It would be unfair to call the rise of Leon Bridges a Cinderella story. The talented young soul singer has worked far too hard to explain it away to miracles and magic. And yet, the arc of the first part of his career has been nothing short of miraculous and magical.
A little over a year ago, Bridges was washing dishes at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas, and playing open mics after every Tuesday shift. But tonight, he'll be under a different spotlight in Los Angeles, where he's up for best R&B album at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards.
To celebrate the achievement, website design platform Squarespace and Austin, Texas-based agency Preacher have partnered with Bridges—a longtime Squarespace customer—to recreate the past year in the form of a 30-second spot that will air during the awards show. An extended version of the commercial can be seen online, with a short documentary also in the works.
"It's so surreal being in that same place and having no idea I'd be here now," Bridges told Adweek. "If you would have told me I'd be playing to a crowd of thousands, I would have run the other direction, you know? I would have been like, 'No, you're lying, you're lying, you're lying.' It's pretty crazy to look at that video and reflect on how everything happens."
It wasn't all that long ago that Bridges was just playing coffee shops. (Last March, he was playing to a crowd of 200 or so at a college cafe in Western Tennessee.) But things are different now: When his new tour schedule was released Friday, more than half of the shows sold out by the end of the day.
The history of Bridges and Squarespace dates back to his early coffee-shop days. In fact, a number of people at Squarespace have been fans since before they even knew he was a customer, said Squarespace chief creative officer David Lee. But they waited for the right time to see if he'd be interested in collaborating. (The spot comes on the heels of Squarespace's Super Bowl spot with comedy duo Key & Peele.)
"When we do these tentpole moments, we try to find the right alignment, the right kind of story to tell that fits that particular audience," Lee said. "So, with the Super Bowl, we thought Key & Peele was the right collaborator setup. But, obviously, with the Grammys being the biggest music night, and with Leon as a customer, we found that it was kind of a perfect fit. And the fact that he is nominated for the best R&B album, it's just kind of like this perfect storm."
Today, Squarespace also released the trailer for the documentary, shot by official Grammy photographer Danny Clinch. The film showcases Bridges, his family and his early days on the road.
It would be easy to label Bridges a modern-day soul singer reminiscent of those of the 1960s. But while he's often compared to the legendary Sam Cooke, his first major U.S. tour was opening for indie folk band Lord Huron, and late last year, he collaborated with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
"Of course, it's always easy to point to Sam Cooke and see that comparison," Bridges said. "But, you know, I relate more to Willie Nelson or Neil Young. I know I'm not the best of singers or have the best range, but that's my thing. I don't want people coming to my show and think they're coming to a sock hop."
If there was a moment when Bridges realized his music was for more than just a few people at Magnolia Motor Lounge, it was when he and his producer and friend Austin Jenkins—who discovered Bridges at an open mic—released his song "Coming Home" on SoundCloud. A blog called Gorilla Vs. Bear picked it up, and within a week, it had more than 13,000 plays.
"I just couldn't believe it," Bridges said. "People think, 'Oh yeah, you know, he's just this retro formula,' but, I mean, this is just what I love to do, and I didn't think that people would dig it. Especially 'Coming Home'—I mean, I thought it was cool, but it wasn't one of my favorite songs. But it's so crazy to see how much people truly loved it and connected with it."
By now, plenty of people have connected with the song as well others like "Lisa Sawyer," a tribute to his mother, and "River," a powerful, gospel-driven song about his personal spiritual experience.
"We want to tell this beautiful story of a person who just rose to ascension and literally went from being a dishwasher at Del Frisco's in Fort Worth and is now headlining stadiums," said Squarespace's Lee. "We think it is a really powerful story and hope it inspires other people to just kind of go and carpe diem and do what they were meant to do. We couldn't have fabricated that story any better, which is why his story was a perfect thing for us to do."