When St. Louis singer/songwriter J.T. Bridges starts writing songs, he considers the big picture. For him, it’s not just about the music but the overall narrative behind it.
His song “Noelle,” is an ode to dependent relationships. But the 22-year-old artist didn’t just stop with the song. He also thought about the kind of person Noelle would be. So, he decided to craft a narrative about her persona as if he was writing a screenplay. He then cast an actor to voice Noelle and inserted his alter ego, Tay Altair, as her lover.
“I always had this narrative and this story that I wanted to tell with these characters that I had in my head, but couldn't really bring to life,” Bridges said.
Many people might listen to music and imagine the characters described in an album's songs. But Bridges isn't leaving anything to the imagination with "The Butterflies and Bees Collection." The album is accompanied by a seven-minute short film on YouTube along with a blog of music, poetry and illustrations featuring the characters.
Through pop, R&B and hip hop, the music tackles relationships and mental health. All of the songs are written from Tay’s perspective. While Bridges said he draws on his own personality to tell Tay’s story, the character is still a character.
“I definitely took a lot from the experiences that I have within my own life, definitely experiences that I've shared with other kindred spirits to myself,” Bridges said. “But in terms of the themes, I would say that it's definitely a lot about codependency and escapism in relationships. I feel that I wanted to touch on because it's something that I've struggled in my own life.”
In the short film and his songs, Tay sings and raps about the emotions associated with relationships; heartbreak falling in and out of love are prominent themes. He said the song is meant to say how unhealthy it is to be head over heels.
“Noelle is a perfect example,” Bridges said. “It speaks highly of this person and it idolizes her, but in a way it's also toxic because it's putting someone on a pedestal. It's rendering them as perfect, which no one ever is.”
Bridge’s love for music began years ago in his hometown of New Orleans. He remembers being influenced by the city’s rich jazz culture and soul music. His mother introduced him to groups like Earth, Wind & Fire; SWV (Sisters With Voices); and solo acts like Musiq Soulchild and Brandy. One of his brothers is a singer, and two of his brothers taught him to play guitar and piano.
“I started writing music and singing on my own,” Bridges said. “By the time I got to say 13 to 14, I met some friends in high school that were interested in the same thing. And, the more we did it, you know, for fun, the more I saw it as a career option for myself.”
Bridges came to St. Louis to study sociology at Washington University in 2016. But along the way, he decided to also focus on music. He met his manager and collaborator, Anthony Bartley, at Wash U last year. They worked together with Videographer Josh Horton on the music video, which includes animation.
“The thing about collaborating with somebody is that like, when you can do it in a consistent way, that's how the art becomes the best that it can be,” Bridges said about Bartley.
Fans can hear the music, read poems by the characters and look at illustrations on the blog. Bartley said they decided to use other mediums to tell Tay’s story so listeners can get better insight into who Tay is.
“I like the idea of being able to take somebody out of what they're thinking is reality at the moment,” Bartley said. “You can get absorbed into the art, as well as you can, where the music is catharsis and escapism, I feel like the artists always almost pure escapism.”
But he and Bridges frequently return to love and desire as they do on "Summer Days," a song about one of Tay’s old relationships. The song is emblematic of the EP’s primary themes.
“Heartbreak is a lot like dependency,” Bridges said. “But you are fine on your own, and when you realize that that's when you self actualize. And that's when your life actually starts, because that's when my life started.”
Bridges said the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench in his plans for this year. He and Bartley were planning to hold a concert and fashion show in March with other St. Louis- and Chicago-based black musicians and designers at the High Low Literary Arts Cafe. But it was postponed. Bridges said that once the pandemic is over, he’s ready to hit the stage to perform and say goodbye to characters.
Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis