Leon Bridges’ creamy soul vocals and vintage ’60s sound on his 2015 debut album Coming Home made quite the impression. The album hit the Top 10 in Australia and was one of the most talked about albums of the year. In 2016 Bridges began the year at the Falls Festival in Victoria, and has since played to President Obama at the White House.
He returns to Australia this month as part of the Splendour In The Grass festival.
Broadsheet: I saw on a recent set list that you covered Pony by Ginuwine. You've talked in interviews about how this song was a favourite when you were younger but something you could never convincingly sing. Is playing this live a sign of your growing confidence as a musician?
Leon Bridges: Yeah, definitely. For me, it's a song that I sing all the time, not necessarily on stage. It's definitely one of my favourites, and hands down one of the best R’n’B songs ever written in my opinion! But yeah, it's like, now I'm growing as a musician.
BS: Speaking of growth, have you started writing songs and working on your next album? Is that something on your mind now?
LB: Oh yes, definitely on my mind, super hard. Even all the time on the road I'm thinking of songs and ideas. And we've actually been home for a while, so we've been tracking some demos. The goal is to not have a dead song on the record. What I love about Coming Home, in my opinion, is that it's definitely a fluid album – each song had its own character. And so the goal with this next record is to make something that feels good to me, but definitely to step it up in its appeal without compromising.
BS: Is there anything in particular you think you've learned since recording Coming Home?
LB: Before I started touring, I was in a place where I didn't know what to really write about, and I'm starting to really just have my eyes opened in that way, becoming better lyrically. I've been listening to Bob Dylan, and just really getting inspired by that … also, I'm becoming a better vocalist, in my delivery and all that kind of stuff. It's something I've definitely been growing at. Another thing is, you look at the first record, and that was definitely a period record… [now] I have a desire to just write songs – good songs – and you can really just outfit those songs with anything. I mean, it could be country, rock’n’roll, blues, whatever. So my number-one priority is to write good songs, and so that's another thing I've been focusing on.
BS: What else have you been listening to recently?
LB: This is one of those cats that I've always heard of, and he's from the same place that my family's from, so it's in the blood, but just recently I've been listening to Allen Toussaint and Dr John. The vibe is so crazy on there, you know? Allen Toussaint is definitely an encouraging artist to me, because vocally he's not the best, and I love that in artists – he doesn't have a huge range, but the songs and the vibe and the delivery is just on point, and that's what is important. You take an artist who can sing circles around anyone, but if they don't do it tastefully, it's not really going to make an impact. So that's something that I've been learning from listening to Allen Toussaint. I'm really feeling the Southern Nights record and Dr John – the Gris Gris album.
BS: Yeah, the Gris Gris album is great – it’s got that voodoo feel. You said your family comes from New Orleans originally, rather than Texas?
LB: Yeah, correct. My family goes down really deep in New Orleans, and my mother and father moved to Texas in the early ’90s. I'm really the only one who's from there – I was born in Atlanta but raised in Texas.
BS: What's it like growing up in Fort Worth, Texas?
LB: I'm not the one that can really say much, because I really spent my life in a bubble! I grew up only going to school and being at home, and so I never really saw anything outside of that until I got a little older … being from Fort Worth and not having everything growing up, it definitely carried on to now, to where I could go out and do many amazing things, and come back as if none of it ever happened. I never belittle anyone – I'm the same person as anyone else. And being from Fort Worth and growing up where I didn't have everything helped make me that way.
BS: I saw you performed at the White House in February at a Ray Charles tribute – how was that?
LB: Man, it was definitely a crazy night … It's really hard to articulate that feeling in words. It's like, what am I ‘gonna say? "Oh man, it was great" or "it was dope" or "it was awesome"? I was able to sing in front of the president, and was able to represent my name and my family and my friends from Texas. It was definitely a spiritual moment for me.
BS: It must have been – I can only imagine that your mum and your family must have been over the moon.
LB: Definitely. I mean, I've done a lot of things – I remember when I first signed with Columbia Records, and my mum treated it like it was nothing [laughs]. This was definitely one of those moments that she understood that, you know, this is all destined by God, or whatever, and that I'm doing something right.
Leon Bridges plays the Enmore Theatre in Sydney on July 18, the Forum Theatre in Melbourne on July 19, and Splendour In The Grass from July 22 to 24.
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