The music world has heard its share of neo-soul lately. The genius of Leon Bridges was in just dropping the “neo-.”
“When I started writing, I was inspired by alternative R&B. That was cool for a minute,” says the 23-year-old Fort Worth native. “But when I found soul music, I realized that was the best time for R&B.” The transformation occurred two years ago, when a hip-hop pal with a penchant for classic gospel heard a song Bridges had written about his mother, “Lisa Sawyer,” and recognized something in it.
“My rapper friend asked me if Sam Cooke was one of my inspirations,” Bridges says, referring to the late, great R&B singer of hits such as “Twistin’ the Night Away” and “You Send Me.” Of course, being more of a Ginuwine and Usher kind of guy, “I had never really listened to Sam Cooke!” A change was gonna come in that regard, as the oldies neophyte dove into the more “chillin'” sounds of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s—resulting in the lo-fi R&B perspicacity of his irresistible Columbia debut, Coming Home, which was released to critical accolades and chart success this summer, and has abetted a hectic schedule of touring and promotion.
“I don’t have time to really get in a gym, and so when I’m in my hotel room, I run through some ballet exercises,” the trained dancer says. That training is also what led to his natty style sense. “As a dancer, there were times where we would do certain jazz pieces and put on the clothes to fit that character, and that developed my love for the classic fashion of the past. I wasn’t confident enough to go fully in it in the beginning, but when I started writing this music, that gave me an open door to really go all the way in.”
So he’s not just into old soul — he is an old soul.