The making of Leon Bridges
Leon Bridges is an old soul in a young body. Hailing from Fort Worth, Texas, the 26-year-old singer-songwriter has a look and sound that is more reminiscent of the ’50s and ’60s than today. His first album, Coming Home, debuted a contemporary twist on the classic soul stylings of legends such as Sam Cooke and Otis Redding; and on the cover, is Bridges, dressed in tailored, high-waisted pants, a vintage cardigan and patent leather shoes. The record, which is much more than just a throwback or tribute to the classic R&B era, has garnered critical acclaim and carved a path to the global stage.
It was Bridges’ dad who first introduced the singer to the legends of soul that have helped shape his signature sound. “That was the seed planted,” he says; “I heard it as a kid but that wasn’t my go-to music to listen to.” Bridges’ love of music began as a young boy, listening to the popular ’90sR&B of Ginuwine and Usher. He later joined the open mic circuit and was exposed to the sounds of country and gospel music – which “totally blew” his mind. “What I do now is an accumulation of all those things,” says Bridges. He loves that he is able to not only pay homage to the singers his parents admired, but has an opportunity to introduce them to a younger audience.
“In a way, I’m bridging the gap between current music and classic soul music,” says Bridges. “A lot of people these days, especially the younger generation, wouldn’t know who Marvin Gaye is; and I’m not saying I’m the substitute, I’m just trying to honour those guys. What I do can point people in the direction of the real Marvin Gayes and Bobby Womacks.”
“With this next record I definitely want to address certain issues and really be more honest and open”
The singer’s charming retro look however, was born way before his sound. Inspired by Michael Jackson, a 12-year-old Bridges became obsessed with dance and later wanted to do it professionally. At university he enrolled in ballet, jazz and hip hop and it was there, while rummaging in the costume shop, that he fell in love with the 1950s style of dressing. “I made the decision to make this my every day thing, before I even started to make this type of music,” says Bridges. “It just worked out that it carried on to the style of R&B I started to write.”
The musician is well aware that there are some people who categorise him. “They can look at what I do and think it’s a ‘cute retro thing’ then totally dismiss me and not listen to the lyrics,” he says; and it’s challenged the musician to really push himself with his second album, currently in the works. “With this next record I definitely want to address certain issues and really be more honest and open,” he says. Things such as, “what it’s like for a single mother raising her kids on her own”. Bridges insists he will be doing the second album his own way and is staying clear of outside pressures. “It won’t be a political record,” he says. “People are telling me, ‘Hey you need to be political’…but that would be the wrong motive for me.” After his tour wraps up, he will be back in the studio with his band to start recording, and he’s excited to see what they’ll come up with. “You look at Coming Home,” he says, “that was before I was exposed to the world, before travelling and being on tour.”
For the last two years, Bridges has been busy playing to sold-out crowds around the world, including in Australia, where he performed earlier this year. “The last time I went to Australia, I had the best time of my life,” he says. “Everybody asked me what my favourite place was and Australia was definitely number one.”
“You can tell that the fans are really into roots music,” he continues. “People definitely let you know that they love you and respect you. All the shows that we had there were just amazing. I’m really looking forward to getting back and playing some music for the beautiful people.”
For Bridges, being on tour is essential to his evolution as a musician. “My favourite thing to do is grow and touring is really the best way to do that,” he says. For all his growth though, the Texas-born singer says that he’ll always remain a small-town boy at heart, unchanged by fame. “Growing up in Fort Worth, there’s no celebrity culture” says Bridges. “I can go and play at The White House and then come back and act like it never really happened, even though I’m super thankful that I was there.”
It’s this same, down-to-earth quality that has allowed the singer to pursue what he calls “the road less travelled” with authenticity and grace. And thankfully for him, it looks to be a very promising road ahead.
Leon Bridges 2016 Australian tour
Tuesday, July 19 – The Forum, Melbourne VIC
Wednesday, July 20 – The Forum, Melbourne VIC
Thursday, July 21 – The Enmore, Sydney NSW
Friday, July 22 – Splendour in the Grass, Byron Bay NSW