Before bringing his 2018 headline tour to Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre tonight (Sept. 11), Leon Bridges spent time with fans during a conversation/performance at the Grammy Museum. The sold-out evening (Sept. 10), presented by American Express, found the singer/songwriter riffing on everything from the inspiration behind his critically acclaimed sophomore set Good Thing and opening for Harry Styles on tour to his cameo as soul/spoken-word artist Gil Scott-Heron in the film First Man due in theaters Oct. 12.
The first half of the evening was devoted to a conversation with Grammy Museum executive director Scott Goldman during which Bridges’ humbleness, frankness and dry, self-deprecating humor took center stage. When Goldman asked at one point what music Bridges was first into growing up, the Fort Worth, Texas native noted that at age 12, he was “really into” Sisqo [lead singer for the R&B group Dru Hill.] “My brother and I would always be singing his jams,” recalled Bridges. When asked later by an audience member what his favorite Sisqo song is, Bridges quickly answered, “’Thong Song’—there’s no other!” as the room erupted in laughter.
Asked by another fan which artist past and present he’d like the chance to work with, Bridges chose Bobby Womack and Drake. Also among the singer’s contemporary faves: Young Thug, Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper.
Bridges’ unique artistry—fusing R&B, funk, pop and dance into his own modern take on soul—put an exclamation point on the evening. With Bridges backed by three band members and two vocalists, the mini-concert included several Good Thing selections including “Bad Bad News,” “Mrs.” and “Beyond” as well as the title track and other songs from his 2015 Columbia Records debut Coming Home. Bridges, accompanying himself on guitar with his backing female vocalist, was greeted with resounding applause following his performance of the soulful ballad “River.” Also on the Coming Home album, the track was featured on the HBO miniseries Big Little Lies.
Bridges has earned two top 10-charting albums on the Billboard 200. His most recent release, Good Thing, debuted and peaked at No. 3 in May, while Coming Home topped out at No. 6 in 2015. He’s tallied six hits on the Adult Alternative Songs airplay chart, including a pair of No. 1s: “Bad Bad News” (No. 1 for five weeks in 2018) and “Smooth Sailin'” (No. 1 for two weeks in 2016).
Following his sold-out stint in Los Angeles, Bridges will make his next tour stop in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Sept. 12). The tour, which launched June 9 in Irving, Texas, will then head to Seattle, Chicago and Boston (see the official website) before ending with a sold-out two-night stand at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall (Oct. 5-6).
Bridges’ Good News album provided the inspiration for a limited-edition line of luxury sunglasses by Parisian-born designer Ahlem Platt. Only 50 pairs of the handcrafted AHLEM for Leon Bridges sunglasses and corresponding accessories were released this month with a portion of the proceeds going to Westminster Elementary, a public school in Venice Beach, Calif. Bridges will also be returning to Los Angeles on Oct. 14 to perform at the Hammer Museum’s annual Gala in the Garden. The event, whose co-chairs include fellow Columbia artist Solange, will honor award-winning author Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale) and acclaimed artist Glenn Ligon.
Here are a few more takeaways from Bridges’ Grammy Museum conversation:
What inspired his more adventurous route on Good Thing: I wanted to break away from the retro soul label. This is an album I’ve always wanted to make; I wanted blood on the mikes—to go all in and not just settle for what’s comfortable. After Coming Home, I felt that people wanted me to fill the role of the next Otis Redding or Sam Cooke. But that doesn’t totally define me as an artist.
Working with producer Ricky Reed on the new album: I had to let go of some of my ego coming here to L.A. to work with Ricky. I first met him through [Columbia labelmate] Dej Loaf when the two were working on the song “Liberated” [featuring Bridges]. I didn’t think I could single the vocal on that song. I felt it was out of my range but it worked out. For this album, I knew I wanted to go to the next level but didn’t know what that level was. Ricky encouraged me to go different places as with my falsetto. This album definitely reflects more confidence in knowing who I am. As you can see, the album is way more ambitious and sexier [laughs]. I think with the next album I want to go way more mysterious and psychedelic.
Portraying Gil Scott-Heron in his first movie role: It’s a scene with me reciting Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon.” [Note: First Man, directed by Damien Chazelle, centers on astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.] I had about two weeks to prepare for the role. I listened to that recording a billion times as there’s not a lot of footage of Scott-Heron.I knew who his was but not all of his music. So I embodied what I thought he was like.
Opening for Harry Styles earlier this year: The first night in Argentina, someone hacked my phone. They took the screenshot of my hotel information that I’d taken and posted it on Instagram. But it was a great tour. It was nice to ply in front of those arena crowds. His fans have so much energy. I was just an opener but there was a lot of love.