Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Leon Bridges: Sitting Pretty

Leon Bridges PHOTO: Jack McKain
Leon Bridges PHOTO: Jack McKain Leon Bridges PHOTO: Jack McKain Leon Bridges PHOTO: Jack McKain Leon Bridges PHOTO: Jack McKain

“It was definitely a more enjoyable process but still a little bit challenging at the same time. Making “Coming Home” and continuing to make something like “Coming Home” wouldn't have been truly representative of who I am as an artist.” Leon Bridges shares, opening up about the recording of his sophomore album “Good Thing”. The backstory of the Fort Worth, Texas native reads like something of music industry fairy tale - local boy goes from washing dishes and open mic nights to signing with a major label and performing at the White House. While his whirlwind success is undeniable, Bridges talent cannot be contested. The release of his 2015 debut “Coming Home” saw the soulful and very stylish singer-songwriter receive a Grammy nomination to complement the critical and commercial praise. With songs like “River” and “Coming Home” Bridges brought the authentic soul sound and visual aesthetic of the 50's and 60's to the masses. As his passionate fan base has expanded, Leon has continued to evolve. He explains “It's awesome to be able to make music with no boundaries but also harder at the same time because I've never written songs at that pace before”.

With a sonic shift edging towards modern R&B, “Good Thing” gently marries the emotion and delivery of its predecessor while embracing modern production techniques. On that transition and finding the perfect balance between classic and contemporary Leon admits “I definitely felt liberated through this whole process but I was still conscientious of what the fans would think and that was one thing that was a little rough. If I were to be comfortable, I could have made an album that was the same thing as “Coming Home” but I figured if I was true to myself and I did something that I loved, I kind of felt that the fans would continue to grow with me and wouldn't even worry about the certain outfit that my music had”. Honoured by the response from listeners, Leon is often overwhelmed, adding “It's really is an honour that people are drawn to me as an artist over just singles. We didn't really have singles on the “Coming Home” (album). It's amazing that (people) were drawn to the whole idea and drawn to me. It's awesome that a lot of my fans are really passionate in support of me”.

Bridges' video for his single “Bad Bad News” has also been a source of some debate among his followers. Depicting a woman subjected to wolf-whistling and intimidation by a man in a dark subway station, at just over six minutes, the clip has become the catalyst for some thoughtful discussions on many of the issues of the day including sexism, abuse, and gun control. Weighing in on what the video means to him, Leon says “The whole video is a part of Natalie Rae's vision. She wanted to make something that kind of addressed the “me too” movement. Me, personally, I stand in support of that because I know women that are close to me that have been sexually abused. So the whole video, there's this guy who's disrespectful to Paloma, who is the amazing actress in the video. By the end of the video, she kind of overcomes that and doesn't let it phase her, she is kind of in her own world. We (also) incorporated dance into it”.

Early aspirations to be a dancer lead Leon to study choreography at college, but a chance meeting with Austin Jenkins of the rock group White Denim would ultimately change his artistic fate. Now guided towards his true destiny of music, a young Bridges frequented open mic nights in his hometown gaining performance experience between writing sessions for what would become his debut album. “I'm thankful for Austin Jenkins, who I met at an open mic and he ended up working with me in producing those songs for me. He was in a rock band called White Denim and his management was connected to Columbia Records. But we ended up putting the music online and I would say that more and more labels responded because the music on SoundCloud so it was a lot of things that came into play for me to sign with Columbia Records. On his early signature sound, Bridges adds “The 50's and 60's inspired soul music started off being my vision before I met Austin and my intention was to make music that was reminiscent of (that era) and Austin helped bring my vision to life. It was collaborative but I was already on that path before I met Austin” Leon also credits his family as a source of inspiration. On “Lisa Sawyer” a deeply moving tribute to his mother and grandmother, we are given a glimpse into Leon's very foundation both as a man and an artist. “I'm forever inspired by my family. Just seeing my mother and how she was working hard and being a single mother and also seeing my father work so hard in the community. My mother is very thankful for me and for me telling stories about her and her mother. Family is always going to be there but on this album, I won't say, I've moved on but it's about different topics. It's more about having fun and relationships (laughs)”.

While his passion for dance would eventually be eclipsed by his gift for music, it remains an important element of his creative process. “With “Coming Home” I didn't get to display all of that because I wanted to keep real and true to that era as much as I could. It's awesome that this new music opens the door for me to incorporate more dance. I have plans to incorporate more dance in the videos and even in my live shows”.

With his live shows already receiving rave reviews from concert-goers, Leon recalls his recent performance at London's famed Jazz Cafe. “I'm loving (the tour). (The Jazz Cafe show) in London went over very well. It was nice to get back in an intimate setting where the people are right there in front of you, so close you can touch them if you wanted to. It was an amazing show. I'm loving the tour and I got some new guys in the band and they really bring a dope quality to the live show.”

Bridges, who is also scheduled to open for Harry Styles forthcoming solo tour, adds “I met Harry at this dinner and he was a really nice guy. There was this moment where I hit up my management and said: “what if me and Harry Styles did a collaboration?” Of course, that never came about but that turned into us touring in South America. It made sense because we've never been in that market before so it'll be our first time out there and our first time in arenas so it'll be a great experience. The One Direction thing is not (completely) my cup of tea but I do respect them and whole boy band thing, I wish there was more of that”. While a collaboration with Styles didn't quite work out, Bridges is excited about his forthcoming collaboration with Detroit rapper Dej Loaf saying “it's an amazing, powerful song about just being free and loving yourself so I'm really excited about that”.

The album “Good Thing” is out through Columbia Records.

Catch Leon Bridges at the Citadel Festival, London, on July 15

November UK tour details: 5th O2 Academy (Bristol), 7th Olympia Theatre (Dublin), 9th O2 Academy (Glasgow), 11th Institute (Birmingham), 12th Rock City (Nottingham), 14th Manchester Academy, 15th O2 Academy (Leeds) and 17th O2 Academy Brixton (London)

You can read more from our exclusive interview with soul sensation Leon Bridges, including his thoughts on meeting his lifelong idols, being nominated for a Grammy, playing for the president, acting in Hollywood movies and his views on his own musical style in the current issue of Blues & Soul magazine - click the 'BUY NOW' link below to order straight from the B&S shop or read on for high street retailer details...

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Words Karen Lawler

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