[F]ive years after leaving his restaurant job in Fort Worth, Texas and three years after the world stood up to take notice of his debut album Coming Home, Leon Bridges has returned with Good Time. The album explores decades of soul music – from the needle-on-vinyl crackle and tenderness of Sam Cooke to the slick sound of D’Angelo, Ginuwine and Usher.
There’s heartbreak on “The Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand”, a conversation with his mother on “Beyond” and listen-up funk on “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)” as Good Time documents Bridges’ three years spent on the road touring his debut record, reflects on relationships past and present and realises his pop potential. Bridges’ vocal effortlessly carries all formats.
Many of the songs were indeed written on the road, on the sleepless journeys between cities. But they were polished in Los Angeles with powerhouse producer Ricky Reed. The result is an album that combines Bridges’ pure songwriting with a glistening pop sheen.
Hi Leon, it's been a while since you released Coming Home. What was your mindset approaching recording Good Time?
After three years of me touring Coming Home, I was ready to make something a little bit more progressive and fresh but I wanted to maintain my integrity too. Even when I released Coming Home, I wasn’t totally satisfied with those recordings. While I was recording that album I was really growing as a performer, as a singer. I was already ready to make something new, even back then.
Was a lot of Good Time written on the road?
It was. We recorded a bunch of tunes back in our studio in Fort Worth, but our whole intention was to eventually head out to LA to see if we could beat those tunes we’d already written. We were working with producers out there and it was great to get someone else’s perspective on what we’d written and to see how that would help us progress, to see how that would help us move the sound forward.
"I was already ready to make something new, even back then."
People talk a lot about the southern influence in your sound. Did you feel like a different artist in LA?
Totally and there are a lot of moments on this album where vocally it’s in territory I’ve never been in before. Obviously creating by myself I’m going to create what I know and that’s what happened on Coming Home. But heading out to LA and collaborating enabled me to make a record that is a reflection of me and the influences I’ve picked up along the way.
Listening back now, which parts of you as a person come through most clearly on the record?
Honestly a lot of the stories on the album are about some recent relationships I’ve been in.
The lead single, “The Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand” sounds like a heartbreak. Do you find it easy to open up about relationships on record?
It’s something that as an artist I’ve grown into being open to. When I wrote Coming Home I hadn’t really been outside of my city but with my experience of touring, I’ve gained different experiences and I’ve grown. That’s reflected in the songwriting so writing “The Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand” just felt natural to me.
Was writing the song part of a recovery process for you?
Honestly it wasn’t anything too deep or thought out. As far as the songwriting goes, we didn’t go into it with a lyrical idea in mind, everything just. The meaning of the song unfolded as we were writing and I think the song turned out to be about someone I’d been seeing. But we didn’t start out with that in mind.
So you finish a record and it goes to be mixed and mastered... What kind of journey do you go on when it comes back and you hear the record the first time as a completed project?
For me it feels like a huge accomplishment to have a full body of work. It felt like a long process to eventually record the sound that I wanted to make. Hearing the songs is a testament to my growth and to the collaborations I made with other people. Listening back to it it’s awesome to know we finished a great album.
"I want the freedom to make whichever style of music that I want, to make the music that is true to me without becoming a sell out."
How conscious were you of moving on from the classic sound of Coming Home?
Very. When I wrote that album, I wanted to tell my story and talk about my discovery of 60s R&B. But even then I was interested in multiple genres and different styles of music. I felt like that sound didn’t fully define who I was as an artist. It was totally a conscious decision to move forward. I want the freedom to make whichever style of music that I want, to make the music that is true to me without becoming a sell out. That was absolutely the intention behind Good Thing.
There are some deep tracks that speak to your personal experiences, but some more upbeat singles too. Was it always on your mind to create that kind of blend?
The album is a diverse album. We didn’t know what vibe we wanted to create, we tried a whole bunch of different sounds and that’s reflected in the final album – everything song is really different.
You look at songs like “Beyond”. That whole song is about me having a conversation about a girl with my Mother and telling her that this is the one. But they’re not all that deep. I wanted to make songs that people couldn’t dance to as well. The songs on Coming Home couldn’t be played in a club setting so I wanted to keep my vibe but to make the songs hit a little harder.
One of your previous hits “Lisa Sawyer” was about your mother too. How does she interpreted your rise? What’s your relationship like now?
She’s been very supportive of my career and it’s been a blessing that what I do is, I’ve been able to help support my family and definitely my mother. It’s a little hard being so busy and not being able to spend all that time with my family but everything is well.
On Instagram recently you wrote “from the dish pit to Clash magazine” that’s an amazing way to sum up your journey. How do you feel looking back on those early days now?
It was an important time of me, I was right on the cusp of when I was discovered. Honestly, it taught me the importance of hard work. That definitely carries on to my work ethic now. I had great times working there and I met some of my best friends. It really taught me the importance of hard work.
There must’ve been a question of you picking up a paycheck and then writing as hard and as fast as you could. Do you still feel like the same person?
I mean honestly, with having a little bit of notoriety, it has changed me in a way. I’m a little bit more closed off to people. It’s hard to see people’s intentions, but I’m still the same person, it didn’t change me to the point where I’m disrespectful. I still like to see everybody treated equally.
Good Time is Out Now. Follow Leon Bridges on Instagram here.