Leon Bridges is ready to be honest about who he is as an artist.
The R&B singer-songwriter known for his soulful tunes has just released his new album, Gold-Diggers Sound. The Grammy-winner's third record sees him lean into experimentation and carve out a sound that fulfils him.
Gold-Diggers Sound was inspired by a Los Angeles music venue of the same name, and it helped him find the inspiration he needed to finish the album.
"We came to the conclusion that the only way to make this unique sound was to lock ourselves into one place and a place that was just inspiring to be in. We felt that Gold Diggers was the perfect place to do that," the 32-year-old tells the Herald.
The Texas native describes the venue as a multifaceted complex in East Hollywood. It was the location of a party he and his friend DJ Sober threw during the week of the 2019 Grammy Awards.
"I lived and partied and made music in this place," he adds. "It simply felt like a homecoming in a way, I was able to return to making music how I made my first album Coming Home."
"I look at this album as a reflection of my evolution as an artist," he says.
Fans will find familiarity in the spirit of his first record, which spawned breakout hit River. But what sets Gold-Diggers Sound apart is how Bridges leans heavily into R&B.
"I just wanted to flex my R&B muscle a little harder on this, so it's definitely more of an R&B centric thing.
Bridges describes the record as a "sexy" album. On songs like Motorbike and Why Don't You Touch Me, the album's seductive tones and elevated with his velvety voice.
In the past, he's spoken openly about feeling like he was boxed into one particular genre, but for Gold-Diggers Sound Bridges confidently embraces an array of sounds. He calls it "a juxtaposition of soul and R&B".
"This album for me is about being honest about some of my musical influences. In one song, I can incorporate an Al Green vibe, and Usher at the same time."
And in doing so, Bridges tried to carve out an R&B sound that was unique to him as an artist: "I feel like setting up in this Gold-Digger space was definitely conducive to that."
"One thing I see a lot is fans specifically want to put boundaries on black expression," he explains. "So this album is a reflection of growing as an artist at the same time, like [it's] not indicative of what the future is."
And Bridges' future as an artist is where his fans evolve with him, and he's ready to lean into moments of inspiration.
The album was pretty much finished by the time the pandemic began, but the Black Lives Matter movement was important for him. He released Sweeter last June - the song drew on Bridges' emotional response to George Floyd's murder. "Why do I fear with skin dark as night / Can't feel peace with those judging eyes," he sings in the ballad.
Reflecting on last year's protest movement and the pandemic, he calls it a "healing time". It was a time where he was able to catch up with himself and the success he has had and think about his next moves.
"I think one of the good, positive things that transpired out of that time was that people were able to wake up to the evil reality of police brutality," he says.
"I feel like if it weren't for the pandemic, I don't think that song would have resonated in the same way," he realises.
Bridges was last in New Zealand in 2019, he supported Mumford and Sons at the band's Western Springs show. And he is keen to return to New Zealand when border restrictions lift.
"I love being out that way," he says. "Every time I've performed there, the love and the people are overwhelming and beautiful. And I can't wait to get back."
• Leon Bridges' album Gold-Diggers Sound is out now on Sony Music.