Seated in the studio that's located in the lower level of his spacious Nashville home, Jay DeMarcus is discussing guitar parts with producer Dann Huff, but it's not a Rascal Flatts record the two are working on. On this particular day, Jay is actually in the producer's seat and Dann, Rascal Flatts' longtime producer, is laying down guitar licks for the new Austin's Bridge album. The duo -- Justin Rivers and Jason Baird -- are soaking up the Kodak moment, still wanting to pinch themselves because they can't believe they are in the studio with two of their musical heroes.
The creativity and camaraderie in those recording sessions echoes throughout 'Times Like These,' the just-released album from Austin's Bridge, a Dove Award-winning duo with roots in the Southern Gospel field. Recorded last year with Jay at the controls, 'Times Like These' includes the upbeat message of hope and faith that the duo is known for, yet also takes them musically into some new territory.
"We were actually introduced to Jay by Norman Holland from the record label," Justin says of Daywind Music Group's senior VP of A&R who engineered the collaboration. "We just threw the idea out as something kind of fun and exciting and when we found it was actually a possibility, of course we were going crazy, and were just really excited when he decided to come on board and take on this project."
When asked what appealed to him about working with Austin's Bridge, Jay responds, "They are big Rascal Flatts fans. That was very appealing,"he says with a mischievous smile. "They reminded me a lot of what myself and the guys do -- really tight harmony and the really special blend that they have together."
For Jay, producing the album was also a return to his roots. He started his career as half of the Christian music duo East to West, recording for the Benson Music label. "A lot of my heart and soul has been in Christian music. That's where I got my start," Jay says. "Since I've been doing this for 10 years now with the Flatts, it's something that I very much missed being a part of. I wanted to find a way to get back involved in Christian music somehow and Norman came to me with the perfect opportunity to work with Austin's Bridge. It's been fun."
Justin and Jason enjoyed the experience as well and were impressed with Jay's studio and the relaxing vibe at his place. Whenever they'd take a break from recording, they enjoyed hanging out in the area outside the control room and vocal booths that boasts a full size Rascal Flatts arcade game and is decorated with lots of sports memorabilia including signed football jerseys from former Tennessee Titan Eddie George and former St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger.
Justin and Jason appreciate Jay's guidance on their new project."There's a lot of knowledge behind what he does and he has a phenomenal ear," Jason adds. "Going into this second project, we wanted something that was going to be able to stand out above where we were. You hear the about the sophomore slump, that a lot of times your sophomore record is never as good as your first one. We definitely wanted to knock that out of the water and I think we've done that."
Austin's Bridge debuted in 2007 with their self-titled debut album. The following year, they netted their first Dove Award in the Bluegrass Recorded Song of the Year category for the harmony-laden hit 'He's in Control.' They were also nominated for Best New Artist and Country Album of the Year. The duo has toured extensively, including dates on the Franklin Graham Crusade. They also taped an installment of 'Live at Oak Tree,' which earned them Dove nominations last month for Country Album of the Year and Longform Music Video of the Year.
The duo are hoping the new record will expand their audience. "One of our main goals since the beginning of Austin's Bridge was to eventually cross genres of music and take a message of hope into a main stream market," Justin says. "I think it's a very good possibility that that could happen."
Jay has enjoyed working as producer, but what's been the best part of the experience? "Working Dann Huff like a dog," he says with a laugh."My favorite part about making any kind of music is being in the studio and creating music that's going to last forever. That's kind of the exciting part for me is having a blank canvas to paint on and create from scratch, really that's the funnest part of the job for me. I've been fortunate enough to work with some of the best music producers in the business, and I've been able to learn a lot. I'm still learning myself and trying to apply all the knowledge that I learn from the great ones to what I'm doing myself."
In addition to producing, Jay also contributed his songwriting talents to the album, penning the title track and the song 'Angels.' "I feel I've been very, very blessed to be where I am at this point in my life and my career and I hope that if there's anything that they could sayat the end of the day is we found some really great hit songs that will move people and be special pieces in their ministry and touch people for a long time to come," Jay says. "That's really all that I can ask for is [that] I'm able to bring something to the table that they haven't had in the past and hopefully they can learn a little bit by working with guys like Dann and people that I'm able to introduce them to---some of the greatest musicians this town has to offer, songwriters, and players. Hopefully that will help them down the road somewhere."
'Times Like These' is available now.