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Jeff Bridges embraces the music whenever it hits him

Maybe I just want to hear it this way, but when I answer the phone to, “Hi there, Matt. Jeff Bridges here,” I feel remarkably at ease. With a simple, friendly greeting, the veteran actor, who performs with his band the Abiders on Friday, Aug. 22 at the Venue, has communicated the laid-back vibe he perfected as The Dude in “The Big Lebowski” and demonstrated on the self-titled solo album he released not long after winning an Oscar for playing troubled country singer Bad Blake in “Crazy Heart.”

The 64-year-old artist, who plans to release a live album soon, also is calling from his car. How am I not supposed to picture him as The Dude?

You’ve been a musical person for seemingly your whole life and have gotten to embrace it in recent years. What do you feel like you’re expressing with your music that’s an itch you don’t get to scratch as much with your other work?
Well, they’re stories. A lot of my songs have been written by myself or dear friends of mine, so they’re stories I get to share. Also I get to hang out with the folks. With movies you’re detached from your audience, but with performing music you really get in touch with the people. It’s almost like doing improv with a group of people.

Do the ideas for songs only come along when you set aside time to focus on music, or do you find yourself working on a movie and have a musical idea come into your mind?
I find often that if I’m engaged in a creative endeavor, whether it’s a music thing, making movies or making a pot with clay or a painting or something, I find it shakes up all my creative impulses. It used to kind of bother me when I’d be in my hotel room studying for a scene I would have the next day and a song idea would pop into my head or an idea for a painting. But now I’ve learned to let those things flourish as they come up because it all kind of informs each other.

Why did that used to bother you?
Well, because you’ve got lines to learn. I thought I was being distracted from what I was supposed to be doing.

The music you’ve released is on the mellow side. Was there ever a time in your life, had you made music then, that the sound would have been louder and more intense? And what does it take to get you worked up these days?
[Laughs.] Well, I think in our show we’ve got some more up-tempo pieces where it’s fun—the band, they really get into it, and I get into it too. That may be a surprise for some people.

Then what does it take to shake up your normally mellow outlook?
Oh, man, I was shook up this morning. Just getting ready to go on a PR tour for this movie I’ve got coming out. I’m heading out to L.A., and I’m going to be gone for two weeks, just packing and juggling all the balls. I think that’s probably what gets me riled up is juggling all the balls, keeping the plates spinning.

How did doing “Crazy Heart” change the way it feels for you to perform music? Has anything happened in your music career that gave you a sense of deja vu, like you were back to being Bad Blake?
Well, “Crazy Heart” was such a shot in the arm for my music. I got to hang out with [some of] my best friends, T Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton, who the film was dedicated to. He’s no longer with us. He was so instrumental in making that movie a success, and he was with me every day. That kind of carried on to the album that I put out maybe a year or so after “Crazy Heart” with T Bone. And Stephen’s songs are on that as well. “Crazy Heart,” just playing that character, you kind of get in that character’s shoes, and like most things you practice, if you do something over and over again, you kind of get better at it, and it becomes something you enjoy doing. That was the case with “Crazy Heart” with me.

During shows do you ever feel the urge to do an Eagles cover just to show that you as a person, unlike The Dude in “The Big Lebowski,” don’t actually hate them?
[Laughs.] Yeah, sometimes I run into those guys at a party or something; they’ll give me grief about The Dude. [Laughs] No, we don’t do any Eagles tunes. We do some Creedence. [Laughs] Maybe we gotta work on some Eagles [songs]. I’ve run into ‘em before. They’re nice guys. We’re friends.

Jeff Bridges and the Abiders
8 p.m. Aug. 22 at the Venue at Horseshoe Casino, Hammond, Ind. $29-$39.

Plus:
On Chicago: “I’ve spent very little time in Chicago. I’m anxious to get there. I understand it’s a beautiful town, and I’m looking forward to spending time there. When you’re on the road playing you don’t get too much time to hang out, so it will probably be just driving around looking at sights from out the window of the car. I don’t know if we’ll get a chance to get out too much.”

Watch Matt review the week's big new movies Fridays at noon on NBC.

mpais@tribune.com

 

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Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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