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.