Leon Bridges Wasn't Allowed to Play Secular Music Growing Up — but Mom Made This One Exception
R&B singer Leon Bridges has a few good things coming his way.
The 29-year-old Texas-born singer-songwriter just announced a surprise second leg of his current tour for next year (after he wraps the first leg with two sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall in N.Y.C. this weekend).
After bursting onto the scene in 2015 with his ‘60s-inspired debut album, Coming Home, Bridges’ latest album, Good Thing, has taken him “up a couple decades,” he tells PEOPLE, with a new sound that’s less retro, but still full of soul.
“I want to continue to push the envelope and create art that’s different,” he says. “I think the root of all my music is going to be soul and taking inspiration from blues and music from the past. I’m constantly trying to figure out what the next step is.”
That next step will take him to the big screen with a role in First Man, starring Ryan Gosling, in theaters Oct. 12. Bridges plays Gil Scott-Heron, an African-American soul and jazz spoken-word poet and political activist.
“[Director] Damien Chazelle reached out and said he’d love for me to play Gil,” Bridges says. “I’m performing his protest song ‘Whitey on the Moon,’ which criticized the government for investing in the moon landing when there was such a need for resources for the black community in inner cities.”
And while Bridges didn’t meet Gosling, who plays Neil Armstrong, on set, they did meet when Bridges performed on Saturday Night Live in December 2015 as Gosling hosted.
“He’s a really nice guy, and told me he was a fan of the music,” he says.
Bridges has been racking up scores of new fans during his current tour.
“It’s awesome to see new fans,” he says. “It’s hard to articulate the feeling. It’s just incredible to constantly progress when it comes to the venues. As a musician and singer, this is a really rad moment. I’m super blessed.”
Performing to sold-out venues is especially poignant for Bridges, who grew up in a very religious household in Fort Worth, Texas, where he couldn’t play or listen to secular music.
“I wasn’t allowed to listen to that music around my mother, but I would secretly turn on the radio and check out what was going on,” he says. “I had a homie who I would send a list of songs to and he would go to LimeWire and he put them on a CD for me!”
There were exceptions to the rule, however. His mom, who primarily played gospel around the house, made an allowance for one pop artist in particular.
“I think the only exception that my mom made was Usher!” Bridges says. “She gave that the okay.”
Bridges, who is very close with his mother, paid homage to her on his first album with the song, “Lisa Sawyer.” And he has his mother’s full support with his music career.
“My mom is encouraging me to surround myself with people of an integrity,” he says. “You don’t want somebody that’s going to affect your energy, she says, so I think throughout my life I’ve always surrounded myself with good people.”
And while he’s written several romantic ballads and heartbreaking songs of love found and lost, Bridges reveals that he’s had just one major relationship in his life.
“I’ve only had one serious girlfriend,” he shares. “Since then I haven’t really been in anything serious. Moments on the album paint a story of a dysfunctional relationship and young love — and I haven’t really had the experience in being in a ton of relationships — but I think as an artist, I can paint a picture and a vibe for other people to relate to. There are moments from personal experience, but lots of it is about painting a picture.”
Bridges plays New York City on Friday and Saturday before continuing on to Europe through November.