FROM THE MAGAZINE

Leon Bridges Stays Unpredictable

The R&B maestro discusses the meaning behind his upcoming album and reclaiming his onstage style.

Photographed by Jackie Lee Young
Styled by Mac Huelster

Leon Bridges wears a Bode top and shorts; his own hat and jewelry (throughout).
Leon Bridges wears a Bode top and shorts; his own hat and jewelry (throughout).

Leon Bridges has taken on various musical identities since releasing his first album, the retro soul-inspired Coming Home, in 2015. His newest project, an R&B album called Gold-Diggers Sound (out July 23rd), explores entirely new territory: In the first single, “Motorbike,” (the video for which debuted May 13th and is directed by Anderson .Paak) Bridges layers ethereal, laid-back instrumentals with honey-sweet lyrics to create a modern romantic anthem for lazy summer afternoons. In an interview for W’s annual music issue, the musician opens up about the creative process behind Gold-Diggers Sound, dressing for public life after the pandemic, and why he wants to challenge his fans.

During what has been a solitary stretch for so many people, you released a number of collaborations, including “Inside Friend,” featuring John Mayer; “All About You,” with Lucky Daye; and the EP Texas Sun, with Khruangbin. In May 2020, you released “Sweeter,” featuring Terrace Martin, which is written from the perspective of a Black man facing an untimely death. How did it feel to put it out into the world during this tumultuous time?

This was my contribution to the movement. I had been sitting on those lyrics; I just didn’t know the right outfit to put them in. Throughout my career, I’ve been scrutinized for not being political enough. And I always just wanted the right time to do it, and the right way to say it. The crazy thing is, this song was already done, and what really compelled me to release it was George Floyd’s death. That really rocked me. I had never shed tears for anyone that I didn’t know, and that moment compelled me to put it out into the world.

Bode shirt and shoes; his own pants.

Bode shirt; Fresh I Am pants; his own belt.

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You’re known for having a very strong and unique sense of style. How do you feel about getting dressed for public life again?

Man, that’s been a crazy thing about the pandemic—I haven’t really gotten to showcase the fashion. I’ve been ordering a lot of stuff. I’m trying to figure out what will look good onstage when I start touring again. I’ve recently been inspired by the ’70s. I always love something funkadelic, and I’ve transitioned into wearing more flared jeans. But I’ve also been doing a lot of monochrome, specifically all black.

Bode shirt; his own shoes.

You have a new album coming out soon. Anything you can share about how it will sound?

The new project is titled Gold-Diggers Sound. Gold-Diggers is this unassuming little compound in East Hollywood. It’s kind of in a gnarly neighborhood, but on the inside, it’s a beautiful place. It’s like a hotel, a studio, and a dive bar. I wanted a sound that was R&B, but unique to me. We felt the only way to achieve that was to create a fully immersive experience, so I essentially lived at this place, and I think we were able to find that. There’s understated jazz, there’s more guitar-prominent songs, but it’s definitely more of an R&B-centric album.

How do you think listeners will react to this next phase of your music development?

I’m kind of challenging my fans, because a lot of times artists can be put in the confines of a certain genre, and it can be hard for fans to accept that evolution and growth. And so I just want them to accept the direction that I’m going in. That’s the thing—I always want to stay unpredictable. I don’t think people are going to see this coming, but I think they’re going to love it.

Bode top.

Bode shirt.

Prop stylist: Robert Underwood IV; production artist: Reece Ousey; photo assistant: Ivy Chanel.