and the beat.” 

What did you learn in the last two years to make you want to go independent again? 

“Well, the biggest thing that I’m scared of is trying to write something that I think somebody wants me to write. You don’t necessarily solve that by being independent because as an artist you want to be true, you want to be honest, you want to tell your own story and tell someone else’s story, but you also can’t help but think about how it’s going to be heard and whether or not someone’s going to understand it so there’s so much pressure on my part to play it safe all the time now. I have a family to feed, I have melodies that I want people to enjoy and I want to get them to people through radio, you know, I want the songs to be liked, but I realized at one point that if I’m just editing myself for the sake of editing myself to try to make a certain subgroup of the population happy, then I’m never really going to be free myself—and how can I sing about freedom if I am subjecting myself to a squeezing of my soul and a diminishing of my art, a diminishing of the words and the melodies that I feel compelled to write?” 

But what do you do with that fear? When you make the art, what do you do with that fear about your family and the future? 

“At some point I think, in this day and age, when there is more and more honest songs being written, the only risk is to not take a risk. And going independent and counting on our community and our friends and our family and the network of people we’ve met over the last decade making music for a living, that’s a road that I’m willing to take a gamble on because I believe people want to hear where I’m at in life and they don’t want it to be watered down, they don’t want me to dilute the blood that I’m bleeding for the sake of you know, some censorship. I don’t want that from any art that I pay attention to, so why would anybody want that from us?” 

Why Exodus Road? 

“Well I had just finished writing this whole record on children being taking advantage of, children being oppressed, boys on the front lines of conflict in Africa, and girls in the dark corners of the red light districts around the world and a counter-trafficking organization called Exodus Road just reached out to me out of the blue and I was so excited. I met with them and when I was sitting there with them you know you feel as an artist that your job is to use your platform and their job is to go do the hard work, but in that meeting with them I realized how can I represent freedom, from the stage, and talk about how it’s important for us to live as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says with a ‘dangerous selflessness,’ how can I ask that of the people I’m singing to and challenging and trying to inspire if I’m not living with a dangerous selflessness? And I felt compelled, I felt pulled, literally like—compelled—to be part of it.” 

If you could, what would you want to tell June? 

—large intake of breathe— “I’d want her to know, first, that I wasn’t there to sleep with her. I would want her to know I wasn’t there to take advantage of her, because that’s what she thinks to this day, that we were there to purchase her. I would want her to know that I think she’s valuable, and that she’s beautiful, inside of her soul there’s a beauty. And I’d want her to know that she’s not helpless, she’s not hopeless, but sometimes I’m not sure I even believe that myself. Because the magnitude, just in that one country alone that I was in, the magnitude of this evil is too much. It’s accelerating and even though we’re just kind of rising to an awareness about it here in 2014, it hasn’t stopped accelerating, it’s not slowing down because a few people put a red ‘X’ on their hands, it’s moving forwards and I would want, you know in the romantic fairy tale sense, I would want to tell her I’m gonna come back for her, but I’ll never know where she ended up, you know?” —voice cracks on second “I would want” toward the end here— 

When you realize how big the trafficking situation is, how do you maintain hope? 

—uncomfortable laughter after first sentence—“I don’t maintain hope. I have so many questions for why it is the way it is. Why does the king of the universe allow this, why doesn’t he do something about it? Where is he on the streets of Southeast Asia.  I know it’s happening even worse in Brazil and in South America and all over the world—where is the king of the universe? And these children, there’s nobody that’s less protected and nobody that’s more vulnerable than these children that are 5 and 6 and 7 years old or these girls that are 13. But the way that I maintain hope is that I met people. I met heroes. I met girls that teach yoga and do the hair of these girls that are ready to go out on the street that night, saves them that much money, maybe saves them having to sell themselves one time that week to meet their quota. I met a guy, one of the few straight cops in the country that I was in, that’s not taking bribes, and as a result he’s doesn’t make a lot of money but he has a facility for forty kids and I got to hang out with those kids and seeing him gave me hope and seeing these selfless operatives that put their lives at risk every day, that gave me hope too. And seeing other people like myself, just ordinary people giving up a couple weeks of their time to go do undercover spy work on the other side of the world, normal people with normal day jobs, that’s the way they spent their vacation for that year, playing, pretending to be somebody else in Southeast Asia.”

Refugees at a Germany Concert  

We got to spend time in Germany with refugees from Syria, Eritrea and Iran. 

Karin and Wilfried Rauscher, the organizers of the Balinger Rock Festival, not only invited 150 refugees to the festival but gave the ones that came backstage VIP access.  This display of hospitality was the most impactful part of my trip to Germany.  Their entrance to the event was free from the suspicion and uninformed bias that they might be used to – rather, they were greeted as the guests of honor. 

Philip and I had the privilege of spending some time in their company.  We ate.  We talked about food from the mid-east, soccer and rap music. 

And then we listened to the heartbreaking stories of families having to flee for their lives from war torn regions.  Of plastic rafts and mass drownings in the Mediterranean Sea.  We listened to the stories of the immense hardship these displaced people must go through in order to eventually find safe harbor and sanctuary among the German people – a nation that is sacrificing so much to literally save the lives of people that would die without a place to go. 

And there – sitting in the south of Germany with Muslims and Christians, Germans, Americans, Syrians, Persians and Eritreans – I couldn’t help but think how the very thing we were engaged in was, in a way, a silent protest against the dark powers that would try to prevent this integration. 

Reichs come and go. 

As do Caliphates, borders, walls, prejudice, terror, democracies and demagogues. 

On the other hand 

Das Reich des Königs hält ewig. 

The King’s Kingdom lasts forever. 

I feel like Karin and Wilfried’s actions represented the King’s Kingdom.  And those actions will last forever.  As will the actions of so many hospitable German people impacting the lives of these precious people that have been through so much.  “I was a stranger and you took me in”. 

We won’t stop playing concerts because of Bataclan in Paris.  We won’t stop flying overseas because of what happened in Brussels or Turkey this week.   We won’t stop using our voice to speak for those that can’t speak for themselves, to plead the cause of the oppressed and the displaced.  Hope’s not giving up.

David Zach - March 2016