Retro-soul crooner and songwriter Leon Bridges has a lot to consider this month. The 29-year old Texan recently wrapped the first leg of a U.S tour in support of his sophomore album “Good Thing,” has a nice role in a major motion picture (Damien Chazelle’s “First Man” opening Friday, Oct. 12), a new music video for his track “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be),” and the upcoming Grammy nominations on his mind, as he was a two-time nominee for 2015’s “Coming Home.”
But mostly, what he’s thinking about is how not to be considered a retro-soul crooner, a tag that has dogged him since his arguably retro-soul 2016 debut. “I have so many moods inside me,” he tells Variety.
What did you want “Good Thing” to be that “Coming Home” wasn’t?
I wanted to make a project that had a more modern approach to the songs. I wanted to do my vibe to a more modern production. That first album pigeonholed me as a retro-soul man, so I wanted to shift, and go for different styles of R&B.
“Good Things” is definitely more recent-sounding, but it’s still a soul record. What is your take on newer styles of soul?
I really respect that new side of R&B. There are many artists I look up to there are doing that sound – I mean, SZA is amazing. We all play a role within music. I’m in my lane doing what inspires me. Honestly though, in the future, my music might go in that direction.
How did you make certain you could translate those differences to a live show?
When we first started touring for this album, we felt that the approach to fill out the bigger venues was to use tracks. Eventually, we saw that the tracks weren’t needed when you have an amazing band that can play all the parts. Our goal (going into larger venues) is to find ways to compensate, to sound like the recordings, yet still have that raw vibe – the sound that people know me for. It’s been awesome too, considering the spacy, psychedelic intros and outros. Even some of the older songs have been re-imagined.
You’re in “First Man” – Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to “La La Land” – playing Gil Scott Heron doing “Whitey on the Moon.” Is acting something you envisioned for your career?
I never really saw myself as part of that world. Certain directors do have me in mind though for certain roles – like I did the “Detroit” film for Kathryn Bigelow, in a scene that got cut. The “First Man” thing was rad. I had a call with Damien, he liked my vibe, and thought I’d be right for Gil’s poem that criticized the government for spending all that money for space travel while people in the black community were struggling economically. It was a dope experience.
You did some music with country cat Luke Combs for a “CMT Crossroads” episode, with duets of your song “Beyond” as well as Combs’ “Beautiful Crazy.” Should we expect to hear more country from you?
Coming up in Texas, I was surrounded by country music. I think I’ve incorporated some twang, some soulful twang (laughs) into my sound already, and I would like to explore that in the future. Linking up with Luke was nice. I didn’t know how it was going to play out, but, it was an amazing collaboration. And I think they could even slow the stem of racism. Having a black R&B guy sing with a country guy can change peoples’ small minded thinking.
Your first album was nominated for Grammys — do you think anything on the new record will get nominated as well?
(Laughs) Dude, I’m just keeping my head to the ground. I have faith in this album. I think the song on “Good Thing” that has been the most impactful – for me and for audiences I see when I play live – is “Beyond.” Innocent young love is not a concept that many artists touch on, especially within R&B. So that might be the one, though I would be happy to see any song from “Good Thing” get a Grammy nod.
What is your opinion of the expansion of all of the main categories to eight nominations?
Man, I think that in incredible. I hope to see more genres and more outsider artists as part of that process. I’d like to see more jazz players included here too – I do not want that genre to die out, and that expansion can help.
When you last attended the Grammys, who were most looking forward to meeting?
Kendrick Lamar. There was this party that Chance the Rapper threw at Chateau Marmont, and it was awesome seeing Migos hanging out, Ty Dolla $ign too. We all move around so much, it’s nice being able to hang with those artists you look up to.
So, are you working on material for your next album while all this is going on?
Oh man, definitely. I have been sending some stuff back and forth to [jazz musician] Terrace Martin that had been rad. Also, I know that the next record should be grittier. “Good Thing” is great, nice, and displays my growth, but it still portrays me in this romantic lover boy light. I want to play some hard sh– too (laughs).