By Ross Currie (Host of Mad Wax Thursday 3:30-5:00pm)
Every so often a talent comes around that makes people wonder, where they’ve been all this while. Soul vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Leon Bridges is certainly worthy of such praise. Originally starting out with an interest in choreography, it wasn’t until Bridges starting improvising over his friend’s keyboard, and handed a guitar, that he started to develop an interest in music. This lead Bridges to start writing songs and performing them live in coffee shops and small venues around his native Fort Worth, Texas.
“I was very passionate about getting my voice known around town. It was more than a hobby, but I never thought it would lead to where I’m at right now,” says Bridges. A chance encounter with a woman who remarked that her boyfriend had the same pair of wrangler jeans, lead to a fruitful working relationship. The boyfriend happened to be Austin Jenkins, of the indie-rock band White Denim. “Meeting him [Jenkins] changed everything, because he was able to take these songs and put them on a bigger scale with a full band and arrangements,” says Bridges. After seeing him perform live, Jenkins and bandmate Joshua Block offered to bring Leon into the studio to record. A three-day session with a local troupe of Fort Worth musicians yielded everything you hear on the debut record Coming Home.
After being put in contact with White Denim’s management, and releasing the first two singles “Coming Home” and “Better Man” on music blog Gorilla vs. Bear, the attention from labels starting to come, which eventually lead to a contract with Columbia. “We recorded the whole record before we got onto Columbia [Records], or had any label interest. We presented the record to them, and told them we weren’t gonna change anything,” says Bridges. Everything you hear on the debut came from the initial recording session, which speaks a lot to the honesty and energy that you hear on the record.
“All these guys are amazing musicians,” says Bridges. “A lot of them have never played soul music. There styles are very Texan; a little bit country. You take that with my songwriting and phrasing and you have a very Texas soul sound.” Bridges is quick to point out that the record is very much a collaborative effort. Coming Home featured four-background vocalist, two guitarists, a bassist, a saxophonist, an organist and a drummer, and was recorded on analog equipment.
Soul music didn’t automatically spring to life for Bridges, who grow up on hip-hop and modern r&b. After hearing comparisons to classic soul vocalists from the 50’s and 60’s such as Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, Bridges began digging deeper into the music of the past for inspiration. “That was my goals when I first made the decision to go down this road. It’s very clear than I’m pulling from the past,” says Bridges, who doesn’t shy away when terms such as vintage or retro are tossed around to describe his sound. “When my intention is to make classic or traditional soul, it’s gonna automatically come out in my own way.” Which is apparent on the debut Coming Home. “The great thing about soul is the raw quality and imperfection to it,” says Bridges. “I love the innocence within the songwriting and the way those singers would execute the words and the phrasing.”
Amidst all the fame and hype surrounding Bridges’ work, he’s managed to keep a level head throughout it all. “Humility for me is something that kind of comes out naturally,” says Bridges. “That’s something my mother always taught me as a kid… There’s always someone that’s gonna be better than you out there, and just to be thankful for the platform that you have. And use it to lift people up, and put others before yourself.” This down-home approach to life and music bodes well for the 26-year old moving forward in his career. When asked about what people should take away from his music, Bridges remarked, “I want them to see honesty within my music. I want them to have good music to listen to, and to be encouraged and blessed by it.”
Fans of Leon Bridges’ music have a lot to look forward to. Just two months after the release of his debut album, and a world tour currently underway, things don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. He’s quick to remark that fans shouldn’t expect drastic changes in his style in the near future. “For the next record down the line, I want to grow lyrically,” says Bridges. “I’ve been very inspired by old country, so I definitely want to incorporate that within my music.” It’s a good sign that Bridges is already looking ahead to the next release. “I definitely feel like I’ve found my voice,” says Bridges, who’s quick to point out that “there’s room for growth.” I’m sure for most fans this growth will be a welcome sign, especially for an artist who’s already made such an impact on the music scene so early on in his career.