As reported earlier today, Leon Bridges is a newly minted Grammy nominee.
It’s the latest in a series of impressive accomplishments, stretching back to his signing with Columbia Records almost a year ago.
In just the last month alone, Bridges has serenaded Willie Nelson and performed on Saturday Night Live — heady stuff for someone who, just a year ago, was gigging at area clubs and pulling shifts as a bus boy.
I caught up with Bridges by phone this afternoon to find out what the last few days have been like and what it means to be a Grammy nominee, as well as what lies ahead. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Leon Bridges: Thank you, sir.
How does it feel have a Grammy nomination under your belt?
Oh man, it’s such an amazing feeling. I really can’t even put it into words. I didn’t expect it at all, man.
Does it blow your mind that, this time a year ago, you hadn’t signed your deal yet?
Yeah. I mean, it’s insane. (chuckles) I didn’t expect that at all. I told them it was crazy when I found out the news.
Where were you when you found about the nomination?
I was in Bloomington, Indiana, and we were just leaving to head to Austin, and Austin Jenkins, my guitar player, he told me about it. I didn't think the results would come in so early, so, yeah — (laughs)
You’re like, ‘Stop screwing with me, man’ —
I was like, “No, he’s lyin’.” I actually told him that: “He’s definitely lyin’.” Austin Jenkins likes to joke around a lot, so I definitely thought he was lying.
I wanted to ask too about SNL — congratulations on that. What was that experience like?
Thank you. It was one of the best TV things I’ve done, as far as like the vibe and my performance. It felt really good. The whole cast — they were very nice. Even during the rehearsals, after every song, they’d tell me the songs sounded great, and everything was soulful. And everything, like the whole show in its entirety, the skits — they were funny. That was a good experience, being in the midst of all that.
And you had the McCrary Sisters on River.
Yeah, that was a perfect thing. I first saw them when I performed at the Willie Nelson [Gershwin Prize tribute] event. They were singing back-up in the house band. I thought it was perfect to have them sing with me. They’re so talented and soulful.
With all that’s gone on, even in just the last six months, is there a moment or moments that stands out or is it all one big, wonderful blur?
A lot of it is one big wonderful blur, but I guess my biggest thing we can highlight — it was the Willie Nelson thing, and SNL. That was my biggest thing. Willie Nelson — it was a cool vibe, just saying “salute” to another Texan and somebody I looked up to. It was such an honor to be a part of that.
I’m assuming you got to meet him. What do you say to Willie Nelson?
I met him for a second. It was very brief. I just told him that I love his music, and I got to talk with his wife more than anything. I just told him I loved his music. His wife was telling me, you know, “Thank you for doing this” and she told me I sounded great singing Funny How Time Slips Away. I also got to talk with Paul Simon for a little bit, which was crazy. He came up to me and complimented my outfit: “Hey, we used to wear it like this in the ‘50s!” I was like, “Oh, wow.”
I know the actual Grammy nomination is still sinking in, and it’s an indescribable feeling, but what does it mean to you that you’re competing with D’Angelo, Jazmine Sullivan, Andra Day — that you’re among them?
Man, I just look back to the times when I was sitting in my room, trying to write these songs, and I wasn’t thinking of this. You know, we never do, as musicians, we do because we love it, for the most part. So, the fact that those songs I wrote in Fort Worth, and the fact that I was able to record with Fort Worth musicians in Fort Worth — there was no label thing that hired us to do that; there wasn’t even this label [Columbia Records] — the fact of all that, and the fact that that has put me in the places of some of my heroes, it’s an honor. It’s kind of hard to put into fancy words — it’s just. “Yeah, this is awesome!” (laughs) It’s hard to articulate it.
Well, and it’s just been so much — it just keeps coming.
It’s freakin’ — it’s an honor, man.
Going forward, do you feel that you’ll have to — not fight for, but maybe put an emphasis on — in dealing with the label, management, whomever, to focus on preserving that thing that got you where you are right now?
The cool thing is I have great management — they’re my mediators. The label, they’re dope. They know how — from the jump — they know about how I’m very close to my hometown, and they know about my work ethic, about how I want to work with my friends. For this next record, there won’t be a [situation where the label or management says] “Oh, let’s get this producer from California to do this next record.” No. It feels good to make a record with my friends in my hometown and the fact that it’s got me this far, it’s such a good feeling. If I change it up, it wouldn't be the same. I want to keep that vibe for the rest of my career.
You’ve teased bits and pieces online, but are you actively working on stuff for the next record?
Yeah, I’ve been writing tons and tons of stuff and for this next record, I, want to just, of course, give everything. This first one is like, “Hey, here’s your introduction to Leon Bridges” and this next one, it won’t be, “Hey, Leon Bridges is doing an electronic R&B record” (laughs) — not at all. I just want to grow as a writer. I’ve been writing for it, [but] I haven’t gotten to record anything. I’ve been thinking of working on maybe a gospel EP, or working on a Christmas thing, but that’s all in the future, none of it’s set in stone. But that’s what I’ve been thinking about before my actual album-album.
Is there more internal pressure from yourself than before, or do you feel the same drive?
I feel more pressure from myself, only because I want to push myself. I’m the type of person — I do have a good work ethic, but I can get lazy sometimes. I keep reminding myself not to get comfortable, because of all the praise and hype I’ve been getting from fans and whatever, so I can’t get comfortable because of that. I’ve gotta keep pushing myself as a musician, a performer and a writer.
Any Fort Worth shout-outs?
Definitely. Much love to all my friends and fans in Fort Worth. Thank y’all to the ones who would come out and support me, when I was playing at the Grotto, Magnolia Motor Lounge and the Where House. I just want to say thank y’all for being there for me since day one.