Texas singer-songwriter Leon Bridges has a way of making music that's timeless, in subject matter and sound, while seeming specifically relevant right NOW regardless of when you're listening. Penning two songs prior to quarantine that manage to reflect the current cultural climate, Bridges explained that his apparent knack for predicting the future lies in the ability to listen to the past and the present and then filtering that through his unique point-of-view.The 31-year-old's most recent musical offerings, "Inside Friend" and "Sweeter," were actually written pre-pandemic lockdown and before George Floyd's killing brought a unprecedented level of mainstream awareness to racially-motivated police brutality, yet they seem to speak directly to those moments, respectively. Speaking to etalk's
Traci Melchor ahead of his etalk Open House
performance, Bridges broke down how both songs came together and how his genre- and era-defying love of music inspires his own sound.Traci: How has the lockdown been looking for you?
Leon: It’s been good. The isolation has been healing. I think a lot of artists kind of needed this time to recharge and just reconnect.It’s been a rejigging of priorities for a lot of artists—have you felt that too?
Definitely. Pre-quarantine, we were just moving around so much and we forget about the things that are important. I honestly needed this time to heal and just sharpen my musicianship for sure.“Sweeter” is such a special song—it’s written from the perspective of a Black man taking his last breath, his spirit leaving his body. You wrote it a while ago and released it after the killing of George Floyd—what was in your heart when you wrote it and when you made the decision to release it?
Throughout my career, I’ve always wrestled with how to talk about these social issues in my music in a tasteful way. I’ve thought a lot about these things for years and that was the moment that I was able to write something that was from a perspective as opposed to being preachy. It’s a perpetual narrative and I was compelled—when I saw George Floyd and what happened to him—I was compelled to release this song now.[video_embed id='2018053']Leon Bridges performs powerful single 'Sweeter' [/video_embed]Being in Texas, how much does that influence when you talk about social issues and race and write your music with a message?
You know, I write from experience. And to experience racism and, as children, to have that conversation with our parents of how to conduct ourselves in the case of encountering police is something that has always been over our heads. I love Texas and I love the culture of Texas and it definitely bleeds into my music, but there’s racism deep-rooted here. And not specific to Texas—it’s everywhere.Your music always gives me the feeling of when my dad used to put on his Dashiki and listen to his Marvin Gaye on a Saturday afternoon—music with soul; music with a message. What music are you listening to that has you in those feelings?
Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of psychedelic gospel stuff and then also trap music. In some ways, those things influence my writing. I just want to make music that transcends time; music that really connects with people on a deep level.[video_embed id='1995717']RELATED: dvsn are finding inspiration in these troubled times[/video_embed]You’ve said that your inspirations have been music from the ‘60s but also you grew up listening to Ginuwine and Usher, so your influences are really everywhere.
It’s all over the place—it’s an amalgamation of different things. I love traditional soul music; I love modern soul music and R&B and a lot of that stuff definitely shows in [my] music.Another one of your incredible songs is “Inside Friend” with John Mayer. It’s such a timely song but I know it came together before the pandemic and it had a little Instagram Live twist. Can you tell us about the process?
Yeah, so I was just making some music with my friends and I went on Instagram
Live and John Mayer got on there and was like, 'Yo, I want to come through.' And so I sent him the address and he came through and we jammed for hours and that was one song that transpired out of that session. Initially, the concept was how ideal it would be for a girl to come through to the house on a first date. And I know that’s kind of a taboo thing, but it’s like, for John Mayer, it’s hard for him to go out and date without people taking pictures of him. So it’s like, 'Hey just come through and we can play some board games and watch a movie, whatever.'
Between that and “Sweeter,” it seems you’re very forward-thinking when it comes to your art. Have you kind of been like that since you were a child?
I guess I’ve always had a bit of intuition when it comes to what sounds good and a lot of that has to do with the music that I grew up listening to and kind of understanding what the landscape is currently and then trying to make something that is unique. And I’ve always had that since I was a kid for sure.Why has it been important for you to do streamed performances and still connect with your fans during these pandemic times?
Doing the virtual thing is going to be our platform for now. So not only is it beneficial for the people that support me, it’s beneficial for me. It’s very fulfilling to be able to pick up a guitar and play songs. Because when I’m touring, when I’m on the stage, I don’t really get to play guitar much. So it’s been really nice to play solo acoustic stuff for the fans.When we look back on 2020, what do you hope people take away from this journey?
Man, I think everybody has experienced this quarantine in different ways—positive for some and negative for some as well. I think coming out of this, we should grow into understanding each other and having empathy for each other and taking care of each other. That was one of the things initially that was important to me—just understanding some of my friends who lost their jobs and just reaching out to make sure they were good.Life got so busy for a lot of us—it’s the simple things now that I’m really taking in.
Oh, definitely. And I don’t miss the bars. I think the turn up is connecting with nature and those things and that’s something that I’ve tapped into during this time.etalk Open House
is a weekly series that features performances and exclusive interviews with incredible talent like The Killers
, Jessie Reyez
, Niall Horan
and more. Catch the series on Thursday night as part of etalk’s regular broadcast at 7pm ET on CTV
and 7:30pm on CTV2.[video_embed id='1987731']BEFORE YOU GO: Jessie Reyez performs 'Kill Us' for etalk Open House [/video_embed]