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Interview: Leon Bridges on love, life advice, and lyrics.

Interview: Leon Bridges on love, life advice, and lyrics.

“Love is everything,” Leon Bridges muses as he sits in his dressing room in Auckland just hours before playing a show at the St. James Theatre. The room is dimly lit by an Ecoya candle, and is soundtracked by an R&B soundtrack playing through his phone during the interview.

The soundtrack creates a mood wherever Leon goes -  he explains it by saying, “I'm always singing” - so it makes sense to be surrounded by music at all times. It instills the fact that music is such an important part of Leon's life, further seen not only through his Grammy-nominated debut album 'Coming Home', but also through his live show (read our recent review of his show here).

During our half hour together, Leon is thoughtful with every answer he gives to us - from telling us about his only ever girlfriend, to the first time he played 'Lisa Sawyer' to his mother.

"Love is the biggest thing. I feel that if we all were truly loving to each other, I think life would be better..."

COUP DE MAIN: You've said that 'Twisting and Groovin' is a song about how your grandfather met your grandmother, and 'Lisa Sawyer' is about your mother. Do you prefer to write autobiographically or about other people's experiences?
LEON BRIDGES: Yeah, other people's experiences. When I wrote those songs I was just trying to write another song and I just thought of their life, and I felt that it worked perfectly. Some songs are about other people's experiences, and some songs are about mine.

CDM: 'Lisa Sawyer' is a beautiful song. How did your Mom react when you played it to her for the first time?
LEON: Well, when I first played it for her I had my guitar - she cried. I think she was excited by the fact that not only did I write it about her life, but just kept the story - talked about the story, talked about her mother and father and everything in the song. She didn't know that I was really writing songs like that, so she was shocked.

CDM: In 'River', you mention some advice your Mom gave you, "Surrender to the good Lord / And he'll wipe your slate clean." What's some other advice she has given you?
LEON: She's always told me to always stay humble. To surround myself with good people. And I've taken that with me everywhere I go.

CDM: You wear your heart on your sleeves in your lyrics. Do you consider yourself a romantic or a realist?
LEON: I guess I'd say, romantic for sure. That's really what soul and R&B is about for the most part.

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CDM: Do you think it's important for lyrics to be honest and from the heart?
LEON: Yeah, I think it's important. I think it's good to have a balance. Everything I write about, it's not something I necessarily might have went through, there's songs where I might have an idea, sometimes it might be a melody or something that I like, I make up a story to go with that melody. But I do think it's most important to have honest songs.

CDM: Does your songwriting process differ from song to song? Do you always start with melodies or do you sometimes start with lyrics?
LEON: Sometimes I start with lyrics - rarely - but sometimes I might have an idea for some lyrics that I wanna say. I write them down and figure out how to use that in a melody to write a song.

CDM: In 'Better Man' you say that you'd swim the Mississippi river, “If you would give me another start girl.” What's the most romantic thing you've actually ever done for a girl?
LEON: Wow. You know it's funny, 'cuz I've only had one girlfriend in my life. And so, I'm trying to think... I guess the only thing I did was I bought my ex-girlfriend the Sade record on vinyl. She really loved the record, so I went and bought the vinyl. I guess another thing was that when we broke up, I didn't take it. I left it there.

CDM: 'Pull Away' has quite devastating lyrics, do you find songwriting therapeutic for dealing with troubling times in your life?
LEON: I feel that songwriting is a great place for that. 'Pull Away' is a song that didn't come from being heartbroken, it was like I said earlier, an idea that I had. I kind of just took that idea and put it in a song, and maybe someone else can relate to it.

CDM: What do you feel is the strongest human emotion?
LEON: <thinking> I can't think. I was about to say love. I don't know what else. Love is the biggest thing. I feel that if we all were truly loving to each other, I think life would be better. Even to like, a stranger. They could be going through something crazy in their day and just to show love towards that person...

CDM: It's probably the emotion that can make the most difference.
LEON: Definitely.

CDM: What's the last song you heard that you had a really strong emotional connection to?
LEON: I guess it'd probably have to be-- what's that song called? 'Holding On To You' by Terence Trent D'Arby. Great song. Just the way he sings, he uses all kinds of weird metaphors in the song, but it's a really great song.

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CDM: Your style seems a pivotal part of your music and overall image - you rock a suit like no-one else. How important do you think the relationship is between your music and the style you inhabit?
LEON: I think it's very important. For me, style is something that I've always loved. It's more than just, "Oh I make this type of music, so I should dress this type of way." But it's very important. On the other hand, if I was on stage in a hoodie and some baggy jeans, it wouldn't give off the same feeling. People appreciate the music, but people want to see the whole visual thing. And that doesn't have to be retro - I mean, look at A$AP Rocky. He's not wearing high-waisted pants and fedoras, but his whole presence and his fashion and online presence is on-point, and consistent.

CDM: Yourself and Gary Clark Jr. made appearances at each other's shows in Sydney last week. Were you friends before hanging out in Australia together?
LEON: We actually met before, but we didn't get close until Australia, which is pretty damn awesome. So basically, we first met each other at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and we happened to be on the same flight to Sydney. At baggage claim, I asked him if he wanted to sing on a song with me at my first show, and he was like, “Okay.” <laughs>

CDM: That's such a great story, just hanging out at baggage claim with Gary.
LEON: Yeah, just hanging out at baggage claim.

CDM: How did you become involved with writing 'So Long' for the soundtrack of 'Concussion'?
LEON: Well, Peter Landesman - he was familiar with my record. He hit up my management, and that's how I got to work on the song. It was just a matter of going to see the movie. I just copped a vibe, I felt that a country/soul, vocal vibe would be perfect for the end credits of the film.

CDM: And how did your collaboration with Macklemore come about?
LEON: Same thing. He heard about the record and was like, "We want you to come out to Seattle." So they flew me out. It was the best experience ever. Him and his team are just regular guys.

CDM: You performed a cover of Sam Cooke's classic 'Jesus Gave Me Water' last year for Late Night with Stephen Colbert. Is that one of your favourite Sam Cooke songs?
LEON: Not one of my favourites. I'd always heard the song, but I didn't know the lyrics. One of my favourite Sam Cooke songs is 'That's Heaven To Me'. But, that's a good one - Stephen Colbert, he suggested it, then I did it.

CDM: You were the musical guest on an episode of Saturday Night Live last year, which was hosted by Ryan Gosling. So you're properly educated to answer this question I feel: Ryan Gosling, is he underrated or overrated?
LEON: He is definitely underrated. Some people didn't have faith that he'd do a good job. But he was really funny on the show - I mean, his kind of dryness kind of adds to it, so he was funny, and he's as handsome in person as he is on the screen. And even nicer.

CDM: You gave a shout-out to Frank Ocean's 'Channel Orange' in an interview where you were discussing your love of R&B. Do you think that 2016 will finally be the year of a new Frank Ocean album?
LEON: <laughs> No.

CDM: You reckon he's gonna hold out a bit longer?
LEON: Yep, he is. I think he's the type of dude, he don't want most people to think they've figured him out - he's gonna do something different.

CDM: And how is writing for your next album going?
LEON: It's great. Right now I've just been writing lyrics, doing my thing. I've got a lot of unfinished songs, but the direction for the next one it'll be cool. It'll be the same thing, but I just want people to see my growth as an artist, and singer. So my focus is to think about my... 'Cuz the first record, I wasn't thinking of playing on a big stage, I wasn't even talked to of being on a label. It was just, 'Here's these songs, here's this microphone, sing.' Now that I've played so many shows in so many places, I've started to see ways that I'm pushing myself.

Leon Bridges' album 'Coming Home' is out now, click here to purchase it.

Watch the 'River' music video below…

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