Jeff Bridges,
The TVD Interview

That Jeff Bridges has mastered multiple artistic disciplines shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. That he’s so good at everything is what’s a little bit… mind-boggling.

The Academy Award-winning actor is also an inordinately gifted photographer, a highly acclaimed painter and a skilled and sensitive musician. His parents, Lloyd and Dorothy Bridges, ensured Jeff was surrounded by Hollywood magic-makers from the very beginning (his first film appearance was as an infant in one of his parents’ movies). Given that film is, arguably, the most holistic art form—involving most of the senses and, when done well, the appropriate emotions—Bridges’ tagalong Hollywood childhood gave him an eye and an ear for what resonates most with the heart. That sensitivity and exuberance informs all his artistic pursuits, not least of which is his music. 

While music has always been part of his life, it wasn’t until 2000 that he committed anything to wax with his acclaimed debut, Be Here Soon. His latest album, the country-tinged Live, is an in-the-moment recording of shows that Bridges and his band, The Abiders, gave this past summer. It includes songs from Be Here Soon and his eponymous follow-up record, along with select covers that have held meaning for him throughout his life. Like the man behind the music, the song choices are both heartfelt and whimsical, and the performances are solid, honest, and even playful. Throughout our conversation, Bridges waxes reverently about his musical collaborators, who are an assortment of long-time friends and music legends, and reflects on the enduring legacy of “The Dude.” And he’s hopeful that Live will make it onto vinyl, too.

I love your website, with your drawings and “hand-written” navigation. It makes it feel somehow more personal, and not like it was created by a publicist. Was that your intent?

Well, when I first started that five or six years ago now, I guess, I was pretty excited about this notion of having another outlet. It’s like another canvas; I like to paint and draw, and [the website] is like a combination of canvas and radio station and movies, all wrapped up in one. It was a lot of fun to do the drawings and stuff. I haven’t been keeping it up with it as much as I might. Websites seem to be more of a thing of the past; now it seems to be more of a Facebook thing. I’ll keep doing the website, though, I think.

It really does help tie together all of your creative endeavors.

Thank you! It’s also a chance for me to talk about No Kid Hungry and the situation we’ve got in America here with our kids not being fed. It’s a chance for me to get that message out, too.

Obviously, you have a lot of different interests and passions—that seems to be a theme throughout your entire life. Do you remember when you felt drawn to create music?

Gee, it might have been going back to my teenage years. My brother Beau, he’s about eight years older than I am… so when I was growing up, the kind of music I heard coming out of Beau’s bedroom was Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, James Brown, the Everly Brothers—all those guys. I fell in love with that music. My brother had a Danelectro electric guitar, and I just started playing and writing songs and stuff.

You had over a decade between your first album (Be Here Soon, 2000) and your second (Jeff Bridges, 2011) album. Now you and your band, The Abiders, have a new album, Live. Did a live album feel like the next logical step for you musically, or is Live more of an anthology project for you?

Describe the anthology project; that sounds kind of interesting. What is that? [Laughs]

I was just thinking about the fact that you have this long history with music and collaborating, and wondered if this was an accounting of all that work, or if Live was more a Live at Leeds-type album where you wanted to show what your band is really all about.

Well, I think it’s kind of a combination of things. One, with live albums it’s great to hear how everybody sounds when they’re playin’ together—there’s kind of a rawness about it. And also, the other thing, I’m kind of late in my life getting into this music aspect; I’ve got a lot of tunes that are kind of backlogged that I want to get out. And I thought, well… we’ve done these tours, it’s sounding great off the boards we thought, why not put this album out and then we could move on to some new songs, you know? It seemed like a logical thing. For my money, it’s a wonderful recording of the great time we had going out this summer with The Abiders and playin’.

That comes across so clearly on the album, where you’ve got these beautiful ballads like John Goodwin’s “Exception to the Rule.” And then with some of the other tunes, I got the feeling that in another life you guys would be playing in honky-tonks.

[Laughs] Yeah, I bet that’s right! You know, Johnny is one of my oldest friends. We go back to the fourth grade, writing and doing art and all kinds of stuff together. He lives in Nashville. We recently played the Ryman—the Grand Ole Opry; it was great havin’ him in the audience, to stand up and take a bow.

I loved, too, your inclusion of “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star.” I couldn’t help but think this was an especially deliberate choice of yours.

[Laughs] Yeah, well that was a favorite tune when I was in high school. Just a couple of nights ago, I got to sing that with Jackson Browne and David Crosby in Santa Barbara at a benefit concert; I got up there with my daughter, Jessie, who sang it too.

You’d mentioned a couple of days ago on your Facebook page that your daughter was going to be joining you on tour for a few shows, too. That must be really cool for you.

Oh, yeah. It’s so wonderful. She’s been my assistant on three different films, and we’ve had fun playing music between setups and stuff. Now, I think she’s through that assisting thing and now she’s opening for me. We get to sing together… it’s a lot of fun.

When my kinds were growing up, I didn’t have that much time with them because I was out making movies and stuff. So I figured out different ways that I can spend time with my kids, now that they’re both adults, I’ve got something going with each of my girls.

Establishing an adult relationship with your kids must be so fun for you. I have a great time with my dad now as an adult—it’s different and special in its own way.

Yeah! I got to do that with my dad, Lloyd Bridges, too. We got to work together as actors when I was a kid, certainly, but also when I was a grown-up and that was a lot of fun. My dad liked that.

Your band is called The Abiders, but I have to admit… I’ve never seen The Big Lebowski…

[Laughs uproariously] Yeah!!

But I think it almost doesn’t matter because it’s such a cool pop culture phenomenon. What is it about “The Dude” persona that has stuck with you? Is it just because it’s so big, or is it something personal for you?

Gee… I think it’s a bit of a mystery why that movie is so loved. But it certainly is. I love it as well, too! I’ll be watching the TV and skimming the channels and think I’ll just watch a couple of scenes and I get into it—I can’t stop watching it.

It’s just a wonderful film, and I think the Coen brothers are a couple of the best directors that we’ve got. I chalk it up to them making such a good movie. But The Dude… I don’t know, maybe it’s the fact that he’s just an authentic cat. He just is who he is, and I think people respond to that.

Do you feel more nervous now going for an audition for a film or performing live?

[Laughs] I feel anxiety and that fearful thing—that’s kind of like the weather. I feel those things often. You never know—sometimes you think, “Why am I not nervous here?” and you’re not; other times you think, “Why am I so nervous? I have nothing to be nervous about!” I think that’s just part of being a human being—at least for me, anyway.

Getting back a moment to the way you’ve done your website, embracing the digital world while making it look very handwritten and personal and analog in a way… Given that I write for The Vinyl District, I have to ask… do you have preference for musical formats?

Well, I love vinyl. I’m hoping, I haven’t seen it yet, but I imagine the live album will be out on vinyl. I know the one I did with T Bone [Burnett] not too long ago—that came out on vinyl and I was happy to hear that.

But I’m from that era, you know? I remember gettin’ those records and I love the format.

Do you still have all your old records?

Gee, you know, I’ve got a few but I think… I don’t know… when we moved or something, they got lost or somebody pitched them. I had a wonderful collection, but I don’t know where they all are right now. Gone with the wind!

That’s a bummer.

It is.

Are people still surprised to learn that you have such a passion for music and for touring?

Yeah, and I’m so thankful for that! I’m glad it didn’t atrophy when my acting thing took off—that was a concern, whether my music would keep up. But I think my love of it has kept it alive. I’m always bringin’ a guitar whenever I’m doin’ a movie, and there’s always people playing music on a set; I can always get a little group together and do some jamming. I got to jam with Taylor Swift on this last one; she played a part in the movie, The Giver. It was wonderful playing with her.

Meryl Streep! She’s also in The Giver, but we didn’t get a chance to sing or play. She’s a wonderful singer.

It seems like you’re living a music lover’s dream, getting to collaborate with so many amazing people. It’s got to be unbelievably fun for you.

Oh, yeah! T Bone Burnett is a wonderful addition to my life. Meeting him back, I guess we go back over thirty years now, making Heaven’s Gate… and Kris Kristofferson, who was the star of that movie, and a lot of his musician buddies, we jammed a lot on that one.

Is there anybody that you’d love to collaborate with that you haven’t gotten a chance to?

Gee… I don’t know, my mind doesn’t really work that way too much. I gonna be workin’ with Judy Collins—we’re planning on doing something together comin’ up. I’m looking forward to that. She’s got an album of duets, and I’m planning on doing a duet with her.

Earlier, you were talking about getting some new material together. Is that something that’s in the works, or are you still in the creative phase with it?

There’s nothin’ in the works right now, but after this tour when things kind of lighten up for me, I’m gonna try to figure out the next batch of tunes to explore.

It sounds like you have so much to look forward to, which is really cool.

Yeah—I’ll say!

Jeff Bridges & The Abiders’ new album, Live is in stores now via Mailboat Records.

Jeff Bridges Official | Facebook | Twitter
PHOTO: DANNY CLINCH

Jeff Bridges & the Abiders Tour Dates
11/10 – City Winery – Napa, CA
11/14 – Red Rocks Casino – Las Vegas, NV
11/20 – Edmonds Center for the Arts – Edmonds, WA
11/21 – Pantages Theater – Tacoma, WA
11/23 – Aladdin Theater – Portland, OR
11/24 – Tower Theater – Bend, OR
1/23 – Center for the Arts – Grass Valley, CA

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