New Soul & Seasons Greeting with Leon Bridges

Two Christmases ago – in 2014 – Leon Bridges part of the festive season in his local branch of Staples. The Fort Worth branch of the office supply story is not exactly the most festival place on earth, but the neo soul man was celebrating. As he recounted in an interview I did for MOJO – which originally appeared in the magazine and then on its website – he was there to sign a record deal with Columbia Records. Merry Christmas indeed. Below is the article in full, plus you can also listen to an audio interview with Leon done just after his first show in London…

WHILE MOST PEOPLE visiting the Fort Worth branch of office suppliers Staples last December probably just needed envelopes or boxes for last-minute Christmas presents, Leon Bridges’ visit was somewhat more life-changing.

That Yuletide, he made use of the stationery giant’s ‘Office On The Go’ facilities to sign and fax back a contract to Columbia Records. When he left the store he was Bob Dylan’s labelmate. “I was thinking about that on the way home,” laughs the quietly-spoken 26-year-old. “It felt like a dream. I didn’t really know what to make of it! We did have some champagne afterwards though, for sure.”

Staples isn’t his only incongruous haunt. An artificial putting green, for example, proved the best place to capture the soaring yet characterful vocals that have already seen him favourably compared with some of soul’s biggest voices. “There’s a Fort Worth bar called Shipping And Receiving in the same building where they used to test golf clubs,” he laughs in his light Texan drawl. “So we recorded on a putting green and made some soul music on it.”

The swinging choice of location was down to the album being recorded before any label was involved. “We didn’t have any money,” he continues, “so we did it with my friends, showing them the songs before the sessions, just going at it and seeing what happened.” One of those pals was White Denim’s Austin Jenkins, who got in touch after Bridges switched his focus from training as a choreographer and instead gained a reputation on the Texan open-mike circuit.

The cover of Leon Bridges’ debut album, Coming Home.

“I needed someone to come in and fine tune and polish what I was doing, that’s definitely what Austin and the other Fort Worth guys did,” Bridges explains. “They helped my vision come to life.” The results are debut album Coming Home (released June 22). A collection of intimate songs rich in the imagery of the American south, they boast an enveloping, yet appealingly scuffed, soul sound. This has seen the singer nicknamed ‘The Truth’ in his home state, but as Bridges is keen to point out, while acknowledging his inspirations, the approach is his own.

“Before I’d made the decision to pursue this classic sound, I’d written this song about my mother called Lisa Sawyer, a little progression on guitar,” he recalls. “Somebody asked me if Sam Cooke was one of my inspirations and I felt bad because I’d never listened to his music. After that I did some digging.” Musical archaeology over, success for Bridges looks if not nailed, then certainly stapled on.

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