by Donovan Wheeler
photos by Tyler Zoller
When Bridge 19’s Audrey Cecil spoke of the deep layers of musical talent in the Greater Louisville area, she modestly spoke about all the other bands with whom she shares time on stage. Of course, she easily could have spoken of herself and her bandmates. But such narcissism isn’t Cecil’s way. What is her way is harmony, and paired with longtime musical teammate Amanda Lucas, harmony becomes more than a seductive series of rich vocals echoing layered thoughts in lyrical form. For those who follow this popular Louisville band, harmony is ritual. A reverential “Om” where rhythm and syntax combine, drawing us out of our all too real worlds of credit card debit, irritating co-workers, and low-carb diets transporting us instead to a place where happy feelings wash through us and passionately hard feelings seem welcome and cathartic. It’s an enlightenment coming to Indiana this weekend when Bridge 19 performs a Friday evening set in Greencastle’s Wasser Brewing Company followed by a Saturday session at the Virginia Avenue Folk Fest.
Donovan Wheeler: Do you get a lot of Indigo Girls comparisons? And if so, how do you feel about them when they come?
Audrey Cecil: “For me it’s a complement because I’ve always admired them. Certainly some of the earlier material we recorded has more of that influence. But it’s a good point of reference, and when someone who knows their music really well makes that comparison…it’s a complement.”
DW: When reading about you, I’ve noticed that you’re described as a “duo.” But when I watch the videos and listen to the album tracks, you sound like a full band. It’s a sound which I think makes you who you are. So do you consider yourselves a duo, or are you part of something bigger?
Audrey: “We started out as a duo. Amanda and I were both doing our own singer-songwriter thing. Then we struck a partnership and both traveled and performed together. And as time went on, we discovered that hiring bands to record with us was not fulfilling nor economical, nor fun. That’s when we decided that we wanted to add permanent band members. Now we’ve all been together for a handful of years, even though you could say that we ‘front’ as a duo.”
Amanda Lucas: “For the first record we put together, The Fall Back, Audrey and I wrote the songs separately and took those to a group of studio musicians, but at that point we identified as a duo. But now that we’re a full band, the five pieces are definitely playing a role in everything we do. We just recorded some new music, and they had input as far as what the song sounded like…the titles of the songs… and all those things.”
Audrey: “I would say that we serve as band leaders. We write all the songs, for example. But after that everybody has full ownership, and I would consider us a ‘band,’ now. And given that we’re getting a lot more local and regional attention now, we’re striking people for the first time as a band. And most of those newer followers only know us as a band. So, to even think of us as a ‘duo,’ means you would have known us for a while and been around us since the beginning.”
DW: How did you guys come to the name Bridge 19?
Amanda: “Audrey and I were performing under our own names for quite some time. And we were able to play several good gigs back then. We opened the Lilith Fair…the one that came back momentarily, in 2010 in Indianapolis…and when we played that show we were just Amanda Lucas and Audrey Cecil. We got to open for people like Mary J. Blige and Miranda Lambert and Sarah Maclaughlin and all these awesome names. We didn’t have a ‘band CD,’ so we basically packaged my solo album and Audrey’s solo album together, put them together with double-sided tape and sold them as such. But people kept saying, ‘Okay, what’s your band name?’ We would say our own names, and they would repeat the question. Eventually we realized we had to come up with something. Our first local show as a duo happened at Bearno’s by the Bridge, here in Louisville, on December 7, 2007. Twelve and seven is 19…so ‘Bridge 19.’”
DW: Some of your songs sound very personal, but others seem to speak to big ideas and sound much more communal in nature. When you look at your own music, what patterns or consistency do you see either thematically or musically?
Audrey: “The one consistent piece of our songwriting is the storytelling piece. Whether it’s something that we’ve gone through as individuals, or a story we’re telling about someone we know, or a story we made up…all of our songs contain a storytelling element to them.”
Amanda: “For me, the songwriting process is very personal, and it’s easy for me to sit down and write a song when I’m really happy or very sad. But our new album, Riding on a Wire, we sat down and wrote when we were simply ‘A-Okay.’ We would try to make up a story, or we would read an article in the news and turn that into a story, or we’d write about a friends’ experience. I think that’s a lot more challenging than writing spontaneously when my heart is broken. So these newer songs are not as ‘super’ personal, but I actually enjoyed that experience.”
DW: Some of your work sounds very electric and studio-oriented, such as in the video for “Lion.” But your other videos showcase a distinct acoustic sound. Do you typically pare down your recorded sound for stage performances?
Audrey: “When we have all of our pieces on stage, we pretty much recreate the record on stage. Joey Theiman often plays accordion and trumpet simultaneously, which is fun to watch and hear. The videos are acoustic and unplugged, which can lead newcomers into thinking that all our live work is stripped down, but I typically play electric guitar and Jeff Faith will play both upright bass and the electric version.”
Amanda: “Joey, Jeff, and [drummer] Meg Samples are very, very talented, and they’ve added so much to our music. And it’s so much fun playing live with people who are this good.”
DW: Which of your own songs are personal favorites and why?
Amanda: “I think one of the best songs we’ve written lyrically is ‘Go Back Now.’ But I think the song I love to perform—and the song which I think has the most radio potential—has always been ‘Chain.’”
DW: I have to admit that “Chain” is one of my favorites, too.
Amanda: “It’s a song that was really well-written. Audrey and I went to a local park and wrote that song in an afternoon. We worked together on the storyline, and pieced it together over that afternoon. I don’t that we’ve really done that a lot. I’m typically a planner—a very type-A person—and I like to know where the song is starting, going, and ending when we sit down. But with this song, as we were writing, it formed. And I also love that song because it really allows us to showcase our harmony, which is what we’re known for.”
Audrey: “I have to agree. I think that’s the best song we’ve ever written. The time-signature is weird and interesting to me…it’s something we don’t do a lot…and the melody interests me as well. But what I find most surprising is that we didn’t have a plan for that song at all. It was a line-by-line experience. We would write a line and say, ‘What happens next?’ And more people approach me and say, ‘That song makes me think about someone in my life.’ It’s even happened for me. It reminds me of my brother, and there was no part of me which was thinking about my brother when we wrote the song…at all. But as a year passed—the more I heard it and played it—the more I think about him.”
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DW: What’s your brother’s story?
Audrey: “He lives in Texas, and he’s kind of stuck there…and the situation is completely out of his control. So now when I play it I can’t stop thinking about him. Many people have told me that have the same experience. It’s so fascinating, and this is what I love the most about music and writing songs. You can write something, and then let everyone apply their own meaning to it.”
DW: Do you try to put ambiguity into your music so that it can relate to wider audiences, or do you write stuff that very specific and personal and hope that it connects?
Audrey: “I like ambiguity. Amanda does not. We are complete opposites when it comes to that. So we find middle ground, and we do both. We will write a song telling a story. We explain how it starts and how it ends, but outside of that my aim is to allow people to apply their own meaning. That is why I write.”
Amanda: “I would say that the difference in our styles is that Audrey tends to write more metaphors, and my work is more straightforward. But I also like to allow listeners to personalize the songs, too. For example: one of the newer songs we’ve written is about my relationship with my parents, but when you listen to it you wouldn’t know that. So for me it’s very concrete, but other people can go where they want to with it.”
DW: Like so many musicians I talk to, you both work full-time jobs. How do you balance the demands of your day jobs with your musical needs?
Amanda: “It’s really challenging. Both of us work in the marketing department in a college, so…with marketing work happens all the time—especially for me because I run our school’s social media accounts. I feel as if I keep doctors’ hours (but I don’t get paid like a doctor). You have to be on call all the time. If something happens…if there’s a campus emergency…you have to be able to respond. But we both love writing and recording and all the stuff that goes with it. It brings us the sanity and happiness we need. It lets us escape the responsibility of our day jobs.”
Audrey: “And even though we both have fairly high-responsibility jobs we also enjoy flexibility and leniency when it comes to our music. When we leave town to tour this week and next week, that’s something we can still do. We’ll probably both work a little bit while we’re not preparing for shows, but we still enjoy a lot of responsibility for our own time. I would say that probably 90% of the writing we do happens over holiday breaks or in the summer when we take time off for a writing-retreat.”
DW: I know other bands who do that, too, but your overall approach sounds a lot more structured than what I often hear. Given how ideas hit you from all directions, how do you structure something like that?
Audrey: “For us to write, and write well, we have to plan to do it. So we’ll save up our ideas in little licks and melodies. We’ll put them on our phones and trade them back-and-forth. But when that time comes we’ll run through all that we’ve collected and see which ones we want to work with.”
DW: What’s the Louisville scene like, and what are your challenges performing there?
Audrey: “Louisville is extremely saturate with music. There are so many good bands here, and on any night you can find a dozen good shows in town. So, in order to be viable here, you can’t let up. You have to push yourself to play shows, release music, always have something new happening. Otherwise you disappear around here quickly”
DW: So, would you call that a vibrant music scene or a competitive one?
Audrey: “Both. But it’s still wonderful. There are so many great musicians down here, and some of them such as Joan Shelley (who lives across the street from me) are having great success. But there’s also so much talent that doesn’t get seen because it’s also insanely competitive. Compounding that is the fact that number of great performing venues is relatively small. There are a handful of great venues here, and you might get to play them maybe once or twice a year.”
DW: Does taking time away from Louisville to play up here in Indiana help your overall plan, or does that time away from Louisville set you back?
Amanda: “It definitely helps. We’ve been coming to Indianapolis since we started playing together about nine years ago. We’ve also played in places like Bloomington, and we’ve actually played at Greencastle’s Parkfest something like four times. It’s definitely tricky coordinating time to get away from Louisville, but we work it out. We set up dates to the north, then for another weekend we work somewhere south.”
Bridge 19’s Wasser gig starts at 8:00 this Friday. Their Saturday appearance at the Folk Fest in Indy’s Fountain Square district, begins at 7:00 at the Hotel Tango stage.