Marc Broussard: Soulful, Aware, and Giving Back

"I think I was born to be in the place I’m in."

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Marc Broussard is an artist who is always learning, always searching for the next thing that is going to ignite his imagination all over again. The Louisiana influences that have acted upon him throughout his life passionately inform his music, which has been described as “Bayou soul” and “Swamp pop.”

Originally a self-described “soul snob,” now Broussard’s musical horizons are broadened daily.

American Blues Scene recently spent time with Broussard as he drove to a gig in Dallas, Texas. He spoke about growing up in Louisiana with his father, “a very sophisticated musician.” He also shared his perspectives on making albums, social media, his band, and giving back to folks who need a hand up.

Barry Kerzner for American Blues Scene:

Louisiana is beautiful – they call it Sportsman’s paradise for a reason. Growing up there must have been very cool for you, no?

Marc Broussard:

It was a pretty ideal situation in retrospect. I was born in what I have come to view as the most culturally rich area of our country. There are definitely cultural pockets throughout the country that have rich traditions but, the French and Spanish heritage in south Louisiana predates the founding of this country.

I was also raised by a very talented musician which I think was usually beneficial. We were outdoors people growing up. We were on the water fishing and skiing just about every weekend. The earliest we ever started water skiing was February because that year my brothers both got wetsuits for Christmas. So, we pushed our luck and went out and wake-boarded in February. I don’t think we went back out for the rest of that month.

None-the-less, we were always excited about the approaching summer, getting outdoors and having a ball.

Growing up in that environment, both the natural environment and the cultural environment: the Cajuns, the Creoles, and the food all had to have shaped your life, thought process, and your music as well, didn’t it?

You know, it’s interesting I think. When I think back on my musical relationship with the musical, cultural mores of south Louisiana, I wasn’t exposed to in great detail to the Creole and Zydeco and Cajun music as a child. My father was, he is a very sophisticated musician. So the stuff that he was into was Wes Montgomery and George Benson, Weather Report and The Yellow Jackets; more sophisticated music that didn’t involve anything that had to do with vocals as well.

So, a lot of the music that I was exposed to at an early age was straight from my father, and I was kind of beholden to his tastes from one day to the next. Sometimes I got the rare Stevie Wonder, or Marvin Gaye treat, and Otis Redding here and there, but for the most part, it was all instrumental jazz that I was exposed to. We were involved in the community in certain ways. My father was a volunteer for a very large festival that goes on in Lafayette every year. There’s quite a bit of Zydeco and Cajun music at the festival, so I was exposed to it to a degree but, it was never something that my father tried to push on me at all.

It wasn’t until later in life, the last decade that I’ve fallen in love with the music of south Louisiana, and had that music influence my music. The culture as a whole has definitely shaped who I am as a man, and that obviously lends to shaping my music in certain directions.

Who are your influences these days? Who are you listening to now?

So many lanes as opposed to 15 years ago. I was a pretty staunch soul-music snob. I didn’t entertain other genres very much. I was pretty closed-minded, to be honest. In the last five years or so, I’ve started to embrace some things that I rejected whole-heartedly. Simple things, like rock and roll that I’d never really paid much attention to. I was familiar with some of the hits but, as far as catalogs, for bands like Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, I wasn’t very familiar with those catalogs.

I started digging into some of that stuff, and more contemporary influences would include people like Jarle Bernhoft out of Norway, Gabe Dixon from Nashville; I’m a huge fan of his. There’s a guy called Blake Mills who’s put out a couple of records that I absolutely love. There’s a young lady by the name of Emily King who I recently discovered, that I’ve fallen in love with her music. There’s a band out of Manitoba Winnipeg, called The Brothers Landreth who put out a record last year that I absolutely adore.

You’re about 35 now, and you released your first album around 2002. What has changed the most for you as far as the way you make records and the way you approach your music since those early days?

I would say that I don’t necessarily care as much about the perfection of a record as much as I once did. The life cycle of a record in my time in this business has changed dramatically. There was a time when I first started you’d come out with a record, and you toured behind it, around the world, for two years. Then you go back in the studio and put out another record a year after that.

My goal at this point in my career is just to be as prolific as possible. [I want] to put out good, solid music. I don’t want to put out junk just for the sake of putting stuff out. That’s why I started this SOS Foundation project where we can space out original records and supplement the intervening years with some covers albums that raise monies for charities. We can go back out and tour behind those projects in the ensuing years in-between the original records.

The process to make the record hasn’t changed all that much, although, the budgets are substantially less than they used to be. So, we don’t spend as much time as we used to in the studio. Where we used to spend two weeks tracking a record, we now spend three days tracking a record. Where we used to spend three weeks mixing a record, now we now spend a week mixing a record. I no longer have as much of an affinity for the final product as I once did.

I still love making records, don’t get me wrong. I really do enjoy the process making records. I just don’t hold that final product on such a pedestal as I used to.

Funny you mentioned the “soul snob” thing. Normally when I ask an artist how they feel about their new album, 9 out of 10 say, “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done!” With your new album, it is the best thing you’ve done in terms of growth and new music. As far as soul, “Leave a Light On” to me, is Americana, and “Baton Rouge” is country soul. “Easy to Love” is also country soul, with a bit of gospel. To my ear, they are all variants of soul. Very satisfying indeed.

Well thanks! I think that I’ve always tried to offer my listeners a different look with the records. I never bought into concept records. I enjoy presenting different attitudes and styles on a record while maintaining some sort of continuity.

There’s not much that I can do to escape the soulful influences that shape my sound from birth. It’s an innate part of me, and it’s gonna be a part of me forever.

I think this group of songs, are soulful in a more sophisticated way than your previous work. I mean, “Mercy, Mercy Me” – I love the original. There are some artists, that when you redo their songs, it’s hard. For instance, you can try and do a Beatles song, but it’s always hard to pull off and do well for some reason.

Yeah!

Marvin Gaye? There’s just something about his work… Your take on “Mercy, Mercy Me” stopped me in my tracks. It is so good.

Well that song is especially prescient, and in these times, that lyric speaks to a sense of despair that I certainly feel with the current political climate in this country. Choosing that song to do was multifaceted. For me, I identified with the lyric as being somewhat timely. I also identify with the Marvin Gaye approach to introducing social awareness into his music.

If the record ‘What’s Going On’ had been a Facebook post, instead of an album, would it have had the cultural impact that it had? The answer is pretty clearly no. But, it was not an in-your-face approach at all. It’s almost Socratic the way he presents some of that stuff. ‘What’s Going On,’ ‘Mercy Mercy Me,’ – it’s just asking some serious questions and asking the listener to engage a little bit deeper than you might have previously.

A  lot of his work is like that. That song he did, “Trouble Man” – when that comes on, how can you not just stop what you’re doing?

One of my favorites by the way.

Him and Curtis Mayfield: Very socially aware in their compositions.

But, not for the sake of being socially aware.

No!

But real, extremely authentic – from a very authentic position. Those men were talking about principled subjects. They were showcasing their principles right in their art. And, not for the sake of publicity, not for the sake of you know, being viewed as someone who is socially aware, but because it was necessary.

They were writing and singing about what went on around them in their daily lives, and they wanted to express it in a way that their contemporaries were going to hear what they were saying.

Correct. With my version of ‘Mercy Mercy Me’ – in no way was I attempting to co-opt the original message that he was trying to present, or appropriate his work in any way. I simply saw that lyric and that sentiment as needing to be repeated today.

Every song on this album is incredible.

Thank you.

There are not a whole lot of albums as you know that you can say that about. Great listen all the way through, so thank YOU.

Thanks, man, that makes me smile.

Not to mention that your playing is pretty on point as well. Speaking of your band, you’ve said, “No producer I’ve ever worked with would ever have a problem with them because they’re just that good.” Talk about that respect and the bond between you.

For the most part; I’ve always been very fortunate that extremely talented musicians often took pay cuts to work with me. At this point, we’ve remedied those financial problems those guys have had to face, but early on. Chad Gilmore, the guy who’s been on drums with me for 15 years now, played on every one of my records. He originally was calling my manager’s office in New York, about four days after we initially offered him the gig, to turn the gig down.

It happened to be the day that there was a massive blackout on the entire eastern seaboard. He could not get through to my manager’s office to turn the gig down. The very next day, a live recording of me and the band that I had at the time showed up to his house, and he and his then girlfriend popped the disk in the car and started riding around town. His then girlfriend, now wife said to him ‘If you turn this gig down, you’re an asshole.’

Picked the disk up on Saturday, called us and said ‘I guess I’m taking the gig!’ He and I have been on the road now six to eight months out of the year, a couple of thousand shows together and we’ve never, not once, ever had a knock-down drag-out fight. Not once. We’ve never ever had any issues personally. I’ve had several other players come and go over the years. Chad is the only real mainstay. I think it ultimately boils down to mutual respect. Those guys deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the discipline they’ve shown over the course of their entire lives to reach the level of musicianship they have. The respect that I have for those guys, I wear on my sleeve.

When we first started out, my manager handled all my discussions with the band guy, and ultimately, that was not the best mode of communication between my band and me. It wasn’t great at all. Once we figured out those communication issues, everything else is very easy. There’s a significant level of respect between the players. I’ve never told my guys what to play; I’ve always given them broad leeway and artistic license when It comes to the live show. I think it’s a fairly satisfying experience for people. My guys, a lot of the time, are coming off covers gigs on Bourbon street. So, my gig, compared to some of those experiences, is quite satisfying.

You are a person that gives back. Your Facebook page bio says:  “His philanthropic cred is strong too, through donating all proceeds from the sale of his Bootleg to Benefit the Victims of Hurricane Katrina, undertaking a month-long tour of U.S. military installations in September 2007, building homes with Habitat for Humanity and donating his service as spokesperson for Louisiana’s United Way of Acadiana – all of which contributed to Hard Rock International’s decision in 2007 to present Broussard with its “Love All, Serve All” Award in recognition of his multifaceted generosities.”

Not to mention my last release; the S.O.S. II record is a charity project, giving fifty percent of the proceeds away to charity.

It’s obviously imperative for you to give back. Why is that?

Oh man… I think it’s important for everybody who finds themselves in a position to help, to do so. What it boils down to is my relationship to social media, specifically, Twitter and Facebook over the last eight years. I originally got on Twitter six years ago to find the news, to look up the news, and follow the news. I was very vocal early on, and I would get into arguments about politics with anyone who was willing to argue. I’ve been starting to mature a little and got a little quieter and more selective about what and who I’d engage. Then I finally realized about two years ago that there was way more talking being done than there was for providing opportunities for disadvantaged people.

Yes.

I was part of that echo chamber. I was just part of that noise machine for so long. I got so tired of all the noise and the talking about solutions that I decided that I needed to be in a position to be able to provide opportunities for people. So, I’m gonna try and use every advantage I have in this life to help care for those less fortunate than myself.

I think it’s partially the way I was raised, partially how I’m designed. I think I was born to be in the place I’m in. I think that artists like myself are uniquely positioned to affect change in our society, and music is the leading driver of culture I think. If you look at social media, and follower accounts, it’s all musicians that are driving these platforms. So, we have such tremendous influence.

I’ve spent a long time convincing my fans that I’m a sincere human being, and they’ve come to take me like that. So when I told them I vetted an organization, and I see this organization is doing incredibly amazing work for people that definitely need help, my fans take me at my word. They believe me. That’s why I get involved with philanthropy.

 

Marc Brossard

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