The Story Behind Leon Bridges’ New Cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Purple Snowflakes”

Leon Bridges talks about the making of his new cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Purple Snowflakes,” reflects on his latest album 'Gold-Diggers Sound,' and more.

Leon Bridges "Purple Snowflakes"
Image via Amazon Music
Leon Bridges "Purple Snowflakes"

The first time Leon Bridges heard Marvin Gaye’s holiday classic, “Purple Snowflakes,” he was bussing tables at a Tex-Mex restaurant in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. Now? He’s teaming up with Amazon Music to create his own sure-to-be-classic version of the track in time for your Christmas playlist.

Bridges’ story is full of surreal moments, but this one in particular has stopped him in his tracks. “It’s a full circle moment,” he explains to Complex. “I remember hearing that track for the first time, and it definitely resonated with me. To say I’m honored to do a rendition of it is an understatement.”

Bridges doesn’t necessarily have any expectations for the new song. After all, he just released his most recent solo album, the stellar Gold-Diggers Sound back in July, and retreating back to his hometown to tackle a Marvin Gaye tune sounded more like a vacation than work. His hopes are humble: “I guess I simply want people to see that I took that song and put my own spin on it. Hopefully I made a contribution to the greats who have done Christmas covers in the past.” 

Bridges is the sort of artist that never goes halfway, though. For this cover, he recruited a band alongside his collaborator Josh Block, even snagging pedal steel player Will Van Horn to add some Texas to his arrangement. It honors the original but is undeniably a Leon Bridges song. In that way, it functions like all the best covers do. It’s a Christmas song without the saccharine sheen that too often is used as wrapping paper. It’s perfect for the Texas heat when you’re dreaming of colder days, or in the middle of winter when the fireplace is cooking and a turkey is in the oven. The R&B and soul disciple wraps his cover in golden vocals and a warm array of instruments, built from the past but modern in that recognizable Leon Bridges cool.

The song is available to stream now on Amazon Music as a part of the Amazon Originals program. You can listen to it now right here. And if you aren’t a subscriber yet, they’re currently offering a three-month trial, which you can access here.

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When you’re tasked with tackling a classic song for a cover, how do you balance honoring a legendary voice with wanting to assert your own POV?

I reached out to my colleague, Josh Block, and told him that I wanted to do a rendition of that song, but still keep the elements that are unique to Texas and my style on the version. It’s definitely one of my favorite Christmas songs. What I love about it is it has a very soulful vibe, and it’s not a typical Christmas jam. I just reached out to Josh and we were able to curate some rad players to bring that rendition to life.

I love the pedal steel on the song. How soon into the process of recording did you have that “aha” moment of, “We need this in there”?

Man. That was an element that I really wanted. That’s a sound that’s very unique to Texas. We got Will Van Horn, who worked on the Texas Sun collab with Khruangbin. We already had that connection. Josh reached out to him and had him come down to Fort Worth when we started tracking. It adds such a nice texture to the track.

You’ve had plenty of “pinch me” moments throughout your career, but you first heard “Purple Snowflakes” when you were working at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Fort Worth..Have you given yourself a chance to think about the fact that you’re now getting paid to work with Amazon to put out a version of that Marvin Gaye song?

Oh, man. It’s a full circle moment. I remember hearing that track for the first time, and it definitely resonated with me when I was sitting there, bussing tables. To say I’m honored to do a rendition of it is an understatement.

Do you have any goals or intentions with this Christmas song? Do you envision it being played in households and accompanying people’s Christmas dinners?

I guess with anything that I release into the world, what comes first and is prioritized is the fact that the process of creating music and recording music is very therapeutic for me. But, with anything I put out, I hope that it can be the soundtrack to other people’s experiences. I think if people deem it as a dope cover, hopefully I did it enough justice for other people to incorporate into their lives.

You recorded this track back in Fort Worth?

I did. Yeah. We tracked everything at our studio in Fort Worth, Niles City Sound, where I recorded my first album, Coming Home.

What was it like revisiting it in this totally different context? 

I’ve done various things at Niles again, but it definitely was a nostalgic experience of being back in that space and working on the song. There were certain musicians that were there in the beginning when I made Coming Home, so it definitely was nice just being back in the space where Coming Home was made.

On Gold-Diggers Sounds, you were really moving into a new direction sonically. You move back towards a sound fans typically associate you with. Was that an intentional choice?

This cover was essentially a return to my roots, in a way. Gold-Diggers is more so a polished, R&B-centric album. It was a really nice moment with this song to do something that was a little bit more leaning into soul, in a way.

Gold-Diggers was recorded in a different space out in LA. Do you think that affected the way you approached the sound, or did you go to LA seeking a different sound?

With Gold-Diggers, I knew I wanted to make an album that was a reflection of the music that inspired me initially on my journey. It’s an album that I could have made anywhere, but I knew LA was the place to do it.

I had already developed a relationship with Ricky Reed. We worked on my album Good Thing together. It was just about vibes. Good Thing worked, so I wanted to continue making music with Ricky Reed, and the sound does, in some ways, evolve based on where you make it. I knew if I went to LA, I could get into the mindset and the sound that I wanted for this album.

You have some absolute LA legends on there. Terrace Martin is one of my favorite musicians. Can you reflect a little bit on collaboration, because you’re someone that loves working with other artists, and releases a lot of music featuring other artists. 

Totally. I think that, in each individual, they bring their own perspective and unique thing to the sound. I wanted to really—obviously with the help of Ricky Reed—curate a lineup of musicians to cultivate an R&B sound that was unique to me. When I was making Good Things, I felt like that process was a little dull to me. A lot of people make music by picking out which beats they want to write to, but I couldn’t really get in that groove. 

With Gold-Diggers, I sat down with Ricky, and I was like, “How do we make an R&B album, but filled with organic elements?” That pretty much sparked us going to Gold-Diggers studio and setting up in the live room, and having this improvisational kind of thing. As opposed to a beat that could potentially be for Sean Mendez or whoever artist, we were able to just start from scratch and enjoy the beauty of making something new. In the same fashion that, when you look at albums that were named in honor of the places that were made, Abbey Road and Electric Ladyland, and all those iconic studios, I think Gold-Diggers was similar to that.

Did you look to those records for inspiration just in the aesthetics of naming the record after the studio? Was that in your mind when you were getting ready to make it?

Not necessarily. We tried to dig deep into finding the title for this album, and we went so far left-field with the concept. I was just like, “The narrative is already there.” I pretty much lived, and created, and made this music in one place. Gold-Digger in itself is just a rad title, you know? We just went with that.

The album only came out a few months ago. Is getting back in the studio to record a cover song a nice feeling? I don’t want to say it’s lower stakes, but is it nice having something that doesn’t come with the expectations of a new Leon Bridges album?

Definitely. It’s always nice to do one-off things like that. It was a very low pressure situation. I love that I was able to spearhead that whole session, and curate the people that I wanted to be a part of that song. I was able to incorporate some guys that play in my band, and then we were able to have Will come do some pedal steel. A lot of my fans have been encouraging me to put out a Christmas album or a Christmas song for a long time. It was my opportunity to do that.

Listen to the song with a three-month trial to Amazon Music Unlimited here.

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