While a lot of Christian artists have a story of being raised as a believer, making music from an early age, perfecting their craft and watching a slow build, that's just not the story of Bradley Bridges.
God brought Bradley through a season of doubt, the rigors of the Air Force Reserves and plenty of personal and spiritual challenges to arrive where he is today--writing songs about Jesus that build His kingdom.
A slow build isn't something he's experienced, either, as he's seen viral success with his song "Set Me Free" and a groundswell of support for the rest of his EP (also called Set Me Free), plus the excitement surrounding new single, "Jesus Is King." Bradley has a great story and a unique perspective as a rising artist, so I asked him a number of questions to get to know this singer-songwriter.
Your first Christian single, was a song called "Set Me Free." Talk about that as the beginning of your Christian musical journey.
"Set Me Free" was inspired by a couple verses out of the book of James (James 1:13-15). The night I wrote the song, James 1:14 really jumped out at me: "but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed." That verse really made me take a step back and consider the possibility that I could be the problem, and that what I really needed to be set free from was myself. It was one of those songs that just sort of fell out of the pen on the paper. I wrote the song at my kitchen table in less than an hour. Shortly after writing it, I shared the song with a friend of mine who liked it so much he offered to help pay for part of the recording costs. Little did he know I had been praying that if God wanted me to go back down a musical journey, that He would affirm it in some way. That was all I needed. From there we have seen that song reach people across the world and become a meaningful anthem/prayer for so many.
A big part of your story is walking away from the Church and finding your way back. What did God show you in the midst of that?
There was a moment I recall when I was living in Nashville, playing in the bars, staying up all hours of the night, that I looked at myself in the mirror and really asked if this was all there is, and if this is as good as it gets. Not long after that, I packed up my car and headed back home, looking for answers. I think looking back it is easy to see God was never really gone during that time; I just was not in a place that I was looking for a relationship with Him. I can see now that the hurdles I faced and roadblocks I encountered were all designed to point me back to Him.
What did being in the Air Force Reserves do for you?
Being in the Air Force Reserves was an experience I am thankful for. I joined because I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and I also liked that idea of the structure it provided. While in the Reserves, I was exposed to a lot of people with various beliefs and opinions, and when that happens it really challenges you to define what you believe and where you stand. My spirituality was certainly questioned in that environment. The only thing I had ever been taught growing up was that Jesus was the only way and all other ways are wrong. That's an easy thing to believe if you're never exposed to someone who would oppose your beliefs.
During the first several years in the Air Force, I wasn't saved so it wasn't difficult to navigate those conversations. After I was saved, it seemed like every drill weekend I was challenged on what I believed and why. I can't say I always handled it the best way, being a young believer in what felt like a shark tank, but I believe the Lord showed me grace and many of the people I served with came to respect my beliefs.
At what point did music enter your life?
Music has always been a big part of my life. As a child, my Dad led worship at our home church and he would allow me--really, make me--sing. Other than those few moments in church, I mostly sang in the car and shower until I started playing guitar. Most people are usually surprised to find out that I did not start playing guitar until I was 20, and didn't actually start writing songs and playing live music until 23. Music can really change the mood or set the tone and I always had an appreciation for it. My taste in music has certainly changed over the years, but it is still a big part of my life. When I need to think or just time to reflect, I will often get in my car, turn on some tunes, and just drive around.
Talk about your musical, lyrical and spiritual development over the years. How did you arrive at the sound you have (and describe it for people who haven't yet heard it)?
I would say my sound comes from where I grew up. I from a small rural town in Louisiana. You can hear my country leanings when you listen to my first EP, Set Me Free, and especially in the new single, "Jesus Is King." We jokingly said in the studio that I was carving out a new genre in Christian music called "Outlaw Christian Music." I listened to a lot of Texas country and Red Dirt country in my early twenties, and that's continued to surface in my sound and writing style.
Obviously, what I sing about is a little different than those songs, but the song structure and authenticity is still consistent with the songs I used to listen to. I continue to grow as an artist just learning to be more comfortable with myself and who I am in Christ.
You've been involved in worship in recent years; how did that change your whole approach to making music, writing songs and playing music for people?
When I first got back into music after getting saved, I was leading worship at a local church plant. It was a big shift for me coming to the worship scene from the bar scene. When you lead worship, you really have to be present and intentional. The why behind it is so much more about encouraging people and drawing them in to engage with the Holy Spirit and honor God versus just being there for entertainment and in some cases just background noise. I would also say there is a massive difference between playing singer/songwriter Christian music and leading worship. Getting more involved with the worship side has definitely taught me a lot. I would say it's helped me the most with my writing. Writing songs for a congregation to sing is a lot different than writing a song for just you to sing. It's been a blessing to be able to be a part of the different worship teams I have been a part of.
What has life been like the past several years? What are you learning?
Honestly, it has been incredible. Looking back just a few years ago, right after I got saved, I said I would never play music again. I threw away a lot of my secular music and almost got rid of my guitar. It is just funny now to see how God had other plans and has made a way for that to happen. There is a certain comfort in letting God lead. Being faithful to honoring the gift I feel like I have been given in music and songwriting and watching Him use it to advance the Kingdom has been a huge blessing. I have been able to travel and meet people seeking God and looking for a message of hope and I am honored by those opportunities. I would say balancing everyday life is always a challenge. God has been working to teach me what love really looks like and how that plays out in a marriage. That lesson has certainly inspired some of the music I have been writing lately. I am just excited to see what is next!
With new single, "Jesus Is King," you've really hit a stride. What makes this song different than anything else you've done?
This song is so personal for me. It is basically my testimony in 3 minutes and 30 seconds or less. Many of my songs from the Set Me Free EP were anthems of my beliefs and crying out to God. What makes "Jesus is King" different is this song really highlights my story giving a nod to my past but allowing the lyrics to illustrate the redemptive quality of God's love and grace. I also feel like this song is a song that so many people relate to. Most of us didn't choose the right path out of the gate. We had to learn the hard way and experience the twists and turns to get to where we are in our walk with Him. I hope the song communicates that in an authentic way that many people can be blessed by.
Your music video for "Set Me Free" has more than a million views on YouTube. How did this happen? Were you totally surprised? What has been some of the response?
I was blown away that this song went over a million views. It was awesome to be able to share that excitement with so many talented people that helped make the video happen. What started as a small idea, our videographer Cole Prine, who is so gifted, took and really made the song come to life.
It is an incredible experience to get to see something you invested so much time in get that many views because that means your song and its message is reaching that many people--a message of hope and restoration and a realization that we all need to be set free from our own selfishness. We have heard from people all over the world who tell us that "Set Me Free" is their anthem cry. Having those views on YouTube have opened doors to be able to travel and play the music and meet people that I would never have been connected to otherwise. It is an amazing opportunity that I try to honor!
What's the message you're trying to get across in your music and live performances, regardless of venue or audience?
Regardless of the venue or audience, I hope people take away a message of hope and truth. I want them to see who I am in Christ and who they can be as well. I want to illustrate life as a Christian is not always easy. There will be trials and struggles, but my God is greater. I hope my music is inspiring people to worship and to go deeper with their relationship with Jesus. To be really loved by Him and learn to spread that love to others.
What's your calling now as best you can tell?
Right now, I feel called to continue writing and releasing music that is edifying to God and His Kingdom. I am also led to continue serving in my local church in some capacity leading worship.
What gets you excited these days?
Thinking about what God is going to do with this new music gets me excited! The thought of traveling and playing music is very exciting to me as well. There's a lot to be excited about in 2018 and a lot to be thankful for.
What's next for you, and how can people be praying?
This year, I plan to release two more singles and I hope to continue writing, recording, and playing music across the nation. I would really appreciate prayers for those opportunities to be provided, for the music to spread and touch the lives of people who need to hear it. I would also appreciate prayers of encouragement, discernment, and just to maintain a clear vision as I continue to try to fulfill this calling.
Marcus Hathcock is the Executive Editor of NewReleaseToday.com, a husband to Savannah, father of three and a worship leader living in Boise. He has released an EP, Songs For Tomorrow, and occasionally blogs at mheternal.com.
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