Tom Brosseau has been quietly picking up plaudits for his latest album Perfect Abandon which he recorded in Bristol with producer John Parrish. Raised in North Dakota Brosseau has been tagged as a folk singer by most reviewers and there’s always been a hint of the unorthodox about him with some of the songs on his last album Grass Punks recalling the likes of Ed Askew, a cult folkie from the sixties (who incidentally shares a record label, Tin Angel, with Brosseau).
Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed Perfect Abandon here and on hearing that Brosseau is undertaking a short tour of the UK (including a date in Glasgow) we managed to have a short conversation with him.
Hi there. Can we start by asking about Perfect Abandon. The album seems to be a bit of a departure from what I know of your previous style which was I think almost a sixties folk feel. You recorded it in Bristol with John Parrish. How did that come about?
The idea for the sound of Perfect Abandon really came about while I was on tour in the UK in 2014 with a band of superb musicians supporting Grass Punks. I have only been the head of a touring band a few times. It’s a thrill. The experience reminded me how much fun, and rewarding, performing with others can be. Though my manager Mary Jones is with me always and I could never imagine being able to get through my career without her, I now had others to share with me the pressures and all the joys of the touring life and performing. Joe Carvell on double bass, Ben Reynolds on Stratocaster and young David Butler on two-piece drum kit.
Were there any particular artists that influenced the sound of the album?
Particular artists, no, but sound, yes. I wanted to make the kind of record I like listening to. Modest recordings, recordings that were always gonna be what they were gonna be. Nothing more. The Bristol Sessions. Sun Records. I grew up playing songs in my bedroom, writing songs in private. It was my own way to escape. I used a Dictaphone to record. Cassette tape recording was always good enough for me- I never needed anything more. Studio production can get to a point where it starts to eat away intimacy. I want my recordings to retain the sense that it is what it is and whatever it is hopeful it is real, genuine.
There’s a sparseness to the album that allows you and your lyrics to stand out. How much of the album is about you trying to find your way in the world?
Respectfully, I’m likely the wrong person to answer this question. Wrong person or at least not the best person. The album material always moves on past me and becomes out of my hands. Personally, what I do know is that I am trying to find my way in the world constantly. I may be a worker but I am also a wonderer. So many avenues I pursue, so many lives it seems I then spend. My stances are traded like a see-saw. I used to think I knew everything. Now I don’t. I used to have confidence. Now I fight to let it out. This one might not be as obvious- I used to want to hold onto my youth. Now I just feel like a kid. Maybe the reality is we are ever changing and at the same time don’t change at all. Some of us go through life pretty even-keeled about it. Some of us go insane. Some of us are simply aware that it’s happening.
Being lost or abandoned seems to be a theme throughout. The opening song, Hard Luck Boy is a narrative that sounds as if it could have been delivered by someone like David Sedaris. Did you deliberately try to make this song different in its delivery from the remainder of the album?
When I wrote Hard Luck Boy I just set down at the kitchen table. No expectations. No pressures. Just see what happens. When I finished there was very little to edit. Landlord Jackie was the same way. I was at a hotel on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee. It was a misty-muggy sunny day. I stayed in. The room was dark and dry and cold. I remember ironing my shirt and slacks. Next to the ironing board was a table, a few sheets of complimentary stationary and a pencil. I was overcome with the need to do some longhand cursive in that environment. John Parish and Ali Chant were in the control room. We did two takes of Hard Luck Boy. The version on the album is take one. I remember thinking to myself, “Don’t worry. Just finish this first take and do another one” because I felt that I wasn’t yet ready. Aside from the fact the song is in the talking format, which makes it stand out from all the other songs on the album, perhaps what you are sensing when you say different in its delivery is my unpreparedness.
Can I ask about your past, where you’re from and how you got into music?
I’m from the Red River town of Grand Forks, North Dakota. I was taught music in my family and community. The importance of tradition was passed down to me from my grandmother, Lillian Uglem. Tradition which among many things included folksongs. At church and in school I received much encouragement to enjoy singing, develop my voice, listen to music.
You’re coming to the UK in September. Will you be performing solo or with a band?
I will be solo this go round.
With songs from Perfect Abandon getting some radio play including several from Cerys Matthews on BBC Radio 6 Tom Brosseau will be playing several dates in the UK from next week. Dates are
Sept 17: Brighton: One Church Brighton w/Jools Owen & Kristin and Mary Hampton
Sept 18: London: Moka East
Sept 19: Stoke-on-Trent: Private Event
Sept 20: Hawarden Flintshire Wale : The Good Life Experience Festival
Sept 21: London: Songkick HQ: free performance but seating very limited
Sept 22: Manchester: The Castle Hotel
Sept 23: Glasgow: The Hug & Pint w/Ben Reynolds (Two Wings)
There’s more information on Tom Brosseau and the recording of Perfect Abandon here