• Lillie Burke

Behind the Bruin: Pop/Rock Showcase winner Bridey Costello on breaking out of boxes

Bridey Costello rocked the Curb Event Center on Feb. 12, earning her the 2022 CEMB Pop/Rock Showcase crown.

This redheaded Chicago native captivates with her genre-blending tunes, candid lyrics and down-to-earth demeanor — qualities that make her an artist true to her generation and easy to pay attention to.

Freckle-faced with a sugary smile, Costello rocks a laid-back, effortlessly cool vibe that doesn’t make you feel lesser than.

Her “super Irish” family thrust her into music at a young age, and since that start, she’s never stopped.

Costello grew up listening to her paternal grandma belt Celtic ballads like “Danny Boy” and feels like she’s been singing “kind of forever.”

Her parents put her in xylophone lessons for “a hot minute” before she stepped up to the piano. One thing led to another, and Costello transformed into a musical theater buff with Broadway on the brain.

Costello’s mom, a painter, often carted her daughter around flea markets and at one in particular helped her haggle the “jankiest, weirdest looking guitar” down to $20, all the money in Costello’s preteen pockets. Costello taught herself how to play and wrote her first songs on that beat-up, First Act acoustic.

Costello abandoned her Catholic schoolgirl life midway through high school, drawn by the creative culture and recording classes at her local public school.

“I was still involved with a lot of musicals, but ultimately my mindset kind of changed,” said Costello, who started to dream up a future as a songwriter.

Her music teacher, Chris Gemkow, stoked this creative fire.

“Half of the songs I wrote in high school were trash,” said Costello. “He was always pushing for me to just keep writing. Like, it doesn’t really matter what comes out, just let stuff out.”

Costello applied to two colleges, and two acceptance letters came in the mail, but Belmont won her over with its bustling on-campus life and collaborative community spirit. Now, she’s a junior commercial voice major with a minor in songwriting, standing out from the crowd of music-minded dreamers with her silvery vocals and affable realness.

A friend talked her into applying for the CEMB Showcase last winter, and it ended up being “a super cool opportunity,” said Costello. She gigs a lot in her hometown at restaurants and coffee shops but hasn’t had many opportunities to play bigger stages due to classwork demands and COVID-19.

“Everything I’ve done here has been pretty much for either class or just small, little me-and-my-guitar things, so getting to play out with a full band with my music was just so cool,” she said.

Costello hopes to find more opportunities to get out and play around Nashville this summer — her first in Music City. But her heart stays true to her roots, and the top venue on her “someday” list is The Chicago Theatre, where she grew up seeing shows with her dad.

On days when the dream seems out of reach, Costello likes to remind herself that “little things are also big things.”

Costello finds inspiration in singer-songwriters like Adam Melchor, Jensen McRae and Madi Diaz, who aren’t necessarily out there “winning every single Grammy” but have enough support to go on little tours and keep on writing — which is what it’s all about for Costello.

“They are just so about the writing aspect of music, like lyrics specifically, and I feel like that’s where I lean to,” she said. ‘I just put everything into the lyrics.”

Costello wants to tell stories organically and refuses to follow formulas or alter what she has to say to fit a brand.

“Our generation is obsessed with labeling ourselves in certain ways, but the reason why I feel like people have connected to my songs is because I don’t ever put them in boxes,” Costello said.

Belmont’s music classes tend to focus on what sells, she said, turning songwriting into more of a science than an art, but Costello would rather be true to herself and not make a dime than lose her artistic integrity and make it big.

So, she writes from the heart, letting whatever comes come and hoping this will help listeners feel whatever they need to feel.

“Maybe, y’know, it won’t sell. Who knows. I don’t know, I’m just trying to be authentic,” she said, in a self-mocking, breathy timbre. “Just true to what I need to say in that moment.”

But as much as she shies away from the word, it’s Costello’s authenticity that makes her an artist worth listening to.

In her unreleased song “Figure Me Out,” which she shared at the showcase, Costello’s lyrics give voice to the hidden thoughts and insecurities of most young adults and tackle existential dread with modern wit.

“I feel like everybody’s looking at me / Is it ’cause of my hair? If so, please tell me.”

“Why does my stomach turn and twist? / I think I need to talk to my therapist.”

Students see themselves in Costello’s music, and she embodies a magnetic realness that pulls people in as she performs.

Ironically, her fan-favorite single, “Wasting Your Time,” shares the fear that maybe her work won’t matter to people.

She sings, “I wanna know how far I can go / ’Til I don’t remember my way back home / Maybe I’ll test all my friends / To see if they hear me when I’m speaking to them,” before cautiously asking, “Am I wasting your time?” It’s a question that builds in energy and desperation as the song progresses.

But listening to the singing, cheering crowd at Saturday’s showcase, it’s clear Costello’s not wasting anyone’s time. She’s got a campus of support behind her, and it seems certain this affection will be catching as long as she keeps at it.

Costello will return to the Curb stage for Best of the Best Showcase in April, and hopefully, she said, she’ll be branching off campus too.

Whatever life has in store, as long as Costello’s got her friends and her music, it sounds like she’ll be living the dream.

PHOTO: Costello outside the Curb Event Center on Belmont’s campus. Meagan Irby / Belmont Vision

This article was written by Meagan Irby.

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