Published Jul 03, 2015She was like, "Is this secular music?" I told her "yes ma'am," Leon Bridges recalls.
The playing of or listening to secular music was verboten in the supremely religious Bridges household — strictly gospel, or the occasional clean pop song. The matriarch of the Fort Worth, TX family relented a bit after hearing one of her son's R&B/soul songs he played for her one day. She smiled, admitting it sounded pretty good, the soulful artist says.
These days, Bridges confesses his voice and sound have a lot to do with the golden-era soul of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding; the singer-songwriter-guitarist chalks up his thrift shop threads to a true love of plaid blazers, high-waisted trousers and polished saddle shoes. Just a year ago, Bridges was a young dishwasher in Texas who would spend nights singing and playing guitar in dimly lit bars. He was spotted by an impressed Austin Jenkins of White Denim one night, and was subsequently signed to a major in quick order. "He came up to me about making a record. A couple of days later we were recording songs. He saw the vision," he says.
The silk-voiced Bridges represents a delightful counterprogramming of sorts — a retro persona and vintage throwback sound. Internet buzz and a breakout SXSW performance have led us to this, a place where the release of debut album Coming Home is already being primed as a best-of-2015 candidate.
To hear Bridges tell it, the clean-cut '60s soul and blues aesthetic is just his truthful methodology. "Listening to classic gospel and R&B, I felt that I really connected to it, especially me being a young black man. And I asked myself, 'Why aren't any other brothers doing this now?'"
He claims to have only just learned guitar about four years ago — "I didn't know what chords to use" — and the first song he wrote was the album's smooth title track. It was after penning "Lisa Sawyer" (about his mother) when a friend mentioned how much it sounded like Cooke. At the time, he hadn't made the connection, but it finally clicked that this is the sound he should be exploring.
"When I first started writing four years ago, I was really into a lot of underground hip-hop, and mostly spiritual lyricists. I took a lot of phrasing and storytelling from that. Right now I like stuff like Young Thug and Drake. Going back, I love Bobby Womack, Van Morrison, Neil Young. A lot of the current stuff I listen to today is not necessarily my sound, but I'm down for whatever makes me feel good."
This project sees Bridges cleave to an old-school sensibility, down to recording to tape on vintage analog studio equipment. With the new album and a North American tour locked down, it's safe to say he's come some ways from washing dishes.
Moving forward, maturity and personal experience will serve to further the patina of authenticity in the 25-year-old's approach. "I want people to see an honesty within me. I'm not trying to be the next Sam Cooke or Otis Redding. I'm not trying to compete with any other revival soul acts. It's just Leon Bridges, a kid from Fort Worth trying to be himself and give people hope. It's great music to dance to and just love."