On their Verve Forecast debut album Limits of the Sky, the Oxford, Alabama-based quintet the Bridges unveils a disarming brand of heartfelt, harmony-laden pop-folk-rock that combines youthful exuberance with surprisingly mature songcraft.
The group, whose members range in age from 18 to 24, consists of siblings Natalie Byrd (piano and guitar), Stacey Byrd (guitar), Isaaca Byrd (bass) and Jeremy Byrd (drums), and cousin Brittany Painter, who provides hauntingly expressive lead vocals and plays acoustic guitar. Brittany writes most of the band's lyrics, with all five collaborating on the music.
The Bridges' tight-knit chemistry is apparent throughout Limits of the Sky, which was produced by noted pop-rock auteur Matthew Sweet and consists entirely of the band's original compositions. Their effortless harmonies and seamless instrumental rapport are prominent on such compelling tunes as "All the Words," "One Way," "One I Love" and "Echo," which combine a subtly inventive melodic sensibility with insightful, emotionally resonant lyrics that belie the artists' youth.
"I think it's a really good representation of who we are," Natalie says of the album. "We didn't care about making it perfect or polished; we wanted it to be real and organic and emotional. It's kind of raw in some ways, and maybe there are some flaws, but they're our flaws. I think it sounds like us."
The members of the Bridges have been making music together for much of their lives, developing their musical vision on their own terms, free of the influence of transient musical trends. The musicians grew up in families that were both musically inclined and church-oriented, and were not encouraged by their parents to listen to secular pop music.
"I always had a special connection with my cousins growing up, and music was always a big part of that," says Brittany, who began writing songs in her early teens. "When I first started writing, I would call them and play what I'd written over the phone. Then when I'd see them over the holidays, we would arrange harmonies and they would create their guitar parts."
During her senior year of high school, Brittany relocated from her family's home in North Carolina to join her cousins in Alabama, in order to concentrate on their budding musical collaboration. Brittany, Natalie and Stacey initially performed as an acoustic trio, under the name Long Story Short, playing at church events and in local coffeehouses.
In 2005, younger siblings Isaaca and Jeremy joined to make the group an amplified five-piece. "When we went electric, we pretty much had to start over and figure a new way to create music together," says Natalie. "We totally reinvented ourselves, and wrote a whole new set of songs, and pulled from a whole new set of influences."
By that point, the band had tapped into a rich new vein of musical inspiration, belatedly discovering a world of classic pop music recorded long before they were born. "We started listening to a lot of '60s and '70s music," Brittany explains, "and we loved it so much that it pushed us into a different direction. We really pulled a lot from that stuff, and that's when the songwriting really took off."
"All we had really known before that was church music," Natalie adds. "But when we discovered acts like the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills and Nash, we fell in love with their music and bands like these became our musical inspiration. When we heard these recordings, it taught us a lot about what makes a real song, and it made us shake up what we were doing."
Along with the lineup change came a new name. "We liked the Bridges because of the symbolism," states Natalie. "We want to make music that bridges gaps between modern music and '60s and '70s music, and between our Christianity and our secular career. Also, the bridge is a really important part of a song, and we love writing bridges."
Shortly after becoming a quintet, the Bridges made the jump to playing in rock venues, and their regional touring efforts soon began to yield the beginnings of an enthusiastic fan base. Subsequent tours with Rooney and the Bangles continued the band's steady progress.
"We were all a little naive when we started, and we didn't know anything about the music industry," Brittany notes. "But there's always been a natural progression. From the start, there's always been a series of little things that kept us motivated, and made us feel like we have something good going on here."
When it came time to record Limits of the Sky, the Bridges found a sympathetic ear in studio veteran Matthew Sweet. "We loved working with Matthew," says Brittany. "We'd heard so many stories about new artists getting pushed around by producers, but Matthew kept everything organic and real. He was very respectful of our ideas, and he was very supportive and careful not to step on anybody's toes. He seemed more interested in capturing what we do, rather than imposing some other agenda on us."
The resulting album offers ample evidence of the Bridges' powerful musical and familial bond. "I can't imagine being in a band with anyone else," Natalie asserts. "We've all gone through the same things together and discovered music together, so we all speak the same language, musically and otherwise."
"We want to last," Brittany concludes. "Of course we want to be successful. But if that didn't happen for us, that wouldn't stop us from making music, because it's what we love and what keeps us going."