Truly, to no end, philosophers have debated the soul (and in particular, its location) for millennia. In no distinct order, a smattering of theories:
Homer believed the soul was something to be risked in war, and would separate from the body upon death.
Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus theorized that the soul provided wisdom, as long as it was in the right state. He believed a “dry soul” was the wisest soul—this is all a reference to being sober.
Socrates believed the soul was a separate entity, once departed from the body, that it retained the ability to “think” and to renew in a new body.
Plato—and later René Descartes—believed the soul and body were distinct but united.
Immanuel Kant believed that, using reason, one couldn’t prove anything outside of “I,” one’s own experience—but that humans created the soul to explain religion and ethics.
Williams James didn’t believe in shit (’cept science).
When I spring—perhaps unfairly—the question about soul location on 25-year-old Leon Bridges, he is standing somewhere in Park City, Utah. He spent the previous evening covering Nina Simone songs in good company: Common, Aloe Blacc, Erykah Badu. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind for the young man, a native of Fort Worth, Texas. Last October—at present, only three months ago—he released two songs on Soundcloud, which very quickly accumulated over one million combined plays. He’s already signed a record deal with Columbia Records and has three sold out shows in New York and one sold out show in Los Angeles. Another show has just been announced in London.
Baby, baby, baby, I’m coming home, he croons on “Coming Home,” his first single that is, at this very moment, infiltrating the coldest hearts of radio DJs, music writers, and listeners alike. The track slowly swims by, anchored by Bridges’ voice and thoughtful lyrical timing.
“It’s really crazy, and a couple months ago I was washing dishes. And now, you know, it’s really humbling to see the attention that I’m getting. I definitely didn’t expect this to come so far.” Bridges says, trying his best to take it all in.
But back to the soul, where does it reside, Leon?
You can say whatever you want.
“Um, I would say…”
I interject, I feel as if I’ve put him on the spot. We move on to talking about genre rather than entity.
Do you think your location in the South lends to your music?
“I would say so. I mean, my biggest thing is, I love to really embody the New Orleans sound and vibe a lot in my music. One because my whole family is from there and I don’t really know a lot about it, but it’s just my idea of what that sound is and I try to put it in my music.”
Who are some of your influences in soul, gospel, and R&B?
“It’s kind of funny, I can’t even say that I’m a expert in soul music and that I, you know, got a thousand records and that I have a bunch of Elvis and things.”
According to Bridges, he was only casually aware of soul music when he recorded his first “soul” song; “Lisa Sawyer,” which is written about his mother. The track is sparse and raw, and led him to explore the genre more intently. He soaked in Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers; though it feels like he was exploring something he might have already known.
It sounds like you were making soul music before you truly discovered it.
“As far as the sound that I’m making now, I found it, and it’s just become a part of me.”
He found it.
Stylist: Sara Oswalt
Wardrobe from By George, Austin
Photographed at C-Boys Heart & Soul, Austin, Texas