Over a course of a few weeks, between Los Angeles and Fort Worth, Casey spoke to Leon, as well as Terrace Martin, Ricky Reed and his childhood friends to paint the most definitive picture of the notoriously shy Grammy Award winner yet. Read here for Casey’s conversation with Leon about his struggle to overcome lifelong shyness, low self-esteem and depression, how he found Gold-Diggers studio and the music it shaped, how he healed during the pandemic and why Hank Hill is the ultimate Texan. Excerpts below.
Says Casey, “I truly believe this is one of the rawest celebrity profiles folks will ever read, because Leon Bridges showed up ready to drop the PR lines and, instead, bear it all. He shares his darkness, yes — but the real gift is that he shows how he reclaimed his joy. He’s afforded us a rare glimpse into the evolution of a living Black artist, in all of his complexity. Against the backdrop of a pandemic that upended his work, and an uprising that rocked his soul, this profile is, in my view, an unprecedented view of what James Baldwin called “the artist’s struggle for integrity.” As Terrace Martin told me about Leon: “This ain’t no character. He gives a fuck about the music. And that’s so lovingly rare these days man. That’s why it’s important we uplift him, and we keep him going, because he’s going to inspire the world.” This profile, and Leon’s new album, will do just that.”
Leon will release his third album, Gold-Diggers Sound, on July 23rd. Advanced streams available.
Leon on struggles with mental health and self esteem:
“We were just out, like, doing our thing. We had this after-hours hang at this hotel that we kick it at. It came out of nowhere . . . I just started bawling.” He felt trapped. “At that point I was like, Man, I kind of don’t want this, you know? I kind of want to go back to Todd, go back to washing dishes. And I’m dealing with this feeling that I’m not handsome enough to be here, I’m not a good enough songwriter. Just feeling like I didn’t deserve to be in the position that was handed to me.”
When Leon first shared these struggles with me, I decided I wouldn’t tell you about them. But the more he and I talked, over two days in Los Angeles, a long day in Fort Worth, and via a few texts since then, the more I realized I was more afraid than Leon. “I think that we, as men, should just be more transparent,” he told me at one point. He could have drowned his troubles in drugs or booze. He could have stepped away from life altogether. I mean no disrespect when I say he could have gone down the path of Michael Jackson, become a slightly or radically different Leon Bridges. He could have kept internalizing his pain and played tough and strong and silent. But he didn’t. He sat with his best friends, and he cried.
I ask him how dark things got. “I’ve contemplated just, like, not being here anymore, you know? But I never got to the point of acting on it. It’s such a wild thing that something, I guess, so minuscule as not being in love with a part of my body, or my face, or whatever . . . is the thing that causes depression, and that sparks suicidal thoughts. Because, like, I can’t even walk away from it. I can’t just say, Oh, yeah, like, I’m chill, and I’m not gonna be, you know, this guy anymore. It’s like, I’m locked in. You can’t really step away from who I am now.”
Leon on George Floyd and the release of Sweeter:
“I had been numb, up to that moment,” he says of Floyd’s murder. “My way of not feeling shit is, like, I just turn it off. I don’t like the way I feel when I totally dwell on it.” But then he saw the video of Floyd. “I remember . . . I was in my kitchen . . . just bawling. I was like, damn . . . That’s . . . that’s my brother. That’s my dad. That’s my . . . homie, you know? It just rocked me.”
Leon on overcoming crippling shyness:
Growing up, Leon was so bashful that he really didn’t have any friends, just a few kids he kinda knew. When I eventually speak to one, who met Leon in eighth grade, the first thing he says is “He didn’t talk.” A few minutes later, he stresses, again, “I’m telling you, he didn’t talk to anybody.” But another thing Leon learned at TCC, thanks to a group of guys we’ll meet later, is that all “that shy shit is disrespectful” of the gift.
Leon on his stage persona:
“It’s a different persona I tap into. Like, almost facing your fears. Every night. But when I’m in my element, I can just lock in and say, Okay, I want this experience to be seared in their memory. I gotta kill it. Even when I’m nervous, like when I performed at the White House.”
Terrace Martin on working with Leon:
Martin studied Leon’s entire song catalog and started to sense what the Gold-Diggers sessions would later confirm: “He’s one of those guys that are helping shape the landscape. These are records that you’re going to be able to go back to twenty, thirty years from now. People are so concerned with Billboard. Everybody posts their Billboards, and everybody posts their streaming numbers, but I love that Leon doesn’t care. He cares how many hearts and souls he can assist.”