The singer reveals how a car loan helped cement his management deal and the perils of getting upstaged by your band.
[Editor’s note: When we first spoke to Marc a decade ago, he was coming off a homerun outing with his newly released debut album on Island. Since then, Marc has cemented his position as a leading practitioner of blue-eyed soul while also broadening his musical horizons. He keeps up a steady touring itinerary with a heavily booked schedule of shows at festivals and prestigious venues throughout America.]
Marc Broussard is an ambitious up-and-coming performer with music in his blood. The power and soul in his voice was earned through a lifetime spent playing and performing music. Marc joined his father, Louisiana Hall of Fame guitarist Ted Broussard, onstage when he was only five years old. He was performing his own gigs at 17, playing solo as well as leading a succession of bands.
On Carencro, his full-length Island Records debut [released August 2004], Broussard shows the experience he's gained as a musician. The songs have energy and a life of their own apart from any genre—a tribute to his ability to soak up styles and sounds. Mainly, though, he is a powerful performer, capable of making any song his own, his music offering a distinct southern Louisiana take on R&B, blues and soul.
Marc has been touring almost nonstop, headlining his own club dates, playing festivals, and opening for acts all across the country. We talked with Marc about his music from all angles, including touring, performing, songwriting, and recording, as well as the business side.
Musician's Friend: Right now you're in the middle of the transition from gigging in bars to playing on the biggest stages in the world. What does that take?
Marc Broussard: Somebody told me a long time ago it's 90% business and 10% talent. [laughter] If you've got the talent and you make some good decisions in business, everything else kind of falls into place. It definitely takes surrounding yourself with real solid people that you can trust. That you can honestly say you would invite to your house for dinner instead of just calling them up on a conference call and telling them what to do and giving them a piece of your mind, and then acting like everything's cool after that. My relationship with my manager is one of the strongest that I've ever seen. I love my manager. A year ago, when nothing was going on, when I was barely making any money, I needed to get a new car because the mother of my child needed a car to get around. I asked my father to co-sign and he couldn't. My dad is my dad, and he doesn't make a whole lot of money, so I could understand. But my manager—my stingy, Manhattan-born-and-bred manager—said, "No problem. Sure, I'll co-sign for you." And that right there proved a lot to me about how much he was behind me. It was really special. It was more symbolic than he realized at that time, I think.
MF: Who is your manager?
MB: I have two managers, umm, actually three. It's a management company called Brick Wall Management. The two partners, [behind the firm] have been together about five years or so now, maybe even longer than that. They co-managed John Mayer with Michael McDonald and they also manage Citizen Cope, as well as The Clarks. And they do well. They do really well. They're great guys; wonderful, wonderful guys.
Broussard proved his soul chops with an emotional reading of this Donny Hathaway classic.
MF: Your disc sounds very live, and listening to the CD, it's obvious you like performing.
MB: Oh, man, it's what I live for.
MF: Did you do anything specific to capture that vibe on the disc?
MB: Well, it's tough to duplicate what we do live on CD. However, we do it every night—we record every show. We do the Instant Live discs and sell them after the show. I've got about 200 or 300 shows recorded over the past two years. But in the studio, obviously, it's a very different scenario. I tried to recreate it as much as possible because I knew that that would be conducive to a good recording, so I got my rhythm section at the time: Chad Gilmour on drums and Calvin Turner on bass. Those guys are married. Calvin Turner, at 20 years old, is one of the most talented bass players I've ever worked with. He started out at four years old playing Tower of Power grooves on the drums, so he mimics the kick pedal really well. Because my drummer knew that, he had all the freedom in the world to just stretch. And luckily my producer was kind enough to say, "Just go with it," and so we rolled with it.
I had Jim McGorman on keys and Larry Coryell's son Julian Coryell on guitar. We tracked live, as a group. I would sing the song twice with the band, all tracking together, and then I'd go into the engineering room and have the engineer interchange the tracks every take until the band got warmed up. Just so that they weren't hearing the same vocal over and over again. When the band got rolling I'd get back into the vocal booth and we'd take it up another notch. It was incredible. It was the sexiest, most beautiful time of my life. Being in the studio with guys who are so talented; more talented than myself in a lot of ways. It was just beautiful. They helped bring my music to life in a very real, honest, passionate way. I'm really thankful I got to work with those guys.
MF: What's the difference between that group and who you go out on the road with?
MB: Well, I don't have a keyboard player on the road—I have a four piece. If I would have known my new guitar player at the time—my new guitar player's name is Gibb Droll. He's a Virginia boy. He's been around for a while and I met him about five months ago, six months ago, right when my record came out. If I would have known Gibb at the time that I was going to go in and do the record, I probably would have used Gibb for the record. He's just phenomenally talented. Not only is he all heart and all soul, but he's also taught me how to do this life properly. How to live life on the road. He's taught me so much; he's very wise. I've got a great group of guys around me, man. I've got one of the greatest crews I've ever encountered; my tour manager, my sound guy, my drummer . . . . My drummer and I have really become best friends. My bass player, unfortunately, this young brother from the West Bank of New Orleans, just moved out of the country, so I'm kind of left high and dry right now. [laughs] I'm actually looking for a bass player. So I'm holding auditions right now.
MF: So is Gibb a little older?
MB: Yeah, he's about 34, I think. He's been around. He's been working since he was 17, 18 years old. He's worked up and down the East Coast a whole lot when he was younger, opening up for Albert Collins and stuff like that. He had a Gibb Droll Band and it's funny because everywhere we go now people always recognize him or recognize his name. He looks very different than he used to, but they always recognize his name. We were in Eugene, Oregon, playing a show. It was my gig, and somebody called and they're like, "Is Gibb Droll playing here tonight?" and I said "Yeah." So she told the person in the room with her. Then she says "What time does he go on?" And I was like, "He's in my band, dammit!" [laughter] "He goes on at ten o'clock with me!" It was too funny. So that's the running joke everywhere we go, that he's more popular than I am.
MF: You'll get yours.
MB: I hope so. One of these days.
MF: The last song on the disc, "Let Me Leave," you absolutely tear it up on that song, man. It is killer.
MB: Thanks, bro. My producer came down to Louisiana sometime in the fall of 2003 to start writing songs for the next record. Just to do whatever, you know? And he came down and we sat in a little rehearsal room for four days and popped out like six songs and "Let Me Leave" was one of them. And he had just bought this Marshall Electronics tube microphone that had an interchangeable capsule so you can turn it into a bunch of different microphones just by popping out the capsule and putting in a new one. I was like, "Wow, that's pretty cool." So we threw the mic up and he had just gotten his Mbox, and he didn't know how to run it, and we threw together a loop. And there's air conditioning noise and, you know, just all kinds of noise in the background and I sang the song and the demo . . . for some reason I always sing the demos better than I do in the studio when it's cutting time. And the demo was incredible, the vocal was just so moving and I was like, "Man, let's just use the demo vocal for the track." But it didn't fit. It was so noisy and so bad, that it was . . . it just wasn't going to fit. And so I knew that I was going to have to re-sing it one of these days, and finally the time was right. When the time is just right, man, you just go for it. And I just went for it and it was so refreshing to be able to pull that song off again in the studio, because I love singing it in the live setting. It really, really says a whole lot about who I am, and about what I do, y'know. It's definitely my favorite song on this record, absolutely. My friend CC Adcock, he's a musician, he was on Island Records years ago, and he told me, "Man, that song 'Let Me Leave' is bad." I was like, "What do you mean?" He said, "I can just see you doing that song at Swamp Pop Fest, Thibodeaux, Louisiana in 2090, saying [in gruff, grizzled voice], 'Back in the day I did this song for the Island Records label.'" [laughter]
MF: That's great. It's true though, that song could stand up and transcend time.
MB: I hope so.
MF: Between songwriting and performing what is your bigger strength?
MB: You know, I still have a lot to learn as a songwriter. That's why I like co-writing with people more talented than myself. I enjoy songwriting tremendously and I'll always be a songwriter, and there are benefits that come from writing 100% of your songs. When you're talking from a business standpoint, it's always better to have more percentage than less. But, at the same time, I still have a lot to learn. I'm only 22 years old, and I don't . . . I have some life experience, but I just don't have what it takes to really dig down deep. I tend to kind of stay on the surface and talk about dancing in a club instead of "there's a soft, sweet space on the back of your neck" [a line from "The Beauty of Who You Are"] which Mr. Randy Foster is so good at doing. And so many of the others guys that I write with are just so talented and have taught me so much. So I'm just starting to get back into it. Actually, the writing that I do on piano—which I just started doing—is, I feel, a little more refined than the stuff that I do on guitar. The stuff that I do on guitar is usually a little funky and groove-oriented instead of the pretty ballad stuff that I can do on piano. And so I'm just exploring songwriting as much as I can, I'm trying to not limit myself at all. Just whatever comes, comes. If I write a country song, I write a country song; if I write a gospel tune, I write a gospel tune. Whatever happens, happens. But the performing is where it is for me, man. I love getting on the stage, I love putting smiles on people's faces. I feed off of it. It's what I do best in my opinion.
MF: You ever hit any crowds where you get that blank look, and it takes something to get people going?
MB: Well, this is a real funny story. Home in Louisiana the Friday after Thanksgiving. Not the day after Thanksgiving, but the following week. Myself, my drummer, who is amazing, my boy Joe Stalk, his father Billy Stalk—a badass B-3 player, and Tony Hall, who played with Lucinda Williams. He was the original Meters bass player, the original Neville Brothers bass player. . . . He is now with the Dave Matthews solo project with Tim Reynolds and Trey Anastasio and Brady Blade and all those cats. Tony Hall from Thibodaux, Louisiana, is a good friend of ours. Well, Billy Stalk got this gig, this really good-paying gig, for an oil field Christmas party. So this is the band he put together for this thing. Now, this is the best band to ever hit any Christmas party for any oil field company. [laughter] And we get out there, and we don't want to scare them, 'cause we all realized that this is a pretty killin' band for this scenario, so we don't really want to scare them. They're all sitting down and eatin' and drinkin' and conversatin', so we start out with "What's Going On?"—a little Marvin Gaye. Just killed it. It was beautiful, and there was no applause whatsoever. [laughter] All right, we said, "Screw it, we'll do "Maybe Your Baby." So we did Stevie Wonder's "Maybe Your Baby," which is just a funky, funky, dirty, nasty tune. It was the best version that I had ever sang, and the band was just layin' it down . . . we killed it. Nothing; nothing. [more laughter] So then we play "Brick House" and they go crazy. They went nuts, man. They went crazy for "Brick House," "Brown-Eyed Girl," and all that nonsense. They all got out on the dance floor and started shaking their tail feathers. [lots of laughter]
MF: What gear do you use and how do you use it?
MB: I've been fortunate to hook up with Taylor Guitars. They have treated me so well. Just really, really been very kind to me. And so I play a Taylor 514CE, as well as a 714CE, which I run to the K4. The pickup system that's in the guitars is the Expression System, which was designed by Rupert Neve. He also designed a preamp to go along with it, and it's just basically a Neve pre with an EQ on it. So that's what I'm running with guitars. I think Taylor is probably the best, most consistent acoustic guitar manufacturer in the world. You can walk into any store and I guarantee you that on 99% of those Taylor's the action's going to be great, the neck is going to be straight, and it's going to sound killer. Even the Big Baby Taylors are solid guitars. They really, really are consistent.
I also have a Neumann KMS 105, which is my microphone. The microphone was a gift and I just liked it a whole lot. I really like the body and the presence that it has.
MF: What strings do you use?
MB: I'm using D'Addarios. The Bronzes, from 0.13 to .54, I'm guessing. [D'Addario 80/20 Bronze Round Wound strings, medium gauge 13-56]
MF: Pretty heavy.
MB: Pretty heavy. I'm a rhythm player, I'm not a real pristine chicken picker. I just like to strum it. My approach is more like a Bill Withers' acoustic. Bill Withers always had an acoustic guitar as a rhythm track, and it didn't move a whole lot, the chords weren't too spectacular. You just lay it down, lay down a groove. That's what my job is.
MF: Do you have any other instruments at home that you play around with?
MB: Well, my grandfather passed on his old Ibanez acoustic to me. A blonde Ibanez. There's like a '57 Les Paul Custom and there's a little Epiphone mandolin and there's a Yamaha steel string and there's a Samick nylon string and my grandfather's old Super Reverb that I play my daddy's cherry-red '78 335 through. My daddy's got a nice Stratocaster. He's also got an old Ibanez GB-10, which is a George Benson signature model. My daddy is on both of my records. He actually co-wrote the first cut, "Home," on my new CD.
MF: You've said before your dad is a hero to you.
MB: Absolutely. Absolutely.
MF: What is it about him that makes him a hero to you?
MB: My dad learned to play guitar from his father by ear, and then took it a step further and studied some jazz, went to school for jazz theory and composition, and just got a better understanding of his craft. He still practices three hours a day or more, and after 40 years he still is pursuing it as passionately as he ever did. He just discovered the steel string acoustic and the nylon string acoustic within the past seven years so it's a whole new instrument for him. It's just the dedication that he's shown, the work ethic—as far as his musicianship—that has always inspired me.
He had a band in the '80s that didn't have a rhythm section—it had a horn section and a female front person. He was working and programming the drums and the bass on an Atari computer and his Yamaha SY-77. He had a little Roland beat machine and he had a killin' band; they were cutting it up. They were doing all kinds of dance tunes, Al Jarreau tunes, and doing some really, really cool stuff. I remember it being a cool band. So he always had a real passion and dedication for what he does. He's a perfectionist, and he taught me everything I know about what I do.
MF: Who else did you look up to for style as a singer and guitar player?
MB: Well, I'm not a real good guitar player. I never pursued that instrument very much because I always enjoyed singing more so than I did guitar. But the singers that I looked up to over the years are people like Otis Redding, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye—just soul singers. People that had a lot of heart and had the skill to boot. Brian McKnight I was in love with for a really long time.
And now I'm just starting to get more into the Cajun music, which I'd never listened to, ever. My father, you know, was such a jazz head that he never really put that in my ears. Now I'm starting to listen back to this guy Amede Ardoin. Amede Ardoin is considered by many to be the originator of Cajun music. He was amazing. I just picked up this record yesterday that was recorded from 1930-1934. Just songs that he had recorded, and these melodies are so soulful and amazing. I mean, it's mind-blowing, the soul, and what I can learn from just the little bit that I've been listening to him. I just picked the record up two days ago but I've delved deep into it. And it's really some beautiful stuff.
MF: Well, we wish you the best of luck in everything, Marc.
MB: You guys take care of yourselves. Have a great year.