High-waisted Wranglers: bringing musicians together since, well, since two months ago.
It all started at the Near Southside watering hole The Boiled Owl, where Austin Jenkins, guitarist in the major- label Austin/Fort Worth/Dallas indie-rock quartet White Denim, was hanging out with his girlfriend and some friends. Across the bar, they spied a young, stylishly lean African-American man in, yes, high-waisted Wranglers. Jenkins’ girlfriend went over to the man and said, “Hey! My boyfriend also wears those kinds of jeans!” And that’s how Jenkins and 25-year-old Crowley singer-songwriter Leon Bridges met and became friends.
They didn’t even talk about music.
Not, that is, until a month later, after Jenkins, who’s from Weatherford but who has been living in Fort Worth for the past few months, caught Bridges performing solo acoustic at Magnolia Motor Lounge as part of a weekly residency hosted by Quaker City Night Hawks co-frontman Sam Anderson. Bridges’ brand of old-school, Sam Cooke-inspired R&B blew Jenkins’ mind, and not long after that, the two embarked on their current project: recording Bridges’ debut album in the empty warehouse adjacent to the newish Near Southside venue/bar/apartment complex Shipping & Receiving with vintage gear provided by White Denim’s drummer, Dallasite Josh Block.
Bridges has done some studio recording before but never anything like this. Block, 34, also has done some production work before but never anything like this. And Jenkins has never done any production work, period, but he’s thrilled to be steering the ship. His biggest contribution so far has been assembling a crazy-talented backing band for Bridges: The Orbans’ Kenny Hollingsworth on guitar, former Orban Cliff Wright on bass, Quaker City Night Hawk Andrew Skates on keys, former Josh Weathers Band saxophonist Jeff Dazey, and, as handpicked by Bridges, numerous backing vocalists. All this plus a couple of random guests and, of course, Jenkins and Block on guitar and drums respectively.
“We’re all doing it for the love of [Bridges’] music,” Jenkins said recently at the makeshift studio with Bridges and Block. “The thing about his stuff is that the songs are so good and so strong [that] if you kind of groove and stay out of the way, you’re not gonna mess them up. I knew that everybody in the band was super-groovy, could really play their asses off, and would understand that the thing here is listening to [Bridges’] voice and his music and his songs.”
Jenkins and Block had been looking for an artist to produce for a while, Jenkins said. The moment Bridges opened his mouth onstage at MML, Jenkins knew he had found that dream project. “I was like, ‘This is amazing,’ ” Jenkins recalled. “ ‘This is the best, most natural musician I’ve heard in a long time.’ ”
Block was won over by a couple of cellphone recordings of Bridges in action. “We’re on the road all the time,” Block said. “We’re at festivals all year long. We see bands every day. [Bridges] is kind of a godsend. I know that sounds cheesy, but you don’t see guys like him every day.”
The first and only time Bridges had heard of White Denim was a couple of months ago, when the band was in town to play an S&R gig. Bridges said he can’t even recall when he eventually learned that Jenkins and Block were in White Denim, whose most recent album, 2013’s Corsicana Lemonade, received three and a half stars out of five from Rolling Stone.
Along with the appeal of the vintage gear –– in keeping with the spirit of Cooke, Bridges’ largest and most obvious influence, and other soul stylists from the ’50s and ’60s –– Bridges was sold on Jenkins’ enthusiasm. “I always have a billion people come up to me and ask to record,” Bridges said, “but [Jenkins] came with it real quick. … and when he talked about recording to tape and using old equipment, it was cool.”
Jenkins sees recording at Shipping & Receiving as an extension of the revitalization under way along South Main Street nearby: “I thought this style of recording matched this area and what they’re doing … . They’ve brought some new energy and life to it, and … there are so many great, positive things to recording like this and playing music … completely live [in the studio] … which is why I feel it’s a good match for here. It’s the same ethos.”
One of the contributors is an architect whom Jenkins bumped into one afternoon at S&R while setting up gear. The guy plays piano and just happened to have lugged an antique player-piano into the bar. “That’s the kind of vibe, the energy … to this area,” Jenkins said. “It’s just got that going on. It’s almost like it fell into our lap in a way.”
The studio setup is pretty striking. The centerpiece is a dark-gray tube console from 1948 that Block found a couple of years ago while on tour through the Northeast with White Denim. The contraption looks like the inside of a helicopter cockpit that’s been squished horizontally. Amid the gear –– Block estimates his “newest” piece is from ’63 –– there’s only one concession to modernity: a laptop. Unfurling across the floor beneath the performance area is an old putting green –– the warehouse once belonged to the golf equipment manufacturer Supreme Golf. The arrangement, Jenkins said, “couldn’t be any weirder or quirkier.”
Bridges and company have about a half-dozen songs in the can with about another half-dozen on the way. Jenkins expects recording to be finished in about a month or so. Bridges hopes to release the album before the end of the year. And he couldn’t be more pleased with the results. “I’m super-happy,” he said. “I love [Jenkins’] vision to get the tracks sounding exactly like they came out in the ’50s and ’60s.”
Fri w/Rodney Parker and Christian Lee Hutson at Fred’s TCU, 3509 Bluebonnet Cir, FW. 817-916-4650.