Interview: Leon Bridges

Spindle met with Leon Bridges when he was in London the other week before his stint of London shows at The Lexington and Old Blue Last.

Leon Bridges voice will melt you into a gooey and moldable mess with his Southern drawl and 1950s soul sounds. With some very exciting things on the horizon, you better watch this soulful space very carefully.

How long have you been in London? Have you had a chance to explore?

I’ve been here since Saturday, haven’t had a chance to explore but I’ve been in some really cool places. I mean all the things have been great. I love my city but the venues over there can’t even touch the venues I’ve been in over here. It’s awesome. Really cool venues, a lot of character.

I did the Mahogany Sessions thing on Sunday, that was amazing. I had a nice little spot, so all that stuff has been more than enough.

You played The Lexington, that was your first UK show ever! How was it?

It was great. We had a show the night before for but it was like 8 bands playing the whole night, a warm up I guess you would say. That was probably my favourite only because there was something about, I love me and the band. It was a small stage, I love me and the band being right next to each other. The sound and it has a very low ceiling. The sound is like boom right here, I don’t know how to explain it. The Lexington was an amazing show but we were more spread out. It’s cool and I’m just kind of getting used to everything. I think that first one was my favourite.

Good view on UK shows then so far.

Yeah, they’ve been good.

But you grew up in Fort Worth, Texas.

Yes, I was born in Atlanta but I grew up in Fort Worth. I’ve been in Fort Worth since I was 2 years old.

Do you think where you grew up influcnces the music you’re playing now?

I never thought about it. When I got into music I was influenced by a lot of singer/songwriters folk/country musicians. Because that’s the only type of music around where I live. When I started writing this music, I started going back to my roots. And my roots is really in New Orleans. My family is deep rooted in New Orleans. I tried to embrace that within my music. This me being from the South, that’s what really inspires my music.

What sort of stuff did you grow up listening to? 

I grew up listening to Genuine, Usher, 112. I was really fascinated with r’n’b groups of the time. That type of music is my roots.

Did you always want to do music? We saw that you used to dance…

Yes, I did.

How did you move into music?

I did dancing and then I slowly eased my way into music. I met a guy in college who would bring his keyboard to scool and we’d sit around and just improv all day.

A keyboard? That’s a lot of effort to bring into college.

Yeah! I thought it was so cool that somebody loved music and wanted everyone else to experience it. That’s when I found my voice. That’s where I realised that I could sing and make up songs. After that I was like, I’m tired of having to wait on other people to create music. So I bought a guitar and I was so determined. I didn’t know what I was doing but I was determined to learn a couple of chords and to an open mic and sing for people.

And just get it out there. 

And at that point there wasn’t the connection to the old soul music that you hear now, but that’s where it started.

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There’s loads of talk about how you’re bringing music from decades ago into 2015. Is that a conscious thing that you’re doing or is it just the music that you love?

I’m definitely pulling from the past, but the type of music I’m writing it works out that my families stories and a lot of the experiences that I had, they work well within that vein. I’m just a cat from freakin’ Fort Worth, Texas trying to make music and being me.

And getting an amazing response.

Yeah, it’s so so humbling and amazing. It’s a whirlwind. I love it.

Even your Instagram and your amazing clothes have that retro feel. Do they go hand in hand or does one influence the other? 

Hand in hand. It’s basically when I decided to make the music, I remember like telling my musician friends when I first started that “yeah I’m going to start 1950s and 60s soul music”. They were like “damn, cool. Best of luck with that man”. And I didn’t know how the hell I was going to do it either because I’m not a good guitar player. It’s all new stuff to me. But it worked out [laughs].

When I did it, I needed to make the way I dress on point.

And it is…

And I wanted to make my Instagram on point because I wanted people when they search me, they see everything that matches the music. I wasn’t really thinking, I just want to be consistent. It would bug the hell out of me if one thing didn’t match the other.

That touch of OCD, totally understand that [laughs].

Exactly, I gotta go in all the way. And there was no looking back [laughs]. It became a part of me.

How do you think that genre and style of music translates to a 2015 audience, obviously it has had an amazing response but did you ever imagine that 1950s and 60s soul music would have caused that reaction?

I figured that people would really recognise it but I didn’t think that people would go crazy over it. I don’t know, or something like that. Because when I got into it the only person I knew that was doing it was Raphael Sadeek. That was 2013 when I started dipping into it. I didn’t know anything about Saint Paul, Sheren Jones or Charles Bratley that was bringing it back. So like, I didn’t know how it would do.

You’ve released three singles so far. You mentioned pulling on your families past and stories, what memories are translated into your songs?

One of the singles that we have is “Miss Sawyer”, my mothers name, a song I wrote about her. I had the progression, I wrote this song way before I started dipping into soul music, the music that you hear now. A friend asked if Sam Cooper was one of my inspirations and that was one of the reasons I started diving into that type of music. But that song is about my mother. I have a song I wrote about how my grandparents met called ‘Twisting and Grooving’. I have a song I wrote about my father’s grandmother, from his perspective, it’s called ‘Doris’.

I’m writing a song currently about my grandfather, he started in Mississippi but he had to move to New Orleans because he had fought a white man. So he had to leave otherwise he would’ve been hung. My family, I love them, so I want to embrace that in my music.

When you draw on such intimate things, it does translate to audiences.

I like to pull from personal experiences.

And you’re playing another gig at The Old Blue Last. How do you think UK shows differ from shows at home? Did your band come over with you?

We’re all new at this, we got together and a lot of the guys put down their projects to tour with me. I would never have asked them to go that, you know, but thank God they did it. It’s awesome. We’re all a family and I didn’t want to have start new with a band.

But, the UK, it seemed like people were definitely more excited. It’s almost the same as back home, I don’t know, here it’s like, I don’t know what it is. Maybe back home people are very numb to it because they see it all the time. But here, I guess people are seeing something fresh, a little bit more excited about it.

It’s definitely not something you find UK artists doing regularly.

Have you ever played would you rather? Because we’re going to play it now…

Okay…

Would you rather have no internet access for a week or no television? 

I would have to go with no television. It’s kind of easy because I don’t watch TV [laughs].

Would you rather have a time machine that only goes backwards or only goes forwards? Although we might assume you’d go backwards…

I might go backwards. Might. That would be a little scary.

Would you rather have to say everything on your mind or not speak?

Not speak [laughs]. That’d be crazy.

Would you rather have a missing finger or an extra toe?

Ooh, extra toe.

We agree, cover it with some socks… 

Then “ladiesssss” (as Leon wiggles his foot in the air).