In an era when sporadic releases and content saturation are the order of the day, Leon Bridges has taken the scenic route. Last May, Bridges released his sophomore album Good Thing after a three-year absence. It's a transformative album, one that finds him tossing off the nostalgia labels and embracing his inner soul singer. There's a vibrancy to this music—it's as if he's trying out these new styles for the first time, which isn't too far from the truth. Until producer Ricky Reed suggested trying the upper register for "Bet Ain't Worth The Hand," Bridges had never sang in falsetto on a record.
It's part of an ongoing journey of discovery for the 29-year-old. Because until relatively recently, music wasn't the thing that kept Leon Bridges up at night. He picked up the guitar just four years before the release of 2015's seminal debut Coming Home, and spent most of his younger days chasing a different creative pursuit: dance. Bridges grew around Fort Worth, Texas, which was in the grips of a dance style known as boogie (think Lil Wil's "My Dougie" and GS Boyz's "Stanky Legg") during his childhood.
Around the same time, social media was just starting to take off, and Bridges was mesmerized by what he was seeing onscreen. "You would see a lot of guys make dance videos on YouTube," he says. "It was thugs and high school kids—it was interesting to see them [dancing]...I thought, 'if they can do it, I can do it.'"
There are flashes of boogie when he's onstage today, but Bridges' real training didn't start until he got to Tarrant County College. "When I got to college, I learned a little bit of technique, a little bit of modern dance, African, and ballet...I was pretty decent, but it was never good enough to join a company. It definitely prepared me for what I'm doing now, and helped me be comfortable onstage."
The practice paid off. While Coming Home is a direct homage to the '60s R&B Bridges loves, Good Thing spans a number of genres and vocal approaches. It also requires the artist to be a lot more mobile onstage, even as he's flanked by a second guitarist, pianist, drummer, bassist, and two backup singers. Bridges' group is in the midst of the Good Thing tour, but he's already thinking of the next steps. "Going into this album, I went through the emotions of wanting to evolve, but also to give something to the fans," he says. "[For the] third album, I want to make something that's a little more uptempo, with a little more groove and knock to it."
Watch our Music Life with Leon Bridges above, and listen to Good Thing below.