New pop-rock band Brightwork was born in the community surrounding Virginia's James Madison University in 2009, and you might say the band has a similar mindset to that school's most famous football team.
The JMU Dukes shocked the sports world in 2010 when they downed championship contenders the Virginia Tech Hokies. Nobody gave the lower-tier Dukes a prayer to defeat the No. 13 team in the land, but after 60 minutes on the gridiron, David had beaten Goliath.
As an unsigned band doing everything independently, some might put Brightwork in a lower tier than their contemporaries aligned with record labels. But through catchy harmonies, a strong work ethic and a passion for people, these Virginians are making a splash in Christian music.
The band--comprised of vocalist/guitarist Caleb Carpenter, bassist Micah Petrosky, lead guitarist John Davis and drummer Andrew Wycoff--started as worship musicians during their college years, and followed the call to make honest, relevant "life songs," anchored by the hope of Jesus.
Their story has been one of organic momentum, punctuated by meaningful connections with fans and opportunities to share the stage with bands like NEEDTOBREATHE, Audio Adrenaline, and Sanctus Real.
Now, on the verge of releasing their newest record, having been produced by Riley Friesen (Family Force 5) and Dustin Burnett (Newsboys, Abandon Kansas), Hope for Love is an album that helps Brightwork walk more confidently in their identity as a band with a heart for impacting people with their music.
Lead singer Caleb Carpenter took time with NRT to introduce Brightwork to the world, talking about the band's past, present and future, and the heart behind Hope For Love.
I've listened to Hope For Love, and it's great. You guys should be very proud of that. How many albums have you put together as a band?
This is our first full-length record. There were two EPs prior to Hope For Love, with the Brightwork EP being released in 2010 and the Loving Rescue EP, in 2011. After our second release and touring most of 2012, we started winding down and entering into what would be a period of transition for the band. We had some personnel changes later that year followed by a short hiatus, which ultimately led to us taking some time off to reevaluate our vision, and our heart as a band in ministry.
Hope For Love is the product of that season in our lives. It was through those tough times and experiences that came some of the greatest moments of clarity and revelation for us concerning who we were, what "Brightwork" was, and the opportunity that we have been given.
So with a newly refined sense of purpose, we decided to step out in faith with this record and essentially re-brand our sound. Sonically we've moved in a direction that better suits us, considering where our hearts and passions are, while yet retaining elements of what we believe people have come to know and love about Brightwork.
Talk about your history and how you guys got started. Where did you come from?
We all started out as church players. I feel like a number of guys in this day and age, especially in CCM stuff generally get plugged in and get their start playing on a church or youth praise and worship team, which then can segue into a number of things. And if they so desire to continue branching out creatively, they start writing their own music and the story is no different for us.
Like I said, all of us in Brightwork started out playing in church and then played in bands on the side, whether they were pop-punk, or acoustic, or folk bands, rock bands, whatever. We just kind of continued branching out from the church circuit and expanding our influences, while still paying homage to our roots in contemporary worship settings.
We definitely have a huge heart for God's people and for playing to the Church. That desire will always be there. I know that for the four of us, we appreciate all kinds of music. Through expanding those influences we found that the music that really impacted us as boys and young men were the songs that weren't afraid to challenge us, the songs that weren't afraid to speak truth even if it was a little bold and even if it hurt a little bit. We honestly believe without that kind of truth, without that kind of honesty there can be no change.
Talk about that last statement a little more.
As a people we're fallen, we're broken. We are chained to sin essentially because it's in our nature, but the reality is when Jesus comes into our life and we accept him as Savior, we are no longer labeled by our mistakes or identified by our past as our identity and purpose, and hope and future are now found in Him.
In realizing that, we began trying to write really honest songs and move in that direction, initially starting off as somewhat of an experimental worship band, being that was what we knew. We basically got started in early 2009 off-campus in a college town in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
James Madison University. I actually didn't go to school there, haha. Some of the other guys at the time were finishing up school so we placed home base out of Harrisonburg. All the perks of going to school but no homework was awesome.
We started practicing, playing as often as we could, and continued to grow from there. We connected with a few contacts that we already had established as far beginning to play in the church circuit, playing camps, retreats, and as many Sunday mornings as people would let us. Again, a lot of the stuff was leading worship as there were a ton of opportunities to do that, and having our experience and backgrounds made it a lot of fun and helped establish a lot of the community we have to this day.
Leading worship is still a huge part of our heart and we all do that whenever we're not out on the road, which is beginning to be few and far between. So whenever we get a chance to be at home on Sundays we really, really enjoy that.
Our first record was tracked and produced in early 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with a guy named Scott Campbell, that used to be part of a Tooth & Nail band from the mid-2000s called Mainstay. I had crossed paths with Scott a few times in previous years and he and I had kept really good touch, so together we collaborated and created what became the Brightwork EP, citing number of different influences in different pop and rock genres for inspiration on that record.
From there, after creating that EP, we started receiving the initial feedback and the critique on our sound, and what we could do better. So we started exploring thoughts and concepts for the next EP, and were fortunate enough to connect with producer RIley Friesen of the band Staggerford. We were pretty anxious to get to work being that Staggerford had been one of the major sonic influences on the previous record. It was in Lincoln, Nebraska, where Riley and Philip Zach (Formerly of Remedy Drive) helped us take another step in the right direction the Loving Rescue EP. It definitely was more of a follow-up to the immediate feedback we received in the sense that we wanted to to be relevant and marketable in CCM industry at that time. To take that next major step.
Let's talk about the band these days. How would you describe your sound to people who have never heard you before and maybe even people who have heard you before that haven't quite heard this new direction of yours.
Well, we are four very normal guys. haha. We've never really considered ourselves "rock stars" or anything like that. We may dress and look the part sometimes but we're honestly just four goofy dudes. We have a lot of fun on the road. No dull moments ever. We are constantly finding and exploring new ways to keep ourselves entertained during 30-hour van drives.
Our hearts have always been to serve God's people, so by us being able to do that brings the overflow of joy that pours into the other parts of our life thus creating the overall attitude and atmosphere of Brightwork.
As a band I think one of the toughest questions people can ask is, "How would you guys describe your sound? Who do you sound like?" I honestly hate the question, but only because of my usual failure to appropriately answer it. I remember trying to answer a guy's question after one show and just fumbling through artists that I guess had influenced us and really contributed to the molding of our sound.
He attributed by saying, "You guys are so different than anything I've ever seen. You guys were a rock band, but with your lyrics and the way that you communicate, it's very much like a worship experience at the same time. It's entertaining. It's a rock show. It's a very upbeat. It's a very intense, but all the while you're saying and sharing about very honest, serious things. Things of the heart, the issues that we deal with as people in our walk with faith: the good, the bad, and the ugly."
And I took that as such a great compliment being that someone on the outside, a spectator not in the inner circle, had seen and understood what we were doing that night, that our show translated the way that we wanted it to.
I think adding to that is you've also got this pop edge to you guys too. Besides just the rock and the rock sensibilities and the worship heart, I think there's this sprinkling of pop going on.
Absolutely. Melodically in the world that we live in I think it's almost impossible to not be influenced by pop music because pop music and culture is always so prevalent in everyday media. Pop has always been about "that" hook, "that" line, and about that "melody." Instances where people walk away from a song having only heard it once and yet are constantly humming the hook or the melody is a tremendous win for any artist. You have successfully planted your song in their brain.
It's like you really can't deny a great hook or melody even if you don't like the artist or hate what the song is about. Even if you're sick of those tunes, after you hear it you're still humming the song. My 5 year old is a perfect example. When a kid that doesn't even understand or comprehend most of what's being said can sing every word, you have succeeded as a salesman with a product. So we absolutely have pop influence in our music. When we're writing songs we're trying to make them into something that's memorable and catchy yet still individualistic to us.
What about the live show? For those who haven't been able to catch you live, tell us what you can expect at a Brightwork show.
There's lots of high energy, as we like to have a lot of fun and we enjoy entertaining people. However, there are some very intimate moments in our set as well. Our goal in every performance is to create a moment where people have the opportunity to step back and authentically examine themselves, evaluate their situations, and walk away from an evening with Brightwork knowing that they're not alone, that God loves them, and that we were meant to share in the burdens and joys of this life together. That is something so much more memorable in my opinion than a CD or T-shirt. To create and facilitate an eternal experience that someone would never forget. That is why we do what we do.
What are your day jobs like? What are you guys like by day or is this full time for you guys yet?
This is full-time and the main gig for sure. I've been full time now almost two or three years. We definitely do as much as we can though in between touring. John and I help my father-in-law's lawn care business when we're home, Micah helps at a local church, and Andrew makes some delicious bagels at a pastry shop. Of course these jobs are all very, very part time as touring schedules are very sporadic, spontaneous, and demanding of us. We have some cool friends who help us feed ourselves, pay bills, and continue doing kingdom work.
What's your family life like?
Well, there are a couple of guys that are in relationships. We've got one single guy in the band and then I'm actually married and I have a five year old. We consider ourselves one big family as we spend so much time together.
To be doing this full time, you guys have to have a real good support system. Talk about that for a second.
Oh man, where do I begin? The opportunity and the ability to do this would not even be a possibility without the love, support, and care of people like my wife. My wife has been 110 percent supportive of me doing music since day one. We even took our vows three weeks before making a move to Nashville back in 2008 to pursue a separate opportunity in the music industry, which ultimately fed into Brightwork being born. So for me I've got about 10 years invested, being that I was only 16 when I started pursuing a career in music. There have definitely been moments where we've felt our backs up against the wall, or cornered, questioning, doubting, you know being human.
Through this project though, this band, this ministry, however you want to label it, we have learned more about God's promises and His faithfulness than any other season in life. There are definitely some really difficult moments. All jokes aside, we count ourselves as blessed to have so many loved ones who cover us in prayer constantly.
How can people be praying for you and what's next?
Oh man, ha ha. Do we have enough space for all the ways we need prayer? I'll hit a few that immediately come to mind. Right now we're talking with a few booking agencies about some spring touring opportunities and we're really hoping to hit this coming year, 2015, really hard with a tour in the Spring, festival dates in the Summer, followed by a tour in the Fall. We've spent about 2 ½ years investing in this new record. We need to promote it. So just provision and wisdom in that decision making process.
It's been a long time coming, and through the different seasons we've faced, walking through transitions in personnel, the everyday battles, and to finally have this project finished and available here in a few weeks is such an amazing feeling. Knowing all the stories, and the heartache, the joy, everything that we've experienced pouring into this record and to know that it's going to finally be at a place where we can say here, this is a part of our story and a part of who we are and we'd love to share it with you. Join us in praying that these songs inspire hope, that they would bless, heal, and walk with listeners through their journeys. And that they would point people to the everlasting hope that we have in Jesus Christ.
Executive Editor Marcus Hathcock pursues worship and words. He has been a newspaper reporter/editor a church communications director and small groups guy. He's also been involved in opera, acappella, a CCM group and now is a songwriter and the worship leader at his church in the Portland, Ore. area. Follow his journey at www.mheternal.com.