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Culture / Entertainment

A Barbecue Party Moment With Leon Bridges — and a Big Album Surprise

Proud Fort Worth Product Keeps It Humble Even as He Breaks Away

BY // 05.03.18
photography Tommy Escobar

When I hear the song “Magnolia” by Playboi Carti, I think of Leon Bridges.

It goes back to summer 2017. I was late to the party; the Fourth of July party at Leon Bridges’ house; a backyard barbecue that I was honestly not cool enough to be invited to.

The musician was lounging in an inflatable kiddie pool, sipping from a solo cup when I arrived. As someone who is easily starstruck and generally awkward, this made introductions seem all the more intimidating.

As it turned out, I had no reason to be nervous. A little while later, as burgers made their way from the grill to plates, Bridges reappeared, dry and wearing a vintage terry cloth cover-up. He approached me and the girl I came with, introduced himself, shook our hands, and thanked us, with utmost sincerity, for coming to his party. And a few minutes later, “Magnolia” came on the speakers and we all got down like we were old friends.

This is all to say that, despite Bridges’ meteoric rise, the Fort Worth native has stayed remarkably down to earth. When he’s not on tour with Harry Styles, you’ll still see him at his usual hometown hangouts, spending time with the people he grew up with, supporting local musicians, DJs, and artists; acting remarkably normal.

“It’s crazy, being on the road so much, it’s such a special thing to come back to a place where people are very pure as far as their intentions, and it’s very different compared to being in LA or New York. People are so genuine here, so I love hanging out in Deep Ellum, and in Fort Worth, going out to Seventh Street – just good ol’ local hangs,” Bridges says.

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“Of course I’m a Fort Worth boy, but my love for Dallas has grown even more.”

Since releasing his debut Coming Home in 2015, Bridges has become a modern icon of soul music. He earned his first Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album, and his second for Best Music Video. He performed at the White House for President Obama. He performed alongside legends like Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. The HBO series Big Little Lies even dedicated a whole scene to his song “River.”

The velvety voice, the wholesome, sweet lyrics, the nostalgic melodies; Coming Home was easy to love. And, from his high-waisted trousers to his finger-snapping dance moves, Leon Bridges built an entire persona around it. Now, with the release of his sophomore album, Good Thing, the singer is breaking away from that.

“When I wrote Coming Home, that’s what I wanted to say and the sound that I wanted to make at the time, but that sound doesn’t totally define me. I wanted to be able to evolve the sound and go a little further with it,” Bridges says.

Leon Bridges’ Change Up

With Good Thing, Bridges dabbled in ‘90s R&B, jazz, even a little ‘80s pop. He says he’s inspired by everything from hip-hop to folk music. Don’t expect the new album to have the cutesy, sock hop charm of Coming Home; but don’t doubt that it’s just as soulful.

“I knew I wanted to make something different, but in the process I didn’t really know exactly what that was,” he says.

He started making new music as soon as he got off tour, but he kept finding himself returning to the sound of Coming Home.

“I felt like that wasn’t enough for me, so I wrote more songs, and those turned into ‘80s and ‘90s style R&B songs. I felt that that was a little bit too far of a jump, so I went out to work with Ricky Reed and he was able to help me bring my sound to something that was reflective of Coming Home in a way, but forward,” Bridges says.

Reed, an industry vet who’s worked with Maroon 5, Meghan Trainor and others, oversaw production of the album. Justin Tranter, who’s written hits for stars like Selena Gomez, also appears in the credits of three songs.

“I have the privilege of working with some really talented people, and it went in ways and directions that I didn’t think I could go as a songwriter and a singer,” Bridges says. “So, I’m definitely surprised by the whole thing.”

The album ranges from celestial and somber tracks like “Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand,” to sexy jams like “Lions.” Bridges’ personal favorite, he says, is “Shy” (the third song on the album).

“Definitely my favorite. It’s kinda like a love making style song,” he laughs.

As for his signature retro style, Leon Bridges has begun branching out in terms of fashion as well as music. But like his sophomore album, his new wardrobe embraces both the future and the past.

“I like my style to look timeless, so lately I’ve been incorporating newer vintage and vintage-inspired pieces,” he says. “You put it together and it looks like it could be from any era.”

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