Don’t expect another “modern Sam Cooke” comparison when it comes to Leon Bridges and his latest album, “Good Thing.” A lot of growth happens in four years. This is especially true for Bridges, whose 2015 album, “Coming Home,” quickly skyrocketed to the top of the music charts. For Bridges, this growth period has consisted of multiple Grammy nominations, an appearance at the White House, sold-out shows in Europe and a new full-length record that is, at its core, the sum of who Bridges is as an artist right now. It’s personal and authentic, with an eclectic mix of songs and influences that incorporate contemporary jazz and R&B into groovy dance beats and soulful ballads. Clearly, the artist seems to have settled into an identity that’s all his own.
Days before the debut of “Good Thing,” the 28-year-old performer shared what inspired his modern sound, how he likes to unwind at home and where he goes to dance.
The first two releases off your latest album, “Good Thing,” have a very different tone and feel than those off the “Coming Home” record. What sparked this evolution in your sound?
In the three years I toured for “Coming Home”—and I’m very proud of that project—but at the end of that … I feel like this new project is the flick of my confidence that I’ve gained. I wanted to make something that was bolder and bigger. I wanted to dive in more to the music and the process.
Are there any songs on “Good Thing” that are particularly close to you? The last track, “Georgia to Texas,” seems like it’s a very personal note on which to end the album.
I’d say that “Georgia to Texas” is definitely closest to me. Every song on the album is my baby, but all of it was a collaborative process. For this one, I worked with some amazing producers. “Georgia to Texas” talks about my mother being a New Orleans native, then moving to Texas and my experience there. It’s just vignettes of my story, but it’s definitely my favorite on the album.
What can fans expect from your show on the “Good Thing” tour?
Each show will be pretty much the same … but people will dance. It’s got everything from dance beats to ballads. A lot of these songs on the album are reflective of some relationships I’ve been in.
Is there a message you’re trying to share or convey through the new album?
For me, it’s nothing deep. When I moved on into this new sound, I was a little concerned that the fans wouldn’t be able to grow with me, and with my newfound love of adopting new modern styles of R&B and stuff, so it’s amazing to see that people and fans are connecting to it. And so there really isn’t a message … to be able to have a great experience when listening to my songs, and have a great experience when I’m performing them. All I can say is, I’m really excited for people to hear this new chapter from me … and the album is definitely not a ’60s R&B thing, but I think I was able to make something fresh and new.
Your song “Lisa Sawyer” was written about your mother. Has she heard the new album? What are her thoughts about it?
After I showed her the whole thing—and these were her words, not mine—she said, “Y’all. Ain’t. Ready.” Honestly! And when I played her the songs that are out now, she was like, “Now who is that?!” The way I’m delivering the music now is a way I’ve never done before in my career [so far]. She’s proud of everything I’m doing, and it’s good to have that kind of support. I’m always inspired by her.
Over the last few years, you’ve developed a well-dressed persona, but lately it seems like you’re having more fun with your personal style. How would you describe your aesthetic today?
It’s still timeless, but it’s a little more flashy now. I wasn’t willing to go there in the past; I kept it a little bit more traditional. But it’s all about putting it together—mixing a little bit of vintage with modern, and being able to find modern designers re-creating some of the old stuff. The jacket I had on [recently] at the Belmont [Hotel] is from BODE, a label out New York.
Last summer you had a birthday party at It’ll Do, a Dallas dance club. What do you like about that spot?
It has a raw vibe to it, and that aesthetic is pretty rare. There aren’t really bars like that. I really love the openness of it and that little section of the floor—that “Michael Jackson” floor—which gives it a lot of character.
In terms of Fort Worth’s dining scene, what are the restaurants you try to visit when you’re back at home?
There are so many, so I probably can’t name them all, but I love Kincaid’s, Shinjuku Station and Cannon Chinese Kitchen.
Do you go back to local nightlife haunts, like The Usual?
I was just at The Usual two nights ago! It’s nice to get back in some of those places that I frequently went to before all the success.
The 2018 summer tour features opening acts Jon Batiste, Masego and Khruangbin, another Texas band. Did you have anything to do with bringing them on tour?
When it comes to touring and finding the opening acts, the door is always wide open for that. It was definitely a collaboration between management, the label and me as a music fan. When I found out they were hopping on tour, it made the most sense. It’s perfect to have all those guys on the road with me. And I’ve been listening to Khruangbin; they are really good.
Speaking of Texas artists, you’re pretty supportive of the local live-music community. Are there any up-and-coming artists you enjoy hearing or seeing live?
I really love the local music scene. It’s pretty solid. In Dallas, I’d say there’s Medicine Man Revival, which is Keite Young and Jason Burt, who’s an amazing producer; of course, Sudie is amazing; and DJ Sober is one of the best DJs in Dallas. There’s also Blue, the Misfit. From Fort Worth, Abraham Alexander; Quaker City Night Hawks; Ronnie Heart is also amazing … but they’re not really “new.” I’ve kind of been out of the loop lately.
You were recently back home in Fort Worth for a few days before heading across the pond for some tour dates. What do you like to do when you’re home?
I like to be around good, solid people when I’m back. I’m a simple person. When I get off the road, it’s nice to chill at the crib. I like to watch a lot of my favorite cartoons that I grew up on, I like to go out and dance. That’s the dope thing about Sober: He’s one of the few people that can put down a good show [at any bar], from Beauty Bar to Off the Record. Of course, the Belmont [Hotel] is always a good hangout.
Which artists would you love to collaborate with in the future?
Kendrick Lamar, Drake. Also, Young Thug. There are so many I’d like to work with, but those are definitely at the top of my list. I’m all around the spectrum … it would also be fun to collaborate with James Blake or Khalid.
Do you see yourself moving out of Fort Worth anytime soon?
It all depends. I ran into my first dilemma with that recently. The more my music grows, the harder it’s gonna be to stay home, but I definitely want to stay here as long as I can. I’m going to need something more secluded, but right now, I’m in a nice neighborhood.
If/when the time comes, would you move to somewhere like Austin, New York or Los Angeles?
So maybe not Fort Worth, but I’d definitely like to stay in Texas.
That’s good to hear! After all, we Texans have to stick together.
Yup! We do.
This interview was originally published for WhereTraveler.