'It was very refreshing to just be away from [fame] during that time...'
When asked whether he’s missed performing over the last coupla years – while all shows were postponed/cancelled (for obvious reasons) – Leon Bridges confesses, “Not at all. For me, the pandemic was very healing, I think. I had just been on the road so much to the point [where] my mental, and even physical, health was diminished and so it was kind of a blessing in disguise to have time to reflect and disconnect from everything.”
Blue Mesas – a hauntingly beautiful, strings-laced song from Bridges’ latest and third record, 2021’s Gold-Diggers Sound – addresses his uneasy feelings surrounding fame in its opening lyrical phrase: “Ain't no peace at the top / I don't know how much air I got…”. And Bridges admits of his recent forced break from the spotlight, “There was a part of me that didn’t wanna, I guess, go back to being Leon Bridges, you know? [laughs] Just the fame and all that kind of thing. I think it was something very refreshing to just be away from all that during that time... I was trying to be more present.”
So did Bridges rediscover the benefits of nature walks during lockdown? “Absolutely,” he enthuses, “that’s something that we all took for granted.” With “the luxury of being able to go to a coffee shop or a restaurant” removed, Bridges found solace in “going out to nature and soaking that up and getting that natural high”: “And so that was really nice. I got to work out more and I got to play a lot of guitar, and really sharpened my guitar playing and stuff, during that time. It was definitely a good experience for me.”
We simply cannot imagine Bridges decked-out in a daggy tracksuit, though. Does he own Gucci activewear? Bridges laughs, before sharing, “Somebody was asking me what my workout outfit was like and, you know, I try to bring fashion into everything but not really make it complicated – especially if I’m working out. I put on some Nikes, a Nike fit. But I rarely work out, so...”
We can’t help but wonder whether Bridges gets recognised when he’s out and about these days. “Yeah, I guess it depends on which city I’m in,” Bridges offers. “I mean, when I’m in Texas I get noticed a lot. But it’s nice to go to a certain city where you can be anonymous or, you know, people are used to celebrity culture; it’s nice to come out to Los Angeles, ‘cause I kind of blend in.” We’re tipping he’d get recognised on the dancefloor though, right? “That’s right,” he laughs, before adding, “Well I do have my own distinct way of dancing so people could definitely spot me anywhere.”
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If you’re keen for an example of his enviable dance moves, look no further than the film clip for If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be) – from Bridges’ more progressive R&B-leaning second album, Good Thing (2018) – which was filmed in Paris and choreographed by Australian dancer/choreographer Darcy Wallace. “I forgot that she was from Australia,” Bridges admits. “Yeah, that was really rad to kind of dust the cobwebs off and really get into some choreography – that’s what I initially wanted to pursue before I started the music, so that was a really cool experience just, like, learning choreography in Paris and then dancing through the streets; you know, people were looking at me crazy, but it was a really awesome experience.”
Earlier this month, Justin Bieber invited Bridges to the stage for a special guest appearance during his concert at Crypto.com Arena in LA. Accompanying himself on guitar, Bridges performed a stripped-back version of River (from his rapturously received debut album, 2015’s retro-soul masterpiece, Coming Home). When asked how he found that experience, Bridges recalls, “Oh, it was such a monumental experience, you know, and just so wild how all that unfolded. Bieber reached out to me on Instagram and invited me to his birthday party. I was supposed to go back home and I ended up just going out to LA to hang. And so after that he texted me and he was like, ‘Hey, do you wanna come and get on stage and do a song?’ And obviously I was speechless about all of it.”
So is Bieber a long-time Bridges fan? “I think so. I think he discovered me through my song River – that’s what he said. But it’s just wild! Because you don’t think that artists of that calibre would, I guess, show love to the underdog and champion guys like me,” he points out, with a self-conscious little chuckle.
“I look at the moments when some of my friends allowed me to share my art on their platform and it’s definitely dope for me to even have some of my friends do their art on my platform as well. And so it’s definitely, I guess, [come] full circle, in a way.”
The dulcet tones of Bridges feature on Interstellar Love, a track from The Avalanches’ Australian Music Prize-winning We Will Always Love You set. On how he found the experience of working on this song – which features melodies that call to mind The Alan Parsons Project’s Eye In The Sky (1982) – he reveals, “You know what? That was a really rad time. Both those guys are super-talented and they pretty much sent me this song, the instrumental, and so I initially kind of wrote a couple of melodies and lyrics to it and then we went into the studio to knock it out. We worked on that song – it was some time in 2018, I think, and then it took a minute to come out. But, yeah! They were super-awesome to work with and, I mean, I think it’s a great song; it’s one of my favourite collabs that I’ve done.”
During a previous interview with this scribe, one half of The Avalanches, Robbie Chater, admitted that Bridges was on his “all-time wishlist”. “Oh, man, that’s awesome!” Bridges extols when this info is shared. “It’s always humbling when any artist views me in that way.”
As well as releasing his third solo album, 2021’s Gold-Diggers Sound – named after the swanky East Hollywood hotel/bar/studio complex in which it was recorded – Bridges also recently put out a pair of EPs with fellow Texans, the ridiculously awesome Khruangbin (pronounced KRUNG-bin): 2020’s Texas Sun and 2022’s Texas Moon, a companion piece. Having read that Bridges’ record label was hesitant to release his collaborative work with Khruangbin, we ask how he handled all of that. “You know, I don’t really want to talk any shade on my label and I don’t know what I’ll be able to say about it,” he responds, honest-but-fair. “But it would’ve been a crime, I guess, to deprive the world of that project. And the people responded to it so positively and so I’m glad I was ultimately able to put [those EPs] out.”
So how did Bridges come to add extra lush texture to this already outstanding, genre-bending, psychedelic trio in the first place? “We toured together in 2018,” he explains, “and there was one night on the tour Laura [Lee, Khruangbin’s bassist] sent me a song that they had been working on. And so I wrote a few lyrics to it and recorded it in GarageBand and that’s pretty much what started our collaboration.”
Bridges and Khruangbin obviously shine ever-so-bright as separate entities, but together their supreme sonic magic is undeniable. When told we found it impossible to sit still while listening to the funky-fresh Texas Moon cut, B-Side, Bridges humbly acknowledges, “Thank you, thank you. B-Side has got good energy and I normally just let the music – you know, whatever Khruangbin was playing – kind of dictate what the song was about. And with B-Side I just wanted to make people dance, you know?”
B-Side’s standout, almost-cocky guitar parts conjure up images from Staying Alive’s opening credits, during which John Travolta struts through Brooklyn streets keeping time with the Bee Gees disco hit of the same name. “Yeah, it’s definitely reminiscent of that,” Bridges allows, “and, you know, it’s awesome that we’re taking inspiration from the ‘70s and blues and country music and kind of shaping our own sound, essentially.
“[Collaborating with Khruangbin] was an opportunity for me to do more of a psychedelic thing and it’s awesome to show my fans different layers of my artistry. And I would say that the music that I make with Khruangbin is definitely, like, where my heart is at... I have to do some more polished things sometimes, but it’s nice to have an opportunity to kind of get a little bit deeper and, I guess, more psychedelic in the Khruangbin world.”
So are there any plans to tour the Khruangbin & Leon Bridges collaborative project after The Boundless Tour wraps around the globe? (*crosses everything*) “Yeah, we ultimately wanna tour at some point,” he also hopes. “And I think we probably need maybe another EP just to have enough songs to even do a show. But, for now, I’ll just pop up at one of their shows and do a guest song. But I would love to tour with them at some point.” How good!? We can totally imagine Bridges and Khruangbin performing separate sets before coming together – a mini-festival of sorts. “Yeah, I mean that’s what I thought; that makes sense to me. They could play some of their music and then we can do the songs that we did together, and people would love it,” Bridges agrees, with a delighted chuckle.
Doris – the Texas Moon EP’s opener – tells the story of Bridges’ grandmother's final moments, from his father's perspective: "Don't close your heavy eyes, Doris / You have so much / So much to leave behind...” When asked whether he had this particular song in his back pocket before joining forces with Khruangbin, Bridges enlightens, “So, during the [Texas Sun and Texas Moon] sessions there was songs that were born within the Khruangbin world and songs that we co-wrote together. There were also tunes that already existed before I met Khruangbin and we pretty much reimagined those tunes, and so Doris was one of those. It was initially more like a bluesy kind of progression and so I changed it to kind of fit within the Khruangbin world.”
Bridges first began documenting his family’s legacy through song when he penned Lisa Sawyer (from Coming Home) for his mother; unsurprisingly, she cried when he first played it for her. Then Bridges wrote another autobiographical mom tribute, Georgia To Texas – “504 black girl carried me / In her womb to the land of the peach…” – for his second album, Good Thing. Would it be fair to say that documenting family history through his chosen artform has become a bit of a Bridges trademark? “It is, you know,” he concurs, “and I guess it’s important to me to keep their legacy within my music. I think during that time [while creating Coming Home] I was finding songs, and finding concepts for songs, and it was just easier for me to write about my family in that way.
“It’s definitely different writing now,” he reflects. “I miss being able to write with no expectations and, now that there’s kind of a microscope on what I’m doing, I guess it [adds] a little bit of pressure. Which is a beautiful thing about when I collaborate with other writers on certain projects and songs, you know? I think it’s healthy to collaborate with other talented people. I think it’s very nice to, I dunno, take different routes, really, and kind of cultivate something that’s unique.”
The Boundless Tour will bring Leon Bridges to Australia this September and October; for all the details, click here.