A Conversation with Marc Broussard

Call it Bayou Soul. Call it R&B. It doesn’t matter.

The music Marc Broussard has been making over the last decade is equal parts toe-tapping reverie, studio innovation and soulful crooning. The Louisiana native has been surrounded by music his entire life and it shows.

His father, Ted Broussard, was the guitarist for The Boogie Kings. Today, Marc still writes songs with his father’s ‘68 Gibson ES-335, but his most valuable instrument is his incredible voice.

We caught up with Marc this past May while he was on tour and discussed the experience of being an independent artist, our mutual admiration of Blake Mills, and a recording technique he calls the Marc-estra...

Tell me about the tour. Is this specifically for the new record or more of a career retrospective?

We're always on tour. We’re always out there just trying to connect with fans, so, really there's not a whole lot of effort that goes into directly supporting a record unless we're real close to release time. I haven't had a record out since Christmas. I had put a Christmas record out, but we're obviously not touring on that.

My next record won't be out until July [Editor’s note: This interview happened in May], so we're just out here playing shows and filling some holes that were left on the calendar last go-around. We haven't been back to Minneapolis in a while. Madison, Wisconsin is tomorrow. We haven't been there in a while. So we're just trying to reconnect with the fans that haven't seen us in a while.

That's great. I understand you're on Vanguard again. Tell me a little bit about that. What does it mean for from a career standpoint?

I'm actually off of Vanguard again. I was on again, and now I'm off again. I signed with Vanguard for the first time - I want to say it was somewhere around '06. That was after the relationship with Island Def Jam kind of fell apart. They had a major regime change, and I asked to be let go after my second record got shelved. They said they weren't going to put it out.

From that point, we signed a one-off deal with Vanguard, and about a year and a half ago, maybe two years ago, we found ourselves in a similar position. I had asked to be let go from Atlantic records. Vanguard stepped up to the plate and put a record out for me. Now I'm fully independent, and that's completely by choice.

Marc Broussard performing live

So what's the difference? How do you experience the difference in terms of touring and in terms of putting music out?

Between being on label and off label you mean?

Exactly.

The major difference would be the frequency and the freedom to put music out. I feel sort of unchained in a lot of ways now to chase down creative ideas that normally would be shunned by a label or would just be different. And labels don't want different. They want the same. They want you to fit into a certain distinct category. I've never really been excited by that creatively.

So as far as writing and recording material that I'm truly inspired by, I've never been freer to do so. And then getting on tour, it's always been our domain anyways. It's never really been the job of the label to either get us on tour or keep us on tour, so nothing's really changed there.

So you've been making music professionally now for about 15 years. That about right?

Yeah. Something like that. Since '02.

How has your songwriting process changed over that time?

Well, it's changed in certain ways and it hasn't in others. I still will sit down and write a song when I get inspired or if I’m in a writing session, which has always been the case. I would have a meeting set up and sit down with the co-writer and we would write a song.

But the biggest difference occurred about a month and a half ago, when we just decided to go into the studio and record some music without having anything written or any plan at all. Just to kind of get into the studio and get creative. Start from the groove up.

And then have some time to live with the tracks that came out of that session. We started to write to the tracks as opposed to writing a song and tracking it.

How did it go? I mean, did you have like a notebook full of riffs that you wanted to experiment with in that context, or was it from scratch?

It was completely from scratch, with the exception of one song that I had written about a year ago that I had a fairly decent idea of how I wanted fleshed out. Everything else in the session was completely from the groove up. It went swimmingly well.

It's refreshing to know that I've got a batch of material that is recorded really well and could be released as soon as we're ready to release it. As opposed to having a batch of material in the can, songs written, everything's mixed and mastered and having a label stifling the release of that material because it doesn't comport with their schedule requirements.

Marc Broussard - S.O.S. II

Right. Are you guys releasing anything on vinyl?

Oh, yeah. We're going to be releasing everything on vinyl.

That's great.

We've got a record coming out this July that is a soul covers record, S.O.S. II. My first record for Vanguard, the one-off record years ago, was a soul covers album where I covered Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Donnie Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding. Bunch of old soul singers.

We needed to get a product out quickly. I had just recorded everything original for a record that Island wasn't going to put out, and I couldn't re-record the songs that I'd just recorded for them. Contractually they've prohibited me from recording my own songs, even though they weren’t going to release it.

So we desperately needed to get something out swiftly. The consensus was we'd go in and do the soul covers record. It actually was quite successful and allowed us to get out on tour once again for another summer season.

The project as a whole was so much fun that we decided to go ahead and launch a new non-profit foundation called the S.O.S. Foundation, which formed last summer. We got 501(c)(3) status early, the early part of this year. And the goal is to take all of the money that was being generated for the labels through the sale of my records and give that money to charitable causes that I'm passionate about.

Marc Broussard - "Cry To Me"

What are a couple favorites?

50% of the proceeds are going to a group called City of Refuge based out of Atlanta. City of Refuge is really just an umbrella term to describe a campus in a very poor neighborhood in Atlanta called The Bluff.

This campus houses all of the various non-profit services in the Atlanta area. All the best, most successful non-profit services in the Atlanta area. The Catholic hospital that's been running free clinics for 50 years has facilities on site. The drug counseling services that have been in place there in Atlanta for 30, 40 years are now on campus.

All these programs work in concert with one another to eliminate duplication of services. They do their best to really help the folks that need the most help there. So I'm most passionate about people that are truly suffering.

That's a great cause. So with your most recent studio experience—I want to ask about the gear. Anything new in the mix?

I think it's always a mixture of new and old. My gear—the gear that I would use in the studio—would be a newer Yamaha AES 1500 paired up with a vintage Princeton or Super Reverb.

But I didn't play much guitar. My singing is done on a vintage Neumann. The guys are mostly playing vintage gear.

We even used a Mellotron. When we weren't using a Mellotron for the keys, we were using a Rhodes or a grand piano.

The drum kit was a vintage Ludwig that was borrowed from Stanton Moore, who's a good friend of ours. Stanton lent us one of the best sounding little kits I've ever heard. I think it was like an 18” kick drum. It was the tiniest kick drum ever, but it sounded amazing.

When you were recording, did you repurpose anything or try any sort of sonic experiments that you can discuss?

Marc Broussard

Oh, absolutely. We were really interested in stepping out sonically and creating a real aural experience, if you will.

My biggest contemporary influence is a guy called Blake Mills. I think he makes some of the most impressive sonic records that I've ever heard. He's really kind of opened up something in me as far as what we're trying to go after in the studio and the risks that we're willing to take.

So while I'm singing on a very old microphone, I'm using fairly new techniques, just stacking the crap out of harmonies. I like to call it the Marc-estra.

I just stack the crap out of a ton of harmonies and get a really fat sound. Especially on a hook.

Are you recording to tape or are you recording digitally?

We're recording through tape to the digital. So we're passing everything through a half inch machine, subbing it down and then passing it back into the computer.

How do you think that affects your sound?

You know, my job has always kind of been to sing. I've never really dug super hard into the inner workings of the audio engineering world. I've always tried to put my trust in the guys that I'm working with.

The guy that I'm working with now as an engineer - Justin Tocket - is no stranger to my music. He's co-produced two of my records in the past.

Justin is a beautiful engineer who happens to live thirty minutes from my house. He’s running one of the most amazing facilities in the country in my opinion.

It's a 15-acre facility on the Bayou Vermillion down in Maurice Louisiana. It's hosted everybody from Bruce Springsteen to BB King. It's a premier studio that we kind of call home, our second home nowadays.

What's the name of the studio?

It's called Dockside Studio.

I read somewhere that you play your father's Gibson ES-335.

I do. It's the guitar that my grandfather bought for my dad in 1968.

Wow. So is that your number one?

No, that's number two. When I'm flying I don't bring it out just because—

Yeah, because you're smart. [Laughs]

Yeah. I'm not going to trust any baggage handlers with that guitar.

Do you feel that connection to it?

Oh, absolutely man. I've written some of my favorite songs on that guitar.

Growing up I dreamed of getting my hands on it. I was totally disallowed to even touch it. So to own it now, to have it in my possession—it was a gift for my 30th birthday that my dad gave me on stage after he used it to play the opening slot at a show that we did in New Orleans at the House of Blues.

So it was totally unexpected that I was going to be getting that guitar. I had no idea. And I definitely cherish it.

Marc Broussard

So over the last 14, 15 years that you've been putting records out, how do you think that your sound has evolved?

I always try to hire great players. I wanted to be the weakest link in the group because I know what I'm capable of. If I'm the weakest link, then I know that we're doing okay.

I always believed that if the source is right, if the guys hitting the drums or plucking the strings are doing it right, then the microphones are going to pick up what they're supposed to pick up. Especially if you have an engineer that knows what he's doing.

So I really can't tell you how my sound has changed. I think I would say that generally it's just a little more mature than it was. As far as me and what I'm doing vocally, I think that I'm definitely a lot more mature as a singer than I was at 20 years old. As a songwriter as well, I think I've matured substantially.

What do people miss when they talk to you about your music and your creative process? What do you want people to know or think about or remember?

Oh, they probably miss that I'm a huge Saints fan [laughs]. They probably miss that I'm also the handyman around the house.

My wife and I decided about a year ago to add on a second story to my house and because my father was in construction for thirty plus years, my father and I did all the work ourselves. As such, it's taken a year to finish this job. Luckily, it's almost wrapped up. We're about to finish the second phase. So I'm a decent carpenter as well as a musician.

Well, Marc, thank you very much. Been a great pleasure to chat with you.

You got it. Thank you, man.

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