The long miles and hard work of building a bridge to success
Bridge to Grace is a young, energetic active rock group that hails from Atlanta, Georgia who are quickly making a name for themselves as one of the hardest-working, hardest-rocking bands out there on the road today. The two youngest, and founding members of the band — childhood friends Alex Cabrera and Christian Lowenstein, merged their rather impressive young talents on guitar and bass, respectively, with that of a duo of more seasoned musicians in the persons of David Garcia on vocal duties, and Justin Little holding things together on the drums and backing vocals.
The fusion of these two powerful duos has come together in the form of a hard rock band, and they’ve hit the ground running with two Top 40 singles on the Active Rock charts in the US, “Everything” and “The Fold.” As the band has been crisscrossing American for the better part of two years now, playing hundreds of shows to crowds and fans in cities across the country, I finally was able to catch up with the de facto mouthpiece of the group, their always upbeat, ever-so-affable drummer, Justin Little outside of the Outland Ballroom in Springfield, Missouri, just in time to have a fun and interesting chat about where they came from, where they are now, and where they see themselves going in the very near future.
Brian McKinny: As the drummer in the group, you’re the driving force for the music on stage. You’re also the driving force behind the scenes and off stage, acting in the capacity of being your own tour manager and coordinator as well. It’s a big job, dealing with all the tour logistics on top of playing gigs as the drummer of the band. That’s a pretty impressive work load you carry.
Justin Little: (Laughs) Well, it is a lot sometimes, but it’s worth it, and I‘ve done it from the get-go. I‘m kind of OCD about the way I like to have things planned out, so I just ended up planning all these things myself. But it’s rewarding enough, and I get to play the shows — that’s the fun part, obviously, but we all work together. Everyone has their different roles. I just tend to be the one who takes charge of planning and managing the trips we go on, because their musician’s creative minds tend to be kind of “flighty” and luckily, I kind of have a little bit of both (laughing) the OCD, and “Oh look, a squirrel!” mindsets. So far, it’s working out well for all of us.
McKinny: You guys are all from Atlanta. A lot of great bands hail from that city – The Black Crowes, Blackberry Smoke, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, Collective Soul… What’s the music scene like in Atlanta these days?
Little: You know the main issue with Atlanta right now is that they don’t have an active rock station, and that’s our wheelhouse, our demographic, so we rarely play in Atlanta. Now that being said, when there’s a show that comes through Atlanta – say, Breaking Benjamin or Three Days Grace — when a rock band comes through, they’ll sell out their shows. I mean, we sell out the Tabernacle, and all these other places in Atlanta, so it’s still very much a thriving rock place. It’s such a transient city, with so many people coming and going, and you have this alternative wave that’s happening where a lot of people are listening to more of the alternative or folksy stuff now, and obviously the hip-hop scene is huge in Atlanta, so yeah, there’s still a huge scene there. I just think that you have to find the right cliques there, and the right places to go, and it’s such a big city without having that rock station to support our genre of music, it makes it a little more of a challenge than it otherwise would be, unless you’re a band that’s already been established it’s really a tough city to break out into. So we’ve ventured out on our own, and we still have a great time, and we have a phenomenal fan base of family and friends in Atlanta, but we tend to stay out on the road a lot, to be honest with you. Again, with the lack of a rock station to support our kind of music there, it makes it hard.
McKinny: How long have you been playing drums?
Little: I’ve been playing drums for about 22 years. I started when I was in 5th grade, so I was ten years old, and I really started loving it in the 6th and 7th grade, so I’d say I’ve been playing for 22 years, but really seriously for about 20 years.
McKinny: Who were your major musical influences when you were young, and do they still influence your musical style and likes today?
Little: My parents weren’t musicians, but they were really huge music fans, so from the get-go I was really into, being an early-80s child, I was listening to 80s pop stuff — I was into the whole Bon Jovi, Def Leppard thing. But the first band that I really got into, and it’s probably pretty cliché for someone my age, but I have to say I was really big into Nirvana. Nirvana came onto the scene when I was in the 5th grade, and I really started coming into my own, as far as picking the kinds of music that I personally liked and identified with, at that time. From there I started getting into some of the early Tool stuff, and the Deftones as well. If I had to name two bands that I really wore out from middle school into high school they would be Nirvana and Tool, mostly because of their drummers.
McKinny: How did you guys get together as a band?
Little: Alex started the band. They went through different lineup changes, with Alex and Christian trying to figure out what he wanted the band to be. Christian knew Alex from them playing together in the School of Rock when they were both 11 – 12 years old, so he was always involved in the project. So, a few years went by, and I and David were in another band together when their producer linked up with David because Alex and Christian’s singer up and quit literally a day before they were supposed to go into the studio to record an EP. So Alex and Christian’s producer knew David, and their producer told them, “Hey, I’ve got this guy who’s a great singer and he’d be perfect for your project. I just have to talk him into dropping the band he’s in now and coming over to our side.”
That band he needed to talk David into dropping was the band I was in, so it was a bit of an awkward situation at first. So David went over there and did the audition, and Alex and Christian were sold. They were like, “Well it looks like David’s our new singer!” A little while later, I came over to Alex’s house and jammed with them, and after the first five minutes we were all kind of sitting around looking at each other, thinking “Well, this is gonna be it.” We wrote our first single, “The Fold” that first week we started playing together.
There’s a lot of creative chemistry going on, and the age differences between Alex and Christian and David and I really hasn’t been an issue that’s detrimental to us in any way. In fact, it’s actually worked out for the better with us, because if you get four 30-year old guys and you’re talking about how many gigs you’ve played, or you’ve played with this band, or whatever, and there’s none of that ego trip stuff here with us. It’s all about us just trying to do the best shows, create the best songs, and we have a fun time. They make me feel younger! I can go out there and be a complete idiot and have a great time on stage, but then I can put on my game face and do what I have to do to handle the business end of things, because I mean, they’re 20 – 21 years old — they have their own mindset and they put on a great show. But I have to make sure that everything’s on an even keel. But they really help; I mean they’ve really matured over the past few years of touring, and I’ve not aged as much as I maybe would have touring with older guys. It’s an awesome things, dude! It’s a good chemistry. We’ve played hundreds of shows up till now and it’s all been really pretty smooth. They listen and they both learn quickly, and adapt to whatever situation is facing us. It’s been really fun, and we’re all looking forward to seeing what our future holds for us.
McKinny: Is there someone in the band who does the majority of the writing, or is your writing process a collaborative effort?
Little: Alex is the main songwriter. He writes almost all of the music. Christian will have his bass parts and I’ll have my drum fills and parts that I’ll put together for songs, and we’ll all actually work together on the overall composition. But as far as the riffs and the main melodies and the soul of the song, Alex is definitely the main guy as far as that goes. We kind of interchange things — if someone comes up with a good melody, or has some good lyrics, we’ll all give it a listen and go from there. If I had to portion it all out, I’d have to say it’s about 70% Alex, and then 10% from each of the rest of us. To be honest, that’s just how it works out. We all have good ears, where if something doesn’t sound quite right, we can usually come together to smooth the edges of it to make it work. We all can and do write, but with this band, it’s really Alex’s show, and the music feels natural and there’s nothing that sounds or feels contrived. When it works, it works, and we really don’t like to tamper with things as they are right now.
McKinny: How have you seen your album and tour being received by the critics and fans?
Little: The reception has been awesome. We had a big CD come out with 17 songs on it, which is pretty unheard of nowadays, and every review we’ve seen has been positive. They’ve been mostly like, “Wow, what a crazy effort for a band to take on,” and yet they’re talking about how this CD really has something for everyone on it. If there’s anything about it, it takes you on a journey; it starts off heavy, and by the third song we have our single, “Everything” that’s a little more of a ballad, and it goes heavy again, and then there’s something else that’s different… It’s a rollercoaster ride for the listener that kind of goes back and forth, and I like that in an album. I think it should have heavy songs, fast songs, ballads, and slower songs that maybe are more melodic, and so everyone’s loved it. The only thing they’re commenting on is that there’s so much material, when we’re opening for bands like Pop Evil and our set length is only thirty minutes, how do we pick which material to play? It’s actually kind of a compliment, when someone at our shows comes up to us afterwards and says, “You didn’t play so-and-so song”… It’s nice to have the material to choose from, and it certainly helps us when we’re playing our headlining gigs to fill up that hour and a half show.
McKinny: Has your opinion of being out on the road changed, and if so, how?
Little: No, it’s about what you’d expect. Little things are what you miss, and you’ve just got to learn to roll with the punches on the road. It’s an awesome life, it really is. And now being out on the road for a couple of months can be a little draining, kind of make you want to come home for a little while just to recharge and just not have anything to do. You definitely don’t have the time that you think you would just to hang out and have a beer, you know what I mean? You don’t get the time to really absorb anything of the city that you’re in — there are just so many cities in so many states, and sometimes you really don’t have the time to do anything except go to the venue, setup for the show and then rock out that night, then pack up and leave. Then once you’ve left, you drive several hours in the middle of the night towards the next show.
And not that we’re not truly thankful for where we are now, but we look forward to the day when we’ll be able to have a crew with us on the road, where our only focus is for the show and those people who are paying good money to come see you, being more engaged in that aspect of touring, and we’ll have crew to be able to do the work that will allow us to have that focus. But for now, it just comes with it. It’s hard work, and the DIY thing is how bands are doing it today — you don’t get a “Golden Ticket” anymore from some record label exec that signs you and hands you a suitcase with a million dollars in it and he says, “Go make a gold record, boys!” Those days are long gone; it just doesn’t happen like that anymore, so you’ve got to go do it yourself. It’s fun, but it’s hard, man. But you go do the gigs, you rock hard at night and you go away feeling good about the show you just did, and you take it day to day.
McKinny: What’s the best part about being on tour for you? What do you enjoy most about it?
Little: You know it’s just important to get out and play, and to see people’s faces when you get to rocking out, and you’re just like “Holy shit! This is great!” Next to that, I’m a big foodie-craft beer- vintage bar connoisseur, so I love going to all these different places like that in the US and meeting all these different people when we tour, and it’s only going to get better, hopefully, when we travel to places like Europe or wherever. It’s the traveling, really… Heck, sometimes we’ll have driven through seven or eight states in a matter of a couple days, and it’s really cool to try all these different beers and foods from all over the place, and that makes it fun for me, too. It helps the traveling and being away from family a lot. It really keeps things interesting and entertaining for us while we’re on the road and not necessarily on stage. People may not realize this, but we spend a very small part of our time actually performing on stage. Most of our time is spent driving or sleeping, mostly in shifts. So when we can find nice little diversions along the way — a great bar with local craft beers or some really good local food, that keeps us happy. It’s really a great way to see the whole country, too.
McKinny: What’s the worst part of being on tour? What do you miss the most from being home?
Little: Where we’re at right now with our career is that we’re a “yes band,” in that we’ll play a gig anytime, anywhere. We take every opportunity we can — from radio stations wanting us to play their Halloween or Christmas rock shows, or when other bands want us to come play with them on a tour, so being that, we are constantly going out of our way to do different shows that if it doesn’t work out on our schedule, financially or whatever, we still do it now. But things just change at the last minute; it makes it hard for me being away from my wife because of stuff like that. Things like being on the road and expecting to be home on a certain day, and then something comes up like a last-minute booking when I want to be at home with my wife. You know things like that – having more often to “go with the flow” rather than having a schedule that we can count on in the longer term.
Being gone for long periods of time can be hard, and it’s really the biggest thing that I miss – seeing my family and friends back home, but other than that I love being out on the road, making music I’m proud of with the guys in the band. It’s what we were meant to do. I love doing this every day; it’s definitely more awesome than a regular job! Still, there are always sacrifices to be made in a life on the road.
McKinny: What do you guys do for fun on your days off?
Little: Sleep is good! We actually ran a little late today. I usually get us going in the morning, but I went to bed last night, and I said, “I’m not setting my alarm, I’m sleeping through tonight!” But as far as days off, I mean, when we have two or three days off in a row, it’s usually spent driving to the next destination. But for fun, we have a Frisbee and a football we keep in the RV, and we love to go find parks to stop at, and we’ll get out and toss a football or throw a Frisbee around for a while. That being said, we also try to work out every day and bust our butts on stage, so a lot of times on days off we’ll sit in whatever Wal-Mart parking lot we’re staying at (the lads travel in their own well-equipped RV) and we’ll catch up on whatever Netflix shows we’re into at the time and really veg out. We’ll go to the movies every now and then, but you know you really won’t catch us too often at a bar or even watching a lot of shows on our nights off because we’re in bars and clubs every night doing our own gigs, so we definitely like to relax, and if we’re not in the mood to sit and relax we’ll hopefully be outside, enjoying whatever weather we’re in – especially in the spring and fall, but when we’re in summer and we’re somewhere like Florida, we’ll go out of our way to hit a beach for a day. It’s definitely one of our more favorite days off activities.
McKinny: What’s your favorite thing about being in this band? What is it about this band that makes being a part of it special for you?
Little: I think it’s special when you have a group of guys… For a very long time, I’ve known that I wanted to do this for a living. There’s a certain feeling that music gives me, that no matter how down I may get, I just listen to music and feel like, “Damn, this is why I do this.” It’s the transformative nature of music, and I think the special thing is finding people – the other three guys in the band – that all feel the same way. We’re all going towards a common goal, and you know, it’s different to me than just having; let’s say you want to be a doctor, so you go to school and you do the whole sacrifice thing and you’re passionate about what you’re trying to do with your life, but you do it alone. And with our band, the fact that there’s three other people right alongside of you, pulling you when you don’t feel like you can do it, or you’re pulling them when they think they can’t take another step forward… It’s a constant thing, kind of like the cross-country running that I used to do. It’s easier to go those long distances – you can go a lot farther and run a lot faster when you’re running with other people; teammates whom you can help push, or who can help pull you along as the case may be. It’s a team effort, and it’s definitely special. It’s the coolest part of being in a band when you’re all working towards the same goal and things start to come together. No single person can take the credit, and that’s where it’s like being on a sports team. There is no “I” in team. It’s cliché, but clichés are rooted in truth, and the fact that our success is achieved because of a true team effort makes being in this band all the more special. Just knowing that these three guys have sacrificed their family time and whatever else they might be doing so that we can succeed as a band is really great, and short of being on a professional sports team, I don’t think there are too many other professions like that.
McKinny: How would you personally describe your music to someone who may not have heard it yet?
Little: You know, when people ask that question, it’s kind of a hard one to describe our style, if you will… But I’d have to say that we’re definitely a hard rock band that people who don’t normally listen to hard rock actually say they like us… I don’t know if it’s because of the melodies we write – because there’s not a lot of screaming in our music – but we’re very melodic and I think that the lyrics are very down to earth; it’s easy to understand our lyrics. But we have a connection with people, and I can’t really put words to it. I’d just have to say that we’re a hard rock band with a lot of melody, and we draw from our own musical influences, from the early 90s to today’s rock music, and we put a lot of ourselves into the mix, and that’s what you get. We are definitely a modern hard-rock band, but with a familiar sound.
McKinny: What’s in store for the band in the coming months?
Little: Well, we’re really doing a lot of behind the scenes stuff right now. The past year has been amazing for us. We’ve had two singles that are both hits in the Top 40 on the active rock charts, and our single, “Everything” is still climbing, so we’re still going to be pushing the single. We are working with a couple of – I really shouldn’t be saying any names or giving specifics because I’m not quite sure yet what’s “official,” but we are writing and working on new songs for an album out in California, and we’re going back out there to record a couple more songs. What we’re doing is we’re trying to shop two of our new songs to a label – we’re trying to get a record company behind us. We’re going to stay on the road, as always, but we’re really going to try to be on big name tours all of next year; trying to get onto the big-name festivals, as many as we can, is the goal for next year. We’re really inch by inch getting it done because it will be better for us because then we’ll be on the road more often, playing to more people.
The single is climbing and it’s getting more spins than we’ve ever had previously – radios is really responding, and so we’re trying to work behind the scenes. We’ve got a couple more pieces of the puzzle we’re trying to put together. We’ve got a good marketing guy now, combined with a good management team, and those behind the scenes things we’re working out will really help to get the band’s music and name out there so people will really get to know who we are and what we’re about.
We’re really hoping that next year is going to be our big, breakout year, and trying to get a good record label behind us is going to be a big part of that strategy, and couple that with the new songs and the new album we’re working on, we’re still working on the timing of all of these things, because that’s really going to be important as well.
We’re going to keep on working the road, and next year doing bigger festivals, bigger tours, even if that means playing at six o’ clock as the first band on, it’s going to be about making the connections with these bigger bands, and making more connections with the fans and staying in people’s faces!