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Jeff Bridges: The Dude Tunes Up

6/17/2014 Melinda Newman
Jeff Bridges: The Dude Tunes Up © Dustin Cohen Jeff Bridges: The Dude Tunes Up

Oscar winner flexes musical muscle on new album and tour

By Melinda Newman
Special to MSN Music

Jeff Bridges carries a part of Bad Blake, the world-weary character the Oscar winner portrayed in "Crazy Heart," with him to this day. Whenever he performs, he slings the character's guitar strap, emblazoned with "BAD," over his shoulder and signals he is ready to play.

But the real man and the celluloid creation share other similarities: Bridges' self-titled album, out on Blue Note Records on Aug. 16, features the same swampy, alternative country music favored by Blake. That makes sense, since Bridges crafted the set with many of the musicians and writers who played on the "Crazy Heart" soundtrack, including his friend of 30 years, Grammy-winning producer T Bone Burnett. (Bridge-ophiles please note: The record comes out the same day as the Blu-ray release of "The Big Lebowski.")

The Dude's schedule doesn't allow for a full concert tour, but Bridges and his band, named (but, of course) the Abiders, will perform on a number of talk shows around the album's release and will tape an episode of "Austin City Limits" set to air in November.

Calling from his car while driving from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, Bridges talked about making the album with "Bone," as Bridges calls him; his deep desire to "make it a groovier world that [we] live in" through his philanthropic work; and why he's not as laid-back as he seems.

MSN Music: Your first solo album, "Be Here Soon," came out 11 years ago. What took you so long to record your second one?

Jeff Bridges: Well, making movies. I very specifically took this year off from making movies to make this album and to be the national spokesperson for [Share Our Strength's] No Kid Hungry campaign, so that's what I've been putting all my energy in this year.

What was it like in the studio? You're surrounded by these great players Dennis Crouch, Jay Bellerose, Marc Ribot that are part of T Bone Burnett's A-Team. It's a modern-day Wrecking Crew.

We record[ed] live. I would do scratch vocals, but I'm singing with the guys and they're so good. You sit down with them and show them the chords, play it a couple of times, and boom, they're playing it within 10 minutes. [They're] not just going through the chord changes, but interpreting the song, making it feel so alive. It's really something to behold how everybody inspires each other and you never know what's going to come out of it. It's like a real magic trick, but real magic, you know.

Were you ever intimidated by their talent?

Not really. They're all very humble guys, and I often feel with artists that you're in kind of an art fraternity or something with creative people. It's not just fraternal; it's a sorority, too. Girls are allowed [laughs], but there's just a kind of camaraderie. Speaking of girls, we had Rosanne Cash and Sam Phillips singing back-up on this

The opening track is the rollicking "What a Little Bit of Love Can Do," written by your late friend Stephen Bruton. Did you intentionally give him that place of honor, or am I reading too much into it?

I think you're probably reading a little too much into it. That's a nice thought; it does kind of honor him by kicking it off with that. I think it's probably going to be the single, or, you know, something put it out there to lead it. It's just a good song, a great song. It was a song we were considering for "Crazy Heart" that we all liked, as a matter of fact, that just didn't quite fit Bad Blake.

Do you feel more vulnerable when you're making a record, since there is no character to hide behind?

Acting and singing and being a musician, there's more similarities than differences. I think as an actor there is a vulnerability as well. I remember as a young actor, I thought, 'Oh, you know, I'll get the hang of this and I won't be so anxious,' but that never happened. Yeah, I've talked to actors who are in their 90s, and my father ... they would still be afraid of not pulling it off and all that stuff, and that goes with acting as well as being a musician.

What do you think when you listen back to this album?

I'm digging it pretty much. There's times just like when I'm watching my movie or something where I'll say, 'Oh, I could have done that better,' but just generally, I'm thinking it's pretty good.

The deeply reflective song that closes the album, "The Quest," is about restlessness and knowing that there's something more to learn. What about that song struck a chord with you when you heard it?

Lyrically, I guess it speaks to a restlessness. You're kind of through resting and now you want to get back to the quest, whatever it might be, whether it's ending childhood hunger or making a record album or whatever. I notice that I go back and forth between this active and resting state. I notice more as I get older, this kind of mortality thing is closer at hand. It's like, if you want to do some stuff, now's the time to do it because pretty soon you're not going to be around to do anything, you know [laughs]. ... And then on the other hand, I find I have an impulse to rest, to just say, 'Will you please relax? Do you want to make the rest of your life a giant homework assignment? Take it easy.' It's kind of going back and forth between those two poles.

There is kind of a quest to give back, too. I find I'm so fortunate in my life, the cards I've been dealt. What do you do with fortune? You try to make it a groovier world that you live in. When you start to move up in the game of life, you figure out that it's not all about yourself ... and [if] you really want to be able to be free and powerful, it means widening your scope and looking at how you might benefit all those around you.

Melinda Newman is the former West Coast bureau chief for Billboard magazine. She has covered music and entertainment for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, MSN, AOL Music, Hitfix.com, Variety, People Country and other outlets. Recent interviews include Taylor Swift, Susan Sarandon, Pink, Jeff Bridges, Brad Paisley, Foo Fighters, Katy Perry and Carly Simon.

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