Long Way To Climb – The Bridge
Contributing Writer – Garret K. Woodward
Few and far between one crosses paths with an album that immediately provokes an honest reflection and blissful sentiment.
These are records the listener cannot run fast enough to share with the nearest human being, manically shouting and waving their hands into a frenzy, begging the anonymous stranger to take a glimpse at what splendor their ears can become easily acquainted with.
It is these exact symptoms that occur while perusing National Bohemian, the latest from The Bridge- a rock n’ roll entity quickly becoming a sought-after institution.
Molding southern rock, honky-tonk blues, freewheelin’ jazz, and moonshine bluegrass into a fortress of melodic potency, the sextet only seems to get stronger with each trip into the studio and subsequent trek across the country.
While Cris Jacobs (guitar) and Dave Markowitz (bass) split vocal duties throughout, it is also the solid foundation of Kenny Liner (mandolin/beatbox), Patrick Rainey (saxophone), Mike Gambone (drums), and Mark Brown (keyboard) that justifies the stop-you-in-your-tracks presence of a band thirsty for the industry respect they rightfully will garner as this year unfolds.
Garret K. Woodward: What is The Bridge?
Cris Jacobs: The Bridge is a little band from Baltimore, Maryland.
GKW: How would you describe the sound? Who are the influences?
CJ: I’d say rock and roll with a heavy dose of soul and Americana music. Kenny and I originally found our common musical ground with American roots music, bluegrass and folk stuff like Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Norman Blake, and Hank Williams. We also share a love for classic rock bands like the Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band, and Little Feat. Personally, I love soul music and blues, people like Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Bobby Bland, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Freddie King. But when we put it all together, we just like to write soulful songs and rock out.
GKW: What was the approach towards this record, compared to your last release?
CJ: The main approach we took was to record the band playing live as much as possible. In the past we’ve basically worked without time constraints and produced ourselves. We used to think that recording piecemeal style, one guy at a time, was the best way to capture performances because we had complete control and analysis. On the contrary, it actually just led to us overanalyzing and scrutinizing and not considering the synergy of the band as being the most crucial element.
This time around, we had only 10 days to record the whole album, which actually helped, because there was a sense of urgency throughout the process that really elevated everyone and brought out some intense and soulful energy in the performances. We didn’t have time to be perfectionists. Instead, we just had to dig in and take care of business and I believe the end result is much more real and natural sounding. It sounds like a band playing together rather than a bunch of pieces carefully placed together.
This record was also the first time we brought in an outside producer. We worked with Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) and really followed his vision for the entire process. Kenny and I sent him a bunch of rough demos of new material we were working on, of which he chose the songs he wanted to include on the record. After that, we had several rounds of discussions with Steve on arrangements and what needed to be developed more. He really challenged us in that way. We had never really had anyone critique or change our songs before. Certain ideas seemed strange or uncomfortable at first even, but in the end all made sense and really brought out the best in the songs. So, from the time we started putting the first ideas together, through the entire recording process, this was a completely different experience for us.
GKW: Who else worked on the project with you? Where was it recorded?
CJ: Pre-production was done at The Bunker Studio in Cockeysville, Maryland with our longtime friend and original sax player Chris Bentley, who has engineered and played on our last three records. We recorded the actual record at Jackpot! Studios in Portland, Oregon with Jeff Stuart Saltzman engineering. Jeff is one of the most talented people I have ever worked with. He has amazing recording know-how that really captured some amazingly different tones than we’ve ever had on record before. Our good friends Vorcan, who are two extremely talented painters that specialize in live music painting, did artwork for the record. They’ve joined us on tour many times, where they start a blank canvas at the beginning of our show and collaboratively finish a painting by the end.
GKW: What is your process when recording? Melody first, then lyrics?
CJ: I often come up with the melody first and then fit the lyrics in. I go for sounds first and foremost. Ideally, the song lyrics will write themselves within the sounds of the vowels and consonants that I hear in my head. Usually I’ll try to know the story or context before writing the lyrics, but sometimes I’ll just work the sounds into words and something will pop through that gives me a good idea for lyrical content.
GKW: How did the band come about? When? Where? Why?
CJ: The band came about very casually. About 10 years ago, I ran into my old buddy Kenny at the grocery store he was working at. We got to talking about what we’d been up to since we last saw each other in high school. He told me he started playing mandolin. I mentioned that I had been playing a lot and had been heavy into bluegrass and knew about a house concert going on that night with guitarist David Grier and mandolinist Matt Flinner. We went to the show together and had our minds blown, then went back to his place and hung out, picking for a few hours. I’m pretty sure neither of us thought we were on the verge of starting a band.
We started getting together casually for a few months and just playing for fun, eventually getting enough tunes between us to hit an “open mic” night. Then, one night, we invited a few buddies who played bass and drums over to the backyard, had a huge crab feast, put our acoustics down, and plugged in some electric instruments, recording an hour or two of impromptu jamming. Somehow it got into several people’s hands and next thing I knew people were telling me they “loved my band”. Soon, we got a gig and a bunch of people came out. Next thing we knew we had a band. At that point Kenny and I realized we had some special chemistry going on. We were having a blast, so we ran with it.
GKW: What are you thoughts on the current music industry? How do you want to be different, or contribute to the evolution?
CJ: I feel like technology and over saturation have had positive and negative effects. Anyone can record on their computer these days and easily distribute it on the Internet, which is positive in that it’s taking the control out of the hands of the big record labels that have ripped artists off for so long. And it’s really creating a buyer’s market because of the abundance of options and resources available to seek out music. The problem the artists face now though is how to actually make money off of their work. People have so many options readily available to them now, and can basically get music for free. So, concert tickets have always been seen as the saving grace for bands to make their money, but concert sales are way down as well. I attribute that to the economy and a change in culture. Concerts are thrown in with a slew of other options now for entertainment, whereas when I was a teenager it was the thing to do.
With all of the options and stimuli out there, attention spans are decreasing. The days of sitting down and putting on an album and listening to the whole thing all the way through, I fear, is over for the next generation. It’s all about iPods and shuffling songs and finding that next stimulus to entertain our instant gratification hungry minds. Engaging people enough to get a fair listen is becoming increasingly difficult. I think artists are going to have to get creative to get people’s attention.
At the end of the day though, music still should stand on its own merit and I do believe it will. The challenge is getting people to listen to it amongst all of the chaos. So, we’ll have to keep an awareness of that and really try to come up with creative ways to market our music. Models change faster than ever these days. I think the goal should be to stay ahead of the curve as best we can and hopefully create something that others can look to as an example. I wish I could say I already had the answer. For now, I’ll just try to keep writing good songs and playing a decent guitar.
GKW: How receptive have audiences been to your creation onstage?
CJ: They have been very receptive, especially in our hometown of Baltimore. We’ve been a band for over nine years and the music has evolved tremendously in that time. We sound completely different now than when we started, but still have many of the same fans. They’ve enjoyed the journey and evolution with us and have encouraged us along the way to change it up and keep pushing forward. It’s really the fuel for our fire to go out there and pour our souls out and be received so warmly. It’s what we do it for.
GKW: What do you want the listener to ultimately witness or walk away with when they see you perform?
CJ: Ultimately, I want them to have a good time and feel cleansed or lighter in some way. I’d like them to see us having fun and putting our all into the music. To watch someone put themselves out there like that, whether it be in music or sports or any other kind of art, is inspiring. I’m not up there to tell people what to think or to say, “hey, look at me”, but rather to kind of let them in on the same journey I’m on when I’m playing. I’m striving for that feeling of bliss and connectedness and inspiration and ultimately I’m trying to bring everyone in the room with me.
GKW: How has your stage presence or confidence changed onstage since the last release?
CJ: Obviously we become more confident the more we play. The band has been playing together with the same personnel for quite a while now and we’ve become very confident in one another and in the band’s sound as a whole. We’ve really honed in on our sound much more than ever before, and that brings a swagger and comfort to all of us that really comes through when we hit the stage. We know we’re going to go out there and kill it, even if someone is individually having a bad night. The band has become much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s knowing that which allows us to feed off of the energy as a whole and step out of our own personal insecurities.
GKW: What are your hopes for your music and touring in 2011?
CJ: I hope our new album touches listeners as much as it touched us when we made it. We feel more proud of this record than anything we’ve ever done and we hope people respond to that. Making the record was a huge learning experience for us as a band, as songwriters and as performers, and I hope we continue to feed off the lessons learned from that. And, as always, we hope to continue growing our fan base. We’re going to be getting in the van and traveling all over the country and hope to see more people in every city than were there last time.
Winter 2011 Tour Dates
February 4 | 9:30 Club | Washington, DC (w/ Tea Leaf Green)
February 5 | World Cafe Live | Philadelphia, PA (w/ Tea Leaf Green)
February 8 | Strand Capital Performing Arts Center | York, PA (w/ Tea Leaf Green)
February 9 | Westcott Theater | Syracuse, NY (w/ Tea Leaf Green)
February 10 | Higher Ground | Burlington, VT (w/ Tea Leaf Green)
February 11 | Paradise Rock Club | Boston, MA (w/ Tea Leaf Green)
February 12 | Highline Ballroom | New York, NY (w/ Tea Leaf Green)
February 16 | The Cabooze | Minneapolis, MN (w/ Galactic)
February 17 | Majestic Theatre | Madison, WI (w/ Galactic)
February 18 | Park West | Chicago, IL (w/ Galactic)
February 19 | Beachland Ballroom | Cleveland, OH (w/ Galactic)
February 20 | Mr. Small’s Theater | Pittsburgh, PA (w/ Galactic)
March 3 | Southgate House | Newport, KY
March 4 | Max’s | Bloomington, IN
March 5 | Trouser Mouse | Blue Springs, MO
March 6 | Bourbon Theatre Rye Room | Lincoln, NE
March 11 | Cervante’s Masterpiece Ballroom | Denver, CO
March 15 | The Canopy Club | Urbana, IL
March 16 | Canal Street | Dayton, OH
March 17 | V Club | Huntington, WV
March 18 | Dante’s | Frostburg, MD
April 16 | Old Settler’s Music Festival | Driftwood, TX
June 4 | Crawfish Fest | Augusta, NJ