Shortly after playing the tragic country music hero Bad Blake in the film “Crazy Heart,” and winning an Oscar as for the role, Jeff Bridges presented the world with a stellar self-titled country/folk album. A positive collection of well-constructed songs, Bridges teamed up with producer T. Bone Burnett and proved that he had even more to offer. Hot on the heels of his recent movie, “The Giver,” Bridges has somehow found the time to take his band of Abiders on the road.
Was music something you did before movies and did you ever have to choose between movies and music?
I’ve been playing since I was 13 or 14, and as far as a time when I wondered if I wanted to go into that, I seriously questioned and asked myself whether acting was going to be my path. And as I grew older it became the path of least resistance. I took that path with the most energy, but the music has always been part of my life. I have a little studio and I like writing music and playing with my friends.
Tell me about the timeline of your self-titled album and your role in “Crazy Heart.” Which came first and did one inspire the other?
“Crazy Heart” came first and it certainly inspired my record. T-Bone Burnett and I have been friends for a very long time and I met him, oh about 30 years ago on “Heaven’s Gate,” and we played a lot of music on that. And that in a way gave birth to “Crazy Heart.” And after “Crazy Heart” was over, I became deep into the music and kind of restarted my musical thinking there and I thought if there was ever a time to live my teenage music dream, that would be the time. So I called up my buddy T-Bone and gave him a bunch of songs that I thought would be good and he liked them and that was that.
What kind of advice has T-Bone given you over the years that has helped you along the way musically?
He gave me some great advice during “Crazy Heart” that stuck with me through the album as well. T-Bone really likes to make a universe that comes from an alternate universe. When we did the music from “Crazy Heart” he didn’t want to copy anyone’s style, he wanted to make music that was fresh, familiar, but different. He didn’t want it to sound like anyone else. He made me a list of all of the guys that my character Bad Blake would have listened to while growing up in Fort Worth. He knew what he was talking about because that’s where he grew up. He said “you’d be listening to Merle Haggard, Hank Williams and those guys, but you’d also be listening to Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Beatles.” I asked if I’d be listening to Captain Beefheart? And he said “Oh yeah! You’d be listening to Ornette Coleman too.” That was also for the idea for the Jeff Bridges album too. It didn’t have to be a pure country album or a pure anything.
You were also on “Heaven’s Gate” with Kris Kristofferson, and he was someone who went the opposite way — from music to film. Did you learn anything from him? Did he have an impact on you? Was he someone you looked up to that merged the two careers?
He’s a big inspiration as a songwriter. He’s just phenomenal. Getting to act with him is just wonderful and he’s just great in that movie. We saw each other not too long ago at the Austin City Limits 40th anniversary and we had a great time together.
I read somewhere that when you envisioned the Bad Blake character you envisioned him. Is that true?
That’s not true. He’s certainly one of the guys. I didn’t model it after Kris or anything. Our director Scott Cooper said that Bad Blake was the fifth Highwayman. You know, Willie, Johnny Cash, Kris. Merle Haggard? No, not Merle. Waylon.
Bad Blake is a character who has a rough life and that’s where his songs come from, something that’s pretty common for great country musicians. I don’t want to assume, but I feel like you probably have a pretty great life. Where do you get your inspiration?
Well, I think everybody suffers, man. You know, that’s just a part of life. I just pull things from my own life. And things don’t always have to be about struggle. They can be about happy things.
Your first record was very different then your most recent self-titled record? What changed in your songwriting and how do you see the overall change in style?
Well, there are some songs that I wrote on the Jeff Bridges album that are from the same period as the “Be Here Soon” album. With that album a lot of the difference was in the casting of the album. I produced the album with my dear friend and current musical director of the Abiders, Chris Pelonis and Michael McDonald. And both of those people influenced the record quite a bit. And with T-Bone, the band that he uses often became the sound of the Jeff Bridges album. For the “Be Here Soon” record, it was an eclectic mix, it wasn’t any of the people in the Abiders except for Chris. But there are some similarities, but overall the tone is much different on those albums.
You’ll always have this place in people’s heart as The Dude from “The Big Lebowski,” and I was wondering if that gets old or if you relish it. But then I saw that your band is called the Abiders [“The Dude abides” is one of the most quoted lines from this highly quoted film] and realized you must find joy in that.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I’m very proud to be part of that film. It’s a wonderful movie. It would be one of my very favorites even if I wasn’t in that film. The Coen brothers… they’re nasty.
You’re obviously not Bad Blake in real life. Who do you think most resembles you in a role you have played?
Well, gee I think physically, between movies I let my hair grow and my beard grow because I can always cut it off—so physically it would probably be the Dude. Inside, gee you know I think about the ethics and myself parallel to the character I’m playing. There’s an element of myself in every character. If there are things that are unshared in between me and my character, I kind of kick those to the curb.
You’re playing the Ryman and pretty amazing places like that. Do you feel like you’ve been accepted by the country and folk communities or do you not even care about that?
I have in my mind been accepted. People I admire dig my stuff. I’m not sure about the whole community. I try not to think too much about that. I try to enjoy myself and have fun.
Is there anyone you’d like to sing alongside that you haven’t been able to yet?
I don’t really don’t think in those terms really. There are so many wonderful artists that I like and respect. I kind of take it as it comes. I’ve been talking to Judy Collins. She’s invited me to sing on an album of duets that she's putting out.
What are your true feeling about the band The Eagles? Do you really “hate the f—ing Eagles,” as the quote from “Lebowski” goes?
That’s not me. That’s The Dude, man. I ran into those guys at a party and those guys gave me a lot of s—. I said, “Don’t take it personally, man. It’s a movie, man.” The Eagles are fine. I dig Creedence too.