It was on Doug Schulkind’s WFMU radio show ‘Give the The Drummer Some’ that we first came to hear the gentle acoustic sound of Tom Brosseau’s music. After tracking him down, we started talking with Tom at the beginning of 2005, and eventually decided to put out a compilation taken from some of his earlier works. Tom’s early releases (‘Tom Brosseau’, 2001; ‘North Dakota’, 2002; ‘Out Takes Vol 1’, 2003;) were all recorded with Gregory Page, and released on Page’s own Bed Pan label, and ‘Late Night At Largo’ 2004; produced by Mark Flanagan, recorded by Scott Fritz. A fifth album, ‘What I Mean To Say Is Goodbye’ was released in 2005 and “Grand Forks” ,Tom’s sixth LP in 2007, both of these appearing on the Loveless label.
Now living in LA, Tom was born and raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He comes from a family background steeped in music - growing up in a house with instruments lining the walls, and learning to play at an early age. He was taught guitar by his grandmother, whilst his grandfather played in a band called Buck and the Bucanneers, that included fiddle and double bass. His grandfather also had a great collection of records, and Tom’s early influences included Guy Lombardo and The Inkspots.
Following highschool, after graduating college from the University of North Dakota, Tom started out in earnest at music school, but left after only a couple of weeks, finding that he just couldn’t do it - the formal theory just took the fun out it for him. Soon after, he started playing out in his home town, doing his first shows in open mic sessions at a place called the Peanut Bar. Not long after he met a girl at Sundance in Utah who took him to California, was introduced to Gregory Page- a San Diego music staple. Songs from the early records garnered KCRW radio play, and he was invited as a guest on Nic’s Harcourt’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. Harcourt quite accurately describes Tom as a “balladeer with beautifully crafted songs.”
22nd October 2007 saw the release of ‘Cavalier’, Tom Brosseau’s second LP for FatCat, and his most focused batch of songs to date. Following 2006’s introductory ‘Empty Houses Are Lonely’ (which compiled highlights and hard to find recordings from Tom’s career to date), ‘Cavalier’ was produced by PJ Harvey collaborator and Producer John Parish at Toy Box studio in Bristol, UK over the space of a week in May 2007. As ever, Tom sings of lost love, and elicits literate tales of poetic observation, evoking American writers such as John Fante, F Scott Fitzgerald, and John Steinbeck.
New album ‘Posthumous Success’ was released on the 11th of May 2009. We have - in this album - Tom’s fullest record to date: an enchanting sabbatical from the predominantly vocal and guitar/ all-acoustic recordings of previous records and a compelling nod to a more immediate musical environment (see; the drone-influenced ‘Boothill’; the low-fi fuzz of ‘You Don’t Know My Friends’, even Tom’s Lou Reed-like vocal delivery in ‘Drumroll’). Tom evokes the simultaneous poignant darkness and simple resignation of pre-war North America with all the authenticity of a first-hand witness, but the songwriting is indelibly imbued with youth.
A little bit of background info, in Tom’s own words:
The one thing I remember most is the cold weather: the cold can and will find ways to take the warmth away from anything- no matter how tight your mittens are, or how bundled up you are- eventually the wood burns out and ashes and darkness comes in. One thing I know, no matter what, I had joy and love from many things: I had a dog once named Lucy; I had a good family; I played hockey and liked to skate on the river; my grandmother taught me guitar; I had a girlfriend who was pretty sweet to me. It’s a strange combination- cold and love. In a way, they are opposite from one another, or if given at the same time make the color gray, or make situations neutral.
On Reeves drive, close to where I grew up, there are these old mansions- always with little candles in the high-top windows, with home-made curtains. Every now and then, they have the Parade of Homes, where you can see what these houses are like- most of them are made of dark wood and pillars, with crooked panes and steep steps, and some with carriage houses; all of them have this feeling about them.
My brother would say the music he listened to growing up was Duran Duran, Prince, Falco. My brother is taller than I am, slightly taller, with broader shoulders and darker hair. He is, in a way, everything I am not - and we are blood. I would say the music I listened to growing up was Marty Robbins, Pablo Casals, Leadbelly, Bob Dylan. I am younger than my brother, Ben.
I am from a strange part of the United States- North Dakota. I mean this in the most sincere and good way - Grand Forks is close to the Canadian border, located on the mighty Red River, a stone’s throw from Minnesota; you can see the white smoke from the American Crystal Sugar factory; you can hear the Burlington Northern. I can feel how old something is; I can feel the mystery and the heartache and triumph; I can feel the value and the way it was handled; I can see the sorrow; I can feel the weight, if you know what I mean. Objects, like medals, or trophies, carry feeling with them- so do simple things, like coins and plates and zippo’s and cufflinks, and it’s different from the natural nostalgia of things.
I have these visions of being in a great, tall house. I am in the attic, looking out from the two big windows. It’s cold and dark, but I don’t feel bad; it doesn’t affect me. I look at a couple of people walking by, holding hands, on the sidewalk; I see a truck drive slowly on the street; I can see the post lights, one after another; there’s a play-toy, forgotten on the berm. I look at the world as if I were an old dark home.