There’s nothing like the cavity-inducing sound of pop music blasting from the radio to make you ponder if rock is truly dead. After all, if the life of music is directly correlated to the number of plays per hour a DJ spins, then rock would be buried six feet under next to your old cassette tapes and memories of a MTV that actually played music. It’s a bittersweet pill to swallow, and no place is feeling the after-effects of this pop-laced medication harder than Atlanta. With venues being replaced for condos and radio stations switching from Slipknot to Justin Bieber, Atlanta has become a Hell on Earth for the rock aficionado. Airwaves rain fire and brimstone in the form of Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift songs. However, while most aspiring bands have retreated to the safety of the underground scene, hard rock band Bridge To Grace has risen from the ashes in hopes of bringing life back to a starving scene.
Formed in 2012, this four-man band has built a strong, solid following through infectious hooks, melodious chords, and an ambitious tour schedule. It’s a task that, at times, can be grueling, but success doesn’t happen overnight and patience is a virtue needed to make it in this line of profession. It’s a tale the band knows all too well, having spent the past three years recording their debut album, Origins, which dropped August 2015, much to the delight of eagerly awaiting fans. “We hope that people take it that there’s always something to strive for,” says the band’s guitarist, Alex Cabrera. “Even when you’re at the bottom, there’s always a silver lining.”
In this interview with Music Existence, Bridge To Grace gave us a very in-depth look into the harsh realities of today’s rock scene, the creative magic behind an album three years in the making, the qualities of what makes a single a foot vs. a toe, and exactly what they thought of the Slipknot-Justin Bieber “Psychosocial-Baby” mash up.
ME: Well, since your debut album recently came out, I want to congratulate you on that.
(BTG: Thank You)
ME: It definitely seems to have been a long journey to get to this point. Looking back now, when did it really hit you that Bridge To Grace was going to be the reality you’d dreamt it would?
DAVID: I think I realized it the first day I heard the music Christian and Alex were creating. They had created five songs in the studio, and they had a singer who had just quit. I got a phone call pretty much the next day saying, “Hey, check out this music and see what you think about it.” So, I personally saw it going somewhere amazing the first time I heard it.
ALEX: I can definitely say when I heard David’s voice on the music, I thought, ‘Yeah, this is the real deal stuff right here. Like, ok, we can make this a band!’ (Laughs)
JUSTIN: I think I figured it out last night, actually. (Laughs) No, but really, David played me this stuff that he went in and recorded with them, and me and David were in a band together at the time. I think we both knew, which is why we broke up the band we were in at the time. He was in the band for like, what, eight years or something like that. I was in it for a year or so before that and was with a touring band for four years before that, so we’d been doing this for a while. I think you kind of know if there’s something there, so I think we all knew right when those first five songs got recorded.
ALEX: And as we started playing shows, we practically knew. Everything just clicked.
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, I was going to say that the first show was when I thought it could really be something good because you never know how the onstage chemistry will be until you’re onstage, and onstage chemistry is a lot of it. It worked out pretty well for us.
ME: David and Justin, you two mentioned that you’d had previous experiences with bands, so how did those experiences compare to being in Bridge To Grace?
DAVID: Honestly, with them being younger than me and Justin, the work ethic was different. They didn’t really know what it was all about, and I’m not downing them at all, but literally, they learned it like that! They picked up on the professionalisms and started figuring out what separates the men from the boys in a real band versus a garage band. They picked it up really, really fast as far as a transitional period and making it work goes. It was awesome. Like Christian said, when we all got on stage for the first time, we all were like, “This is it.”
CHRISTIAN: It was over.
(The band laughs)
DAVID: Yeah, this is it!
JUSTIN: There were a few things where you could tell that we were a new band, but for having never played a show, it was pretty badass.
ME: So you knew instantaneously, pretty much?
(The band agrees)
JUSTIN: I think the main thing that was different for us joining the band was this band had one common goal, which is to write the best songs we can and be the best band ever versus being the best artist ever. I was always in a band where someone was always kind of in it for themselves. I don’t know how to describe it, but everyone in this band definitely works very well together; there are no egos or none of that crap in this band.
DAVID: There’s less competition with us, it seems, as compared to other bands from the past.
ME: As musician from Atlanta, how has your home city influenced you as a band? I mean, Atlanta really isn’t known for its rock scene.
ALEX: Yeah, Atlanta is really rough right now with rock music. There’s no active rock station, and our biggest rock venue, The Masquerade, is closing in September. It’s pretty depressing, and that’s were we played a lot because we knew the owner very well. It’s sad because I’ll definitely say when a big show comes to The Tabernacle, the rock fans are still there. They’ll still sell out a show.
CHRISTIAN: The fans are there, and they’re just starving because it seems like the city is trying to shut them down.
ME: Strange. If the demand is still there then why close down these venues?
ALEX + CHRISTIAN: Apartments.
JUSTIN: It’s just the part of town they’re in.
ALEX: They’re trying to build these condos, but places like The Dive Bar, which is an underground, kind of alternative, punk-ish place, the thing is with that kind of music, that’s what they want to do. They want to play in those places; they don’t want to get bigger. So, there’s really no radio support in the city, which is why the active rock channel just – poof – one day it disappeared and Justin Bieber started playing.
CHRISTIAN: It went from Slipknot to Justin Bieber, and we were like, “What!?” (Laughs) No one knew, and everyone was commenting about it on social media. I thought it was like a prank, but no, it was over. There was no warning. I think because they knew it was going to be an uproar, but it was seriously from Slipknot’s “Psychosocial” to Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend.” Which is funny now because there is this Slipknot-Bieber remix out now, which I think is awesome.
ME: Because rock has really been pushed out of the mainstream, it seems to force musicians to be more innovative in their ways since they can’t really rely on radio play to gain exposure. What did Bridge To Grace do to set themselves apart from other bands in the area?
ALEX: Touring. It’s been a really big help for us getting to play any place we can to get our names out because we never say no to a show.
CHRISTIAN: We spent a really long time in the beginning just constantly working on our live show because we’ve all gone to shows and seen bands that were terrible live. We wanted to be a band that makes you go, “Oh damn,” that’ll make you start paying attention. I think that’s the most effective way to do it: tour smart and give a good show that makes people want to see you again.
JUSTIN: And we knew right away that branding was important, so we have a BTG logo, and I think that most people are starting to recognize it and eventually, it’ll be associated with Bridge To Grace.
ALEX: It’s like when you see a band’s stamp all over town. It’s just all about getting out there, like he said, because the buzz in Atlanta was huge for us for the fact that we were out there doing it. It’s why you don’t hear about a lot of Atlanta bands, because not a lot of bands go out and do it. I can think of like two or three that are actually touring full time.
DAVID: There’s also a lot of bands out there that are trying to do the whole touring and branding thing, but what I’ve noticed is, not hating on anyone at all, but there are so many bands out there that just don’t have the songs. They don’t invest all their time in making each line as “hook-y” as possible. It’s like, so many bands try to get famous so fast, but you gotta focus more on your craft and build your foundation first.
ALEX: We took a long time doing that – three years. In 2016, we’ll have been a band for four years, so it’s definitely about being patient. We took a whole year-and-a-half long break just practicing.
ME: And so the advice for other bands in Atlanta trying to do the same thing would basically be to leave the city?
(The band laughs)
ALEX: I would say if you’re really going to do it and do it full time, you gotta definitely be patient because it’s all patience in this business. Nothing happens overnight not matter how many times you’ve been told, “Look at this overnight-success.” That’s bullshit. You definitely gotta get out there and tour in order to be a rock band. If you have the radio behind you than that’s definitely a smart thing, but in Atlanta, yeah, I guess you have to go outside of the city to get radio play.
DAVID: You’re going to eat ramen noodles. You won’t have air-conditioning. You’re not going to shower.
JUSTIN: You’d think the best job in the world would be to be a rock star, but you have to pay a lot of dues for that, and it still might not happen. It’s the only thing you’re going to spend all this money and time on, and, like, you can go to school or whatever, and you will get a degree, but we might not….(laughs)
ALEX: Being in a band is day 1: let’s see what happens; day 2: we have no idea what’s going to happen. You definitely gotta develop a thick skin and a lot of patience.
ME: Your debut album, Origins, has been in the making pretty much since the band’s inception three years ago. In what ways does this record reflect the growth of the band?
ALEX: I would say this album is a perfect representation of the band’s beginning. That’s why I think the name Origins was perfect for it because it’s the collection of the first three years of the band’s life. You can definitely hear some of the stages of the band’s life throughout all 17 songs because 17 songs are a lot for an album.
CHRISTIAN: It really highlights the building blocks of what this band really is because a lot of these songs started out a long time ago, before the band even started. The ideas where there, and then we all came together and connected them.
JUSTIN: We all had the same dream, like, 10 years ago, even when we didn’t know each other.
(The band laughs)
JUSTIN: Some of the songs had ideas that I had on guitar a long time ago too, before we all knew each other. David came in with the progressions that we now use for “Jump Around.” It was definitely a melting pot, and this is definitely what this album is.
ME: While the album tells the story of the band’s overall journey, the theme itself seems to reflect a sense of hope within darkness – how does this theme tie into the band’s origins?
ALEX: I think it’s depressing a lot of the times being in a band. There are a lot of dark times because you’re basically wearing your heart on your sleeves every time you go out there. And when people don’t show up to shows, you’ve very vulnerable. We hope that people take it that there’s always something to strive for. Even when you’re at the bottom, there’s always a silver lining.
CHRISTIAN: I definitely think it’s easier to write darker songs than happier ones. Everybody’s got some sort of crazy issue within themselves, and it’s always easier to feed off of that and write off those emotions. It’s a much stronger, demanding emotion that takes more of a toll on the body and mind, and it’s the first thing that comes out because it’s always pushed towards the front.
DAVID: What’s funny too is that the music is dark, and the lyrical context can be dark too, so that’s what makes it interpreted as even more dark. Then you have pop singers like Taylor Swift wiith “Bad Blood.” I mean, that’s not a very positive song, but the beat is catchy, so you’re just sitting there dancing around. It’s really just the delivery of it, really.
ALEX: The production is like that too because sometimes one of us will have a melody and it will sound a little less dark, and then the producer will be like, “Not dark enough! That’s too ‘Pop-y! I want to feel the pain!’”
(The band laughs)
CHRISTIAN: I feel a lot of the time rock music gets taken as dark just because there are guitars in it.
DAVID: And they have tattoos, and wear black, and probably evade taxes. They think they’re so hardcore.
(The band laughs)
ME: And speaking of image, one thing that really struck me about the album itself was the artwork. Usually, as a debut album, a band will have their image on the cover – this is who we our; this is what we look like – yet, you all chose to use building blocks of life, our origins. Was that intentional on your part?
ALEX: Actually, the compound on the front is for dopamine, so it really ties into the dark theme of the album, of numbing yourself.
CHRISTIAN: As soon as we posted it, we were talking to each other saying we gotta make sure we know what this is. One of us was like, “Nobody’s gonna know!” And the first comment on the picture was, “Oh, this looks like this, but I can’t tell because I can’t see the whole chemical structure. Dammit, Facebook.”
JUSTIN: We had a bunch of different ideas for the album, and this is the one we thought was really cool. We always have so many ideas, so narrowing it down to just one always takes a while.
ALEX: We’re weirdo, so I think if it was just us deciding, it wouldn’t nearly be as cool; we have to have other people decide for us.
ME: During the production of the album you were able to work with some pretty influential individuals. Having had no real production experience before this, what did you take away from your time in the studio?
JUSTIN: I think this time in the studio we really learned to push ourselves. It’s about getting out of your box, and that’s what a producer is supposed to do. There were a lot of times where there were arguments in the studio. Not like personal, but for the sake of improving the song. It was cool being in there because I think when you have an idea, all four of us will demo a song that we like, and so it’s not objective at all. Having a producer there will take you out of your box and you might not like something when you do it, but when you see it, since he’s got this big picture, he knows what he’s asking you to do and how it’s going to fit in with that. So, I think it’s accepting that and learning how to be for the song.
ALEX: Getting to watch a producer is always great too. It’s always a great learning experience because there are always some things that you pick up when you go to write with somebody, and the tricks you pick up through all the people you’ve met definitely help in the creative process.
ME: Despite being a rock band, you’ve confessed that you’re influenced in ways, by pop music. What elements do you take from pop and how do you incorporate it into your own sound?
ALEX: It’s mostly just melodies because pop melodies are so catchy and you’ll sing them all day long.
DAVID: Because they get stuck in your head.
CHRISTIAN: And it’s always good when songs get stuck in your head.
ALEX: The beats are always good too; they always have good swing beats or whatever.
JUSTIN: Usually just basic chord progressions that are easy to comprehend, too. It’s always good to throw in little complicated parts, but with pop, it’s like you almost know what’s going to happen next.
ALEX: And that’s what we meant earlier. Having such dark themes on the album with dark elements but using pop elements to brighten it up a little kind of gives us a good balance.
ME: As a band you have a pretty unique way of songwriting – a song a day. Sounds like right fun. There must be some hidden gems in your repertoire that we don’t see, am I right?
ALEX: Yeah, we do write a song a day but it’s not like we sit down together and go, “Hey, we have to write a song.” It’s a lot of just singing about random stuff we see and that happens a lot.
CHRISTIAN: It keeps you creatively on your toes. We can look over and be like, “Ok, drop four bars right now.” And we just go, and if it’s awesome, we’ll freak out and record it. We’ve had this happen a few times before where we’ll go back and be like, “Ok, I know that melody was about how the cheese was bad and we have to throw it away, but let’s take it because it’s usable.” Obviously, we’ll change the lyrical content, but we’ll work on it. Sometimes it is more of like a legit, actual song and we’ll be doing it in soundcheck and me and Justin or David and Alex will do a random little groove together and be like, “Record that! Let’s do it again!”
ALEX: Yeah, a lot of our playing around and practicing comes from soundcheck. On my phone under voice memos, I have like 30 or 40 ideas from just doing soundcheck.
ME: Have there ever been any times when you’ve been doing these random jam-sessions together and you come up with something really good, but you didn’t have any recording devices with you?
(BTG: All the time! All the time!)
ME: Do you try to recreate that?
ALEX: Luckily, with our phones, we always have a recording device on us, but when we don’t, it’s like a matter of freaking out for 10 seconds while somebody has to go find one, and the other people have to just keep playing.
DAVID: But it’s really hard to recreate that like that first moment.
CHRISTIAN: Because you’re never 100 percent sure if it’s the same thing.
DAVID: Yeah, you’re like, “Um, I think that was it, but I don’t know.” We good pretty good at getting things close to it.
ALEX: A lot of the time it’s pretty hard, the pressure, of getting it right when you know the phone is recording. When there’s nothing out at all, it just kind of comes out perfectly.
ME: While this easy-going way of writing lyrics has shaped the band’s creativity, was there a particular song on the album that was more difficult to write than the others?
ALEX: It definitely depends where you’re at when you’re writing a song. You can hit a wall or a creative block because you have so many ideas for a chorus or a verse, but you overthink it too much and then once you overthink it, you have to step back from it for a while.
JUSTIN: I’m trying to think if there were really any songs that took a while.
DAVID: There were actually a lot of songs that were really quick. Our current single right now is the third song we ever wrote, and that took 45 minutes to write. It came out like that. We pretty much wrote it with our producer while in the vocal booth.
ALEX: Yeah, when he came in to sing, all the instrumentations were done, and he literally just wrote it down and – boom – it was done.
JUSTIN: “Staring in the Dark” has been through a lot of phases. Alex wrote that one a long time ago, and when we put it together demo-wise, it was different than what the final version sounds like now. It got really chopped up and was really hard to find a good vocal melody for that song. It’s also the longest song,
ALEX: Like six minutes long
JUSTIN: And he has a huge, long guitar solo in it. I think it was just a big mountain that we had to climb, but it turned out awesome.
DAVID: There’s one song that didn’t even make it on the CD that went through five or six different versions, and we still can’t get it right. The original version was probably the best one, but for some reason, it just didn’t make it onto the CD. Not really out decision, more like a production decision. Thought it sounded too much like another song. It’s a really cool song, so we’ll see if it comes up later.
ME: Your new single, “Everything,” was written and ready to be released over two years ago. What finally made the band decide that now was the moment to do it?
ALEX: We wanted to be patient. We didn’t want to throw out our best song, and we felt that was our best song on the album, but at the time, the album only had about seven or 8 songs on it. We did a video for “Everything,” and that was kind of a big mistake on our part because we wanted to already have some material out that fans have heard so when that song hits, it will be a lot bigger. We did get some radio play with “The Fold” and “Bitch,” our other two singles. Not that it’s out as our third single, I would definitely say that it’s already doing a lot better than it would have done if we’d released it first.
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, we really needed to get our toe in the door a little bit with “The Fold.” Then we got our whole foot in the door with “Bitch,” and that gave us enough room to burst through the door with “Everything.” Whereas we didn’t want to risk throwing “Everything” out first and it not do so good.
JUSTIN: And have “Everything” only be a toe.
(The band laughs)
ALEX: It’s more like a whole body.
DAVID: We learned that when you come out, you don’t want it to be with your best song. You don’t want to come out with a ballad as your first single. You come out with something that’s badass but not your most badass, then your more-badass which is why “Bitch” was the perfect song to follow “The Fold.” Now that we have our name out there, it seems appropriate to put “Everything” out there.
ME: You were in Kansas City when your debut album released. Do you feel a different feeling when you play shows now that you’re playing for a crowd who has heard the entire album?
JUSTIN: I think it’s awesome because just touring off a five-song EP for two years was getting a little ridiculous. I just wanted to release the songs so bad, and I know we all were trying to get it out, but we didn’t want to rush it out.
DAVID: It was cool because there were people singing the lyrics out in the crowd, and I’m looking at Christian on stage like, “Do they know the words? This is so weird! This is crazy!”
ME: As August rolls into September, what will Bridge to Grace venture into next?
ALEX: We’re going to be touring with Full Devil Jacket. When that ends, we’re going to be doing a little bit of writing for the second album. Then, we’ll be doing another tour to finish off December, and then get ready for 2016.
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, that’s going to be a good year for us.
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