Singing Songs of the Spirit
By Marty Paule
Pigeonholing the infectious pop-rock sounds of this Roanoake, Virginia-based quartet is a bit challenging given the band’s ongoing sonic evolution. What’s easier to nail down is its focus on matters of the spirit. Themes revolving around hope and redemption are an undercurrent in the band’s work—a thrust that gives Brightwork’s output a serious sense of uplift without getting preachy.
With a new album recorded in Nashville and Hollywood in the can and due out this fall, Brightwork is poised to make a serious move nationally. We look forward to tracking their progress.
You can connect with Brightwork at the band’s website or on the Brightwork Facebook page.
We spoke with Caleb Carpenter, Brightwork’s singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter.
The HUB: You all live in the same small Virginia town. Did you grow up together?
Brightwork: Well, we all live in the same general area. John, Micah, and I all live in Clifton Forge, Virginia, which is north of Roanoke. Andrew lives in Lynchburg, which is east of Roanoke.
Micah and I grew up together going to the same local church in Covington, Virginia, but weren’t super close being that we are six years apart in age. We connected when he was 16, and I found myself in need of a temporary bass player. So he filled in for a few months, and upon the current player’s exit, we reconnected a year and half later and he’s been on board ever since.
John and Andrew Came on board in 2013 through various contacts and connections with different bands and churches.
The HUB: How did you come together as a band?
Caleb: I started this band shortly after exiting a former Nashville project. The idea of Brightwork began forming sometime around the spring of 2009 off the campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.. It finally gained some traction through a few select contacts and friends of mine with mutual interests in music, and we began prepping for our first record, the “Brightwork EP” which we tracked at a studio in Minneapolis. Since that time and over the course of the past four years, Brightwork has continued to gain momentum and evolve into its current state of being with roots in melodic and indie rock, and a strong sense of identity and purpose in songwriting.
The HUB: The recurring theme of hope comes up in your music a lot. How do you recharge yourselves with hope when things aren't going so well musically and otherwise?
Caleb: That’s a great question. I’d start by saying that there are number of things that fuel our flame and persistence, but three things in particular immediately come to mind. Our loved ones most definitely play a major role in keeping us and our hearts in check. As we all know, making a living from music isn’t the easiest career path or choice. You face trials and hardships on a daily basis, so there is an almost constant turmoil that you learn to cope with in order to accomplish a dream or to give a passion its platform. They walk with us through those fires, as they believe in us and what we’re trying to do with our music. We are also men of faith too, and we find hope, fulfillment, and a lot of redemption through walking in that faith. It’s a very personal relationship that breathes life into our music, and ultimately brings our songs to life and we thank God everyday that we get to do what we love. And lastly, the relationships we have between each other play an important role and dynamic in the band. When one of us is having a bad day, the other guys always try and find a way to help carry the load or share the burden. There is a lot of love in our band as we share in the successes and sufferings of being a full-time musician. So we’ve learned to empathize and care for one another. So between our loved ones, the band itself, and the hope that our faith brings, we count ourselves as blessed men to have a pretty solid support system.
Brightwork is (l-r): Micah Petrosky bass; John Davis lead guitar; Caleb Carpenter vocals, guitar; Andrew Wycoff drums
The HUB: While there is a strong religious/spiritual thread running through Brightwork music, your lyrics are not overtly denominational. Are you interested in engaging with a wider, more secular audience?
Brightwork: Absolutely. Our desire in making music is to create genuine honest art. We’re human just like everyone else, and we have our good and bad days and we try to draw from that. And there is no doubt that we garner a ton of inspiration for our music from our walk with faith and the relationship between that and everyday life. We believe that music, very much like the themes of hope and love, is something that can cover a multitude of differences and bring people together from all walks of life. Music speaks to the soul, so when we have the privilege to share our music and speak to someone’s situation, I take it very seriously. There is a quote by Brennan Manning that more or less says, “In each and every encounter we either speak life, or we drain it, that there is no neutral exchange.” We model our music and it’s mission in a very similar way.
The HUB: What's your typical recording process? Do you go into the studio with fleshed-out songs that are already largely arranged, or do you work from more basic riffs and sketches?
Brightwork: It really depends on the situation, and even more specifically the song. Our upcoming record is a fresh sound and somewhat of a new direction sonically for Brightwork. For that specific experience we walked into the studio with some pretty basic ideas and arrangements of the songs. So almost everything we did, with the exception of lyrics and basic melodies, was created inside the walls of the studio. For us there is something special about coming together, and locking ourselves in a space for 12-16 hours and just hammering away at a tune. You walk in with a skeleton or scratch track, and leave with a fully clothed production. It’s a pretty cool process.
The HUB: Who does your songwriting?
Brightwork: I do most of the songwriting in-house, and then typically we’ll collaborate with a few different guys within our industry whom I respect, whether it be a producer or someone more specific to help polish and/or look over a tune. The type of tune definitely determines who we consider sharing the song with. Sometimes they will add just little bit of extra flavor or something subtle, that absolutely pushes the song over the top. And then other times they’ll encourage us to leave a song alone, to change nothing as it works best the way it was originally interpreted or created. So again, we’re blessed to have a good team of people in our corner encouraging and pushing us forward.
The HUB: I understand you do your own booking and PR. Do you have any strategies to offer HUB readers trying to make their music more visible?
Brightwork: Well we actually just signed with a booking agency to aid in that process, but we’re definitely still doing a ton of that in-house as well. You just have to be really persistent. It’s not a pretty process or an overnight fix. It takes time, and being as active as possible, especially in social media. Social media is such an incredible tool to share your music. Avenues of promotion that used to be exclusive to record labels, can now be accessed from your own living room and broadcast to the world. It’s a different time and industry than what we grew up in. So being up to date and current on the most trendy ways to promote your band is always a major plus. At the end of the day, just be smart and relevant, and know that there is no substitute for hard work.
The HUB: You've been a band for about five years. If you had it do over, how might you have approached the process of creating Brightwork differently?
Brightwork: I wouldn’t change a thing. Everything that we are is a product of where we’ve been.
The HUB: You have a new album coming out this fall. Are you recording now?
Brightwork: We actually started tracking last summer in Nashville, Tennessee and finished up this March in Hollywood, California. Here is a pretty cool and fun fact about the recording process and our time spent in Hollywood: We were fortunate enough to track drums for most of the record at Tommy Lee’s studio, in the greater suburbs of Los Angeles. It was quite the honor and experience.
The HUB: Will the fall release take you in any new musical directions, or will it be more a refinement of your established style?
Brightwork: I’d say it’s a bit of both actually. We are really excited about this release as it pushes new boundaries. We were able to explore different sounds and new sonic possibilities on this record. I think listeners will be pleasantly surprised, because the level of musicianship, songwriting, and all-around production has increased 10-fold from our last record. We also feel like there is a little something for everyone. We have a few tracks that hit really hard, some that vibe, and some that have a bit more of an indie feel, while still retaining the heart and spirit of what people have to come to love about Brightwork.
The HUB: What words of wisdom do you have for aspiring musicians just getting started?
Brightwork: Keep your head up, and don’t get discouraged as every trial and obstacle is a part of “your” story. If you love music enough, you will find a way to make it work. Seek out mentors and guys that inspire you, and learn as much as you can from them. It takes a team, and a family of brothers and/or sisters to raise a project and help it develop into a fully functional business.
The HUB: Who are your musical heroes?
Brightwork: I’ll list four major ones, as we could go on for days about the number of people that inspire us and why: 30 Seconds to Mars, Switchfoot, Foo Fighters, Anberlin
The HUB: What is the one desert-island instrument or piece of gear you couldn't live without?
Brightwork: Our answers are super lame but honest I guess.
Caleb - Triburst Telecaster build with my Tyler Ampworks PT14. Gotta be a package deal!
John - 2007 Gibson Les Paul Standard Plus
Micah - Bass
Andrew - Snare
Caleb Carpenter - Guitar
Tyler Ampworks PT-14 head & cab combo
John Davis - Guitar
Boss TU-2 Tuner
Visual Sound Route 66 Compressor
Xotic EP Booster
JHS Morning Glory
Addrock Not So Ol Yeller
Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive
MXR Phase 90
Ernie Ball Volume Pedal
TC Electronic Nova Delay
Strymon El Cap w/ FAV switch
EHX Holy Grail
Tyler Ampworks JT46 1x12 Combo
Micah Petrosky - Bass
Andrew Wycoff - Drums
Vintage late ‘60s/early ‘70's Rogers Drums
22" x 16" kick
14" x 6.5" snare
13" x 9" rack tom
15" x 12" floor tom
16" x 16" floor tom