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Austins Bridge: Hold On to Jesus

By Chris Carpenter Program Director NASHVILLE -- Justin Rivers and Jason Baird share a passion for music and a deep desire to spread the Gospel. Combining their gifts to form Austins Bridge, the guys are doing just that with an innovative flair that blends Southern Gospel, country and a touch of bluegrass into a soulful new sound.* Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with the duo in a Nashville coffee shop to discuss their sophomore release, Times Like These (released May 4th), what it was like to record with producer Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts, and why it is so important to hold on to Jesus in the tough times we live. 

Your music’s been categorized as a blend of pop, Christian music, rock, bluegrass, blues, and country, all woven into a blend. How would you characterize your sound?

Justin Rivers: It’s funny. Jason (Baird) grew up more kind of a rock and roll guy and never really had anything to do with country music at all. And I grew up in south Alabama, so it’s kind of- bred into you down there. And I also had a very strong influence of a lot of R&B soulful, kind of bluesy just cool stuff. And so when you mesh all that together, you kind of get an Austins Bridge sound. So I think we’re really taking all of the musical characteristics that we have and are just kind of throwing them in a blender and turning it on.

You were nominated for four Dove Awards this year.  Obviously, you are making music that the critics like.  What is the secret ingredient?

Jason Baird: God is the secret. I don’t really have anything super profound to say outside of the fact that God’s just blessed us and given us opportunities that we honestly couldn’t have expected or imagined. And if there were an enhancer to say, “Oh, this is what we did to allow these opportunities to happen,” everybody would be doing it. So I think the only realistic tangible thing might be that we’re meeting a need.

Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts produced your new record, Times Like These.  I understand his success had some sort of an effect on you.  What was it?

Justin Rivers: Coming from his success in the country music world, he said everybody’s asked what Rascal Flatts’ success has been. And he said it’s no secret; it’s cut great songs that either touch people emotionally or help get them through some circumstance that they’re going through. And essentially that’s what we wanted to do, was create a record that could be presented to the Church and could encourage the Church and bring hope to the Church. But at the same time, it’s wrapped in a way that it could be presented to someone who’s un-churched and doesn’t really flow along with the stereotype of what a Christian looks like or talks like. So I’m very thankful in that I think we’ve found a product that can be distributed to both as a tool of encouragement and hope, regardless of who you are and where you are in life. I would think that the songs would have a lot to do with that.

Jay has been quoted as saying that Austins Bridge reminds him a lot of Rascal Flatts, especially in your harmonies.  There are two ways to look at that.  One, it is flattering that someone of that stature gave you a compliment but at the same time there is obviously a sense of pressure to live up to his statement.  Where do you land on this?

Jason Baird: I personally would take it as a compliment. The vocal aspect of what we do has, quite honestly, been kind of the easy part in the whole development process. So I think a lot of people will kind of put that label on us, because we’ve kind of got that trio type sound. But, yes, I think anybody who would not take that as a compliment would be real foolish. It’s a big deal. As far as the pressure, I don’t feel pressured to do that, because I’m not in this to try to be Rascal Flatts. We’re doing what we’re called to do.

Tell me about this record, Times Like These. If you had to sum it all up, say some stranger got this on an island and they’re about to open it up, what would you tell them about it?

Jason Baird: Right now, I think everybody would agree that economically speaking and in many other ways, morality or whatever you want to call it, things are rough right now, and a lot of people are feeling that, like my dad being one. We found out he lost his job, got laid off in November, and he’s still looking for a job. There are a lot of people out there that are in the same boat, and as a result, I think from a Christian’s standpoint, there are a lot of people whose faith that is being tested.  People are tired, and there has been a lot of persevering going on. My parents always say when things get tough, tie a knot and hold on. I think there are a lot of people who have been doing that and are just tired, and they’re sitting there going, “How long are we going to have to hold on?” And so this record focuses on that. It’s just an encouragement to those people saying keep holding on. There’s a song that Justin wrote called “Hold on to Jesus” that fits that idea really well. Just keep holding on, because there is a silver lining, you know, and ultimately if we put our faith and trust in God, we can make it through any scenario, any circumstance.

Please share a little bit about how the song, “Hold on to Jesus” came together.

Justin Rivers: It was one of those songs that was not intended for the public to hear. The song was birthed through a very deep struggle of depression that I was going through at the time and had really come to the lowest place, not only in my spiritual walk, but just in life. I was even questioning the very existence of God, and I was raised in a Christian home, a pastor’s home, and I was taught how to—not that it’s stereotypical of the Church or that my parents necessarily taught that, but I kind of learned how to fake a smile, and pretend that everything is fine.  And so it kind of became this deal of I just really had to get to—I think it was allowed to happen, so I could find Christ to be real for myself. And a lot of times I’ve found that it’s easy to stand on the stage and say that God is able and He’s faithful, but when you’ve actually had to be tested by the very words that you’re speaking about (it is a very difficult thing).  You come out on the other side and you can say, you know what I found Him to be true and to be a friend that sticks closer than a brother. And any time you’re preaching truth in life, the enemy is going to test you with that, and so this was one of those trials. For two weeks those were the only two lines that I kept hearing, “Hold onto Jesus,” and trying to write a song about it, because I wanted to do it personally for me, and one night at a concert, I only had like a couple of lines written to the song, and I just felt like I wanted to sing it, even though it was a personal song. And then at the end of the song, it turned into an awesome worship experience, and the presence of God just kind of came into the place, and people were ministered to, and since then we’ve been doing it, and I get to hear story after story after story of what that song spoke to them that particular night in concert.

The first single on the record is called “Mercy Never Leaves ”.  What can you tell me about that song?

Jason Baird: Mercy is a song that we came across that we immediately knew we had to record in listening down through everything, mainly because of the hook. It says, “Mercy pleads your case before the cross.” When you really start to dig into what exactly it meant for God to take the consequence that we deserve by dying on the cross. If you can try to grasp what kind of love that is, it’s almost impossible for us to get that.  When we hit that line, I just envision, if you could envision a full-grown man who’s strong, healthy, able to probably defend himself, kneeling down behind the cross before God with Christ standing in the middle, it’s like we see ourselves in the shadow of the cross. Because as a result of that one moment in history, God no longer sees us in our sin, in our filthiness, He sees Christ. He sees us through Christ. It’s almost as if Christ creates this—it’s amazing.

After people listen to this album, or come to one of your shows to hear you live, what do you want them to take away from the experience?

Jason Baird: I want their hope to be rekindled for people who need that. I want people to be encouraged and to become more motivated to go out and share their faith, and that’s for the Church, because we’re kind of targeting two different groups of people, the churched and the unchurched. For the unchurched, I want this to be a magnet for them initially. Because when I plug in a song, what I first hear is what it sounds like, and if I’m drawn to what it sounds like, after I listen through it a couple of times, then I begin to think through what it’s actually saying. Then that’s where God can kind of get in, and it’s those little bits that just begin to spark.  Plant the seed in somebody. That’s what we want to do.

* text courtesy of Daywind Records.

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