Despite being in the middle of cutting a new album just a few weeks before going out on tour with Southern Soul Assembly, Marc Broussard made time to speak to Pollstar about his philanthropic efforts, his thoughts on the music industry, and projects in the works.
Broussard’s eclectic mix of soul, pop, blues and rock has earned him loyal fans, even as he has been a music industry journeyman, hopping between labels and experiencing disappointment at various points early in his career.
These days Broussard puts substantial energy into his philanthropy. In September he released S.O.S. 2: Save Our Soul: Soul on a Mission as a follow up to 2007’s S.O.S.: Save Our Soul. The album features the singer/songwriter’s take on soul hits of the ’50s and ’60s including “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” “Cry to Me,” and “Hold on, I’m Comin’.” Sales benefit the City of Refuge nonprofit and in the interview he shared that he hopes to make the charity cover albums an annual project.
Broussard was recording his next, currently unnamed album, at Dockside Studio in Maurice, La., when we called for a chat.
A press photo for Marc Broussard.
So how did you reach the decision to make S.O. S. 2 a charity album?
Three years ago I started to transition into being an independent artist. I didn't really know exactly what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do something different. So we decided to do this SOS covers album to raise some money for charity.
Since I had been making records and making money for record labels for so long, I decided now that I was independent I would start making some money for somebody that really needed it. So we put out S.O.S. 2 last September and we've managed to raise somewhere between $15-20,0000 for charity. And the plan is to release these cover albums every year. I've got another one scheduled, at least tentatively, for the end of April and the beginning of May. We're gonna do a blues cover album and I'm gonna work with Luther Dickinson and Cody Dickinson from the North Mississippi Allstars.
You sound excited to learn the songs and record them.
Yeah man. The truth is there ought to be a whole lot more philanthropy in this business. And there is a significant amount of philanthropy that goes on. But in my opinion, I think that as artists, we are in a unique position to push the culture in certain directions. And I'd rather do it with my actions rather than my words on Twitter or Facebook. Trying to shape culture in that way is not what I was intended for. I was put here on this earth to tell stories and to bring people together through music
What kinds of action do you feel artists need to take?
I think there is a lot of bloviating about people that are living in poverty. And instead of adding to the rhetoric with any kind of hair-brained schemes that I might be able to come up with or policy positions I could come up with, I would rather provide an opportunity for people. I would rather find ways to actually provide better opportunities for people. And I've developed a pretty wide network over the course of my career. That's why I think that artists are uniquely positioned to affect change in major ways. Because we tend to have many spheres of influence, as well as the fact that we've spent years developing very personal relationships with our fans. And those relationships translate to an understanding between me and my fans that I am a sincere person. They take me at my word whenever I tell them something, especially something that I'm passionate about.
When I tell them that I have personally vetted this organization and they're doing some of the most comprehensive work out there for people in poverty, my fans tend to believe me and responded by buying up those records.
What organization did you partner with on the last album?
We have an exclusive partner in an organization called City of Refuge for S.O.S. 2. They're an Atlanta-based organization that started out as a food pantry 20-30 years ago and have transitioned into a very serious campus that houses all of the various services in the area that have been tried and true for decades. So there is one spot located in the most underserved community of Atlanta and about a dozen cities across the country.
The whole effort is really geared towards reducing duplication of services and taking a very comprehensive approach at getting people out of poverty through skills training and education, houses and projects. They are buying up distressed properties in the neighborhood, people that are about to be foreclosed upon, buying up those homes and saying to the folks that are there, "Stay in your house. We want to help you get back into this house an owner at some point and we'll do whatever we can to help you." They're able to house 250-plus women and children on site and they also have like 70-plus properties that they have bought in the neighborhood as well as some apartments. It's just a really broad concept that I would like to see elsewhere, so that's how I got involved.
So will you work with this organization on future S.O.S. projects?
City of Refuge is always going to be tied to S.O.S. 2. But the mission behind the SOS Foundation, the foundation that I started, is to infuse a world of charitable dollars across a wide swathe of charitable organizations. I think that we'll probably have exclusive partners for every record. The next album I'll probably try to raise some money for old blues musicians that might not have any kind of health plans or retirement plans.
It's a shame it's come to that, where a musician has to take care of someone else’s healthcare needs.
Well, I think it's always been that way. The truth is that there is no guarantee in this life that you are going to be well cared for, no matter where you live. And that reality doesn't change if some massive piece of legislation gets passed. There are always going to be those people that need a little extra attention. And unless there are those in society that will unofficially seek to help these communities, then you're always gonna have inefficiencies in any kind of bureaucratic approach. You're always gonna have efficiencies in any kind of approach. Once again, I think that nothing is new under the sun when it comes to human nature or our ability or desire to care for those who are less fortunate.
Why did you decide to go independent?
I think creatively being on a label can be quite stifling. There's a lot of external influence when it comes to the creative process when you're on a record label. As an independent artist, I've got nothing but the opinions of the musicians in the room to worry about really. I take my wife's opinion into consideration when recording these things too. Record labels historically, at least in my professional lifetime, are populated by people that have never made music in their lives. Never actually sat down with an instrument and recorded anything or written anything. And when those folks attempt to assert themselves in the creative process, it can be quite uncreative. It can be maddening.
But ultimately, I think that when and if those scenarios end up failing financially, there’s just no way to win. There's so few ways to win these days in the sales-first mentality. So the way that the math is calculated, the odds are stacked so hard against you, you never feel like you can come up for air. Whereas, as an independent, there are no more rules. I've got distribution at such a low cost digitally. There's just a new paradigm. Like Prince said, the era of other people owning your music is over.
What did you learn from your experience as a label artist?
[I now approach work] as an artist, as opposed to a pop star, which I definitely made attempts at. … It wasn’t the kind of thing where I was ever gonna be a pop star. All of my attempts at pop stardom just, they seemed hollow, they seemed really contrived. And they were! They were hollow attempts at commercial success. And they did not translate at all. So, what that indicated to me is that I'm not gonna sell millions of records, therefore, I should not worry about spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars making records or music videos. I needed to cultivate the fans I had and respect that relationship and honor that initial spirit.
Does that mean you regret the music that you made while you were a label artist?
You know, I still am fairly proud of all of the records. Some songs, here and there not so much. But the records as a whole I am not ashamed of by any stretch. When I think back on the early part of my career, I think back on how naive and aimless I was. And it kinda makes me sad. Some missed opportunities, you know. But I wouldn’t change it. I've got some great memories, some great stories. And ultimately that experience is why I'm where I'm at today. I needed that perspective.
Do you think there are enough people to help young musicians navigate the system?
No. I don't think there is enough infrastructure for entrance into the market and I am working on a major effort to change that dramatically, which I'll be announcing this year.
It seems like young people view “success” as being signed to a label.
At this point, friends of mine that produce records and do development deals, when they tell me that they just signed an artist off these major label deals, I tell them, ‘That is the most unethical thing that you could possibly do at this point.’ There is a lot of misinformation and confusion as to what being on a major label is like. I think kids these days are more savvy than ever. But there is still so much energy put into the deal. There's a joke, the worst joke ever: "There is a band, right now, in a garage somewhere saying ‘We need to tour!’ and so somebody in the band goes ‘We don't know how to book a tour!’ So then another guy says, ‘Let's sign a record deal, they'll know how.’”
The end goal of so many young, talented people out there is to "get signed" and they have no clue what that entails, more often than not. It's never gonna be easy if you want to do this for a living. It's never gonna stop, it's always gonna be relentless. It's always gonna require you to be creative constantly; you have to constantly create. Especially now more than ever. You gotta put out more music than ever. And you gotta be willing to do it for free, which means you gotta know how to record it for yourself. So many more demands on the young artist than ever before. You're your own marketing department. You're your own producer. You're your own booking agent and your own manager. And the day you sign any of those things away is the day you sign away incentive to go out and do it.
It sounds like you believe people should do those things themselves?
If I were to get into some kind of artist development thing where I was helping young artists to develop their skills I would put them on the road with no tour manager, in a car, by themselves, and say "In these early stages, you are gonna do this all by yourself. You are gonna book your own hotels, book your own flights, you're gonna collect the check at the end of the night, you're gonna open up your bank account, you're gonna found your LLC, you're gonna do all these steps on your own, so you know what the hell all of it really is. And then, whenever the time is right, we'll add personnel as needed.”
What projects do you have cooking up?
So I've got a few different things going on. The record that I'm cutting right now is a project that started out as an idea to get some film and TV placement. I said lets go write some real simply kind of tunes, not too overly-produced. You know, me and a piano and a guitar. Quiet. We were on the West Coast touring and we had a couple days off and we rented a house in Carmel and set up for a couple of days just wrote nonstop from sunup to sundown and walked out of that session with about eight tunes. Then a buddy of ours who has a really nice studio in Covington, La., opened up a place for us, let us come in for a few days, and we had some help from some of the guys of PreSonus. So I just got busy making a record. And what turned out to be initially a project we werent even gonna release, after the material was down in the can, we decided to go ahead and slap a title on it and call it a record. We came back in the studio at the beginning of the year for a few days and tracked a few more songs. And then came back in about two days ago, tracked another little batch of tunes. We’re just trying to put the final touches on all the vocal parts before I head out on the SSA Tour.
This record is more of what you might have heard on A Life Worth Living, my last original release. My influences have grown so much in the last few years. I'm still kind of all over the place stylistically in certain respects, but I'm hoping that the wide net we cast on this record is gonna sit well with the fans. They always seem to like the genre hopping that I tend to do.
No title yet for the album?
I haven't even settled on a title to be honest with you, man. We're still in the early stages here.
How did you get on the Southern Soul Assembly tour?
So I got the call a few years ago from my manager saying that JJ Grey, Anders Osborne and Luther Dickinson were looking for a fourth man on this tour and I jumped at the opportunity. I love Anders and JJ and Luther. I felt that it was something that came along at the right time. I was looking for something a little different. And it's been a pleasure to work with them. I wish we could get in the studio and make a record sooner rather than later. I would really enjoy writing and singing with those guys on an original project. But the touring we get together is fun. It's kinda like being in high school choir again to be honest. I'm working with guys that have really similar experiences to mine and it's really refreshing.
Anything else in the works?
I can let you know that I do have a side project that I'm trying to get off the ground this year. It's gonna be a joint venture with me and Brian McKnight Jr. Brian's father was one of my favorite singers growing up, still is one of my favorite singers, and Brian sounds exactly like his dad does, plays exactly like his dad does. So I'm really, really looking forward to it. My personal original music is starting to get a little tamer and a little softer, not super soul. And yet I still have that super soul bone in me. So this is the kind of a project that allows me to flex that super soul muscle a little bit. I’m really looking forward to it. We've already written and recorded some music for that project and hopefully will have a record out before the end of the year.
Anything else you’d like to tell fans?
Be on the lookout for tour dates. We're always on the road. Spread the word, we're coming to town.
A press photo for Marc Broussard.
Below is Marc Broussard’s routing with Southern Soul Assembly. He also has a festival appearances booked in April and June:
March 15 – Virginia Beach, Va., Sandler Center For The Perf. Arts
March 16 – Tarrytown, N.Y., The Tarrytown Music Hall
March 17 – New York, N.Y., City Winery NYC
March 18 – Glenside, Pa., Keswick Theatre
March 19 – Fall River, Mass., Narrows Center For The Arts
March 21 – Ann Arbor, Mich., The Ark
March 22 – Louisville, Ky., W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre
March 23 – St. Louis, Mo., The Pageant
March 24 – Chicago, Ill., Thalia Hall
March 25 – Milwaukee, Wisc., Pabst Theater
March 26 – Indianapolis, Ind., The Vogue
March 29 – New Orleans, La., Lafayette Square
April 8 – Lafayette, La., Parc International
April 9 – Baton Rouge, La., Downtown Baton Rouge (Baton Rouge Blues Festival)
April 22 – Slidell, La., Fritchie Park (Crawfish Cookoff)
April 29 – New Orleans, La., Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots (New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival)
April 30 – Biloxi, Miss., Mississippi Coast Coliseum (Biloxi Crawfish Music Festival)
May 12 – Greenville, S.C., Downtown Greenville (Artisphere)
May 17 – San Antonio, Texas, Sam's Burger Joint Music Hall
May 18 – Dallas, Texas, The Kessler Theater
May 19 – Houston, Texas, The Heights Theater
May 20 – Austin, Texas, One World Theatre
June 2 – Blairstown, N.J., Roy's Hall
June 3 – Atlantic City, N.J., Chelsea Hotel (Off The Record Festival)
June 5 – Fairfield, Conn., Fairfield Theatre StageOne
June 7 – Salisbury, Mass., Blue Ocean Music Hall
June 9 – Syracuse, N.Y., Onondaga Community College (Syracuse Jazz Fest)
Learn more about the artist, including a well-written and intensely personal blog about his life, at MarcBroussard.com.