Coming home to North Texas means a lot of things for Leon Bridges. It's much more than just the name of his debut album, the album that launched him to overnight stardom a little more than a year ago. It means seeing his mother, whom he supported for years with his dish-washing job. It means reuniting with his many friends and fellow musicians in Fort Worth and Dallas.
And it also means spending time at his hometown recording studio. He doesn't own it, but it's definitely home turf. The studio, lined with Gibson guitars, is Niles City Sound, where Coming Home was completed. The bulk of that record was recorded in another, now deserted, part of the building, which is home now to nothing but white walls, silence and music history.
The Observer met him there on Wednesday, in the hours before he celebrated the screening of This is Home, the short documentary directed by Danny Clinch. Later that night he would give a short acoustic performance at Shipping & Receiving. He also has a sold-out appearance tonight at WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma.
Bridges took a moment to reflect on this rise to stardom, how he adapted to become a stage performer, and what the President of the United States told him. And he even rapped a little bit. (Look for our video of this next week.)
Dallas Observer: You said recently that you hadn't felt ready for the success that you've gotten. Did you mean that musically or were you speaking about your confidence?
Bridges: I would say musically and confidence-wise. When you take somebody who has only done open mics, who doesn't have any training, and you throw them in front of a crowd — people who know what good music is, who see professionals do their thing all the time — I know people would, off the jump, [hold] me to a high standard. So that was in my head.
How did you cope with that?
When I first got on stage I was very nervous, because I felt like I had to prove my thing to people, and I really did. People would think, "That's cool, but what else can he do?"
And that's when you started dancing.
Yeah. When I first got on stage, I didn't think I could marry the two things. The more I started to play, the more I started to realize, "Oh, there's no rules, OK." I could do what I learned in school and spent my whole life doing. It doesn't have to be a "soul" thing.
In fact, you actually started out rapping, is that right?
It did start out, like, low key. I wasn't really serious about it, but I tried. When we were kids, we used to freestyle all the time, but I never recorded anything.
Do you remember any favorite lyrics or words?
[Laughing] Oh my gosh, it was like: 'You alone provide a bed to rest my trust/But I'd rather lay on the floor/Staring at dust."
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What was your mom's proudest moment this year?
Definitely the White House. [Bridges played at the White House back in February, as part of a tribute to Ray Charles.]
Do you remember what President Barack Obama said to you when you were there?
He would say something like, [putting on a smooth voice] "I see you — an upcoming Texas soul star."
LEON BRIDGES performs at 9 p.m. Friday, July 1, at WinStar Casino, 777 Casino Ave., Thackerville, OK 73459, 800-622-6317, or winstarworldcasino.com, $50 to $95.