Published Jun 19, 2015Meeting him in person, decked in an old-school blazer and trousers, it's apparent that American soul/gospel singer Leon Bridges is committed to his vintage '60s soul aesthetic at all times. It's his first time in Canada, he tells Exclaim!, and he's come a long way from making a living washing dishes in Texas just one year ago.
"It's insane," the Fort Worth, TX native says of the buzz his soul singles — reverent call-backs to early '60s rhythm & blues like "Coming Home," "Lisa Sawyer" and "River" — have been garnering. He made a strong showing at SXSW earlier this year, and his new album, Coming Home — recorded by White Denim's Austin Jenkins and Josh Block — is slated to drop on Tuesday (June 23) via Columbia.
"It's something that I never thought I would do. I'm a very shy person. I'm taking it pretty good. It's all about looking professional and giving it 100 percent."
Bridges represents delightful counterprogramming when it comes to his sound. His retro persona and polished sound and look might come off as too packaged and good to be true for some, but the clean cut motif just an honest approach to music he loves. Comparisons to artists like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding have been bandied about when describing the singer-songwriter-guitarist, something he appreciates, but maintains that he's just trying to carve out his own identity. It was in 2012 and writing "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. And his output, thus far, has been refreshingly good.
"When I first started writing four years ago, I was really into a lot of underground hip-hop, from Deepspace5 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 stuff like 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.
"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 him and give people hope. It's great music to dance to and just love," he says. "I was aware of those artists and I remember my father telling me about [Cooke's] life. I was really moved, but it didn't stick with me — I was busy listening to the R&B of my time."
His big break came when he was playing in a bar and met Austin Jenkins of White Denim. He was subsequently signed to Columbia in quick order. "He came up to me about making a record and a couple of days later we were recording songs. And he saw the vision."
Coming Home sees Bridges stick to an old-school sensibility, down to recording to tape on vintage analogue studio equipment. Twenty songs were recorded in total, with 10 tracks making the album.
"I'm very happy with what made it, my best gospel numbers and love songs. It was very hard to pick — I wrote some pretty good stuff."
It's not necessarily a "throwback sound," but more an honest take on R&B, according to Bridges. "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?' It's obvious that I'm taking from the past. But I like to call it Southern soul music with gospel undertones. If people want to call it throwback or retro, that's cool," he says.
With the album set to launch, Bridges notes that he was recently in Los Angeles to shoot videos for singles "Better Man" and "Smooth Sailin'." He also recently completed a collaboration with rapper Macklemore, of "Thrift Shop" fame, not to mention has a newly announced North American tour to attend to.
At times it can be overwhelming and a lot of pressure, he admits. "Fame and all that type of stuff is inevitable but I'm very content having a good band with no negativity and everyone is on the same page. I'm very content to have great management and a great label. But for me success started when my managers came to me and told be go ahead and quit your job. I told them, as long as I don't have to wash dishes anymore I'm good."
06/20 Fort Worth, TX - Scat Jazz Lounge
06/23 New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom
06/24 Brooklyn, NY - Music Hall of Williamsburg
06/26-27 Somerset, United Kingdom - Glastonbury
06/28 Rotselaar, Belgium - Rock Werchter
06/30 Cologne, Germany - Stadtgarten
07/01 Hamburg, Germany - Knust
07/03 Stavern, Norway - Stavernfestivalen
07/05 Birmingham, United Kingdom - Temple at The Institute
07/08 Glasgow, United Kingdom - King Tut's
07/09 Manchester, United Kingdom - Deaf Institute
07/12 Montreux, Switzerland - Montreux Jazz Festival
07/14 London, United Kingdom - Rough Trade (In-Store)
07/15 Bristol, United Kingdom -Thekla
07/17 Rathfarnham, Ireland - Longitude Festival
07/18 Suffolk, United Kingdom - Latitude Festival
07/19 London, United Kingdom - Citadel Festival
07/31-08/02 Happy Valley, OR - Pickathon Music Fest
08/07 San Francisco, CA - Outside Lands Festival
09/04 Amsterdam, Netherlands - Paradiso
09/06 Brussels, Belgium - AB Box
09/08 Paris, France - Le Trabendo
09/09 Frankfurt, Germany - Gibson
09/11 Copenhagen, Denmark - Vega Jr
09/12 Stockholm, Sweden - Debaser Medis
09/14 Berlin, Germany - Kesselhaus
09/15 Munich, Germany - Technikum
09/16 Zurich, Switzerland - Kaufleuten
09/19 Madrid, Spain - Riveria
09/20 Barcelona, Spain - Bikini
09/23 Manchester, United Kingdom - Albert Hall
09/24 Glasgow, United Kingdom - 02 ABC
09/25 Dublin, Ireland - Whelans
09/26 Bristol, United Kingdom - Anson Rooms
09/28-29 London, United Kingdom - Shepherds Bush Empire
10/02-10 Austin, TX - Austin City Limits
10/12 New Orleans, LA - Tipitina's Uptown
10/13 Nashville, TN - Marathon Music Works
10/14 Atlanta, GA - Variety Playhouse
10/16 Washington, DC - 930 Club
10/17 Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer
10/18 Boston, MA - Royale
10/20 New York, NY - Apollo Theatre
10/22 Montreal, QC - Corona Theatre
10/23 Toronto, ON - Danforth Music Hall
10/24 Detroit, MI - Majestic Theatre
10/26 Columbus, OH - Newport Music Hall
10/27 Chicago, IL - The Vic Theatre
10/28 Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue
10/30 Englewood, CO - Gothic Theatre
11/02 Seattle, WA - Neptune Theatre
11/03 Vancouver, BC - Commodore Ballroom
11/06 San Diego, CA - North Park Theater
11/09 Los Angeles, CA - The Fonda Theatre
11/13 Houston, TX - House of Blues
11/14 Dallas, TX - Majestic Theatre