The Playlist Interview: Tom Brosseau

Photo by Lizzi Brosseau

Photo by Lizzi Brosseau



With his unvarnished charm and arcadian spirit, Tom Brosseau valiantly continues a lineage of American folk musicians long thought obsolete. 

There's something exceptionally rare about Brosseau, his voice and observations filled with a bright innocence that can't be minimized in their ability to put you at peace. One feels scrubbed clean after listening to his work—a sensation that's only heightened when he performs in concert. 

Treasures Untold, a live album captured at a private performance in Cologne, Germany serves as the perfect introduction to Brosseau's particular talents. Combining four original tracks and six covers, Treasures Untold weaves a hypnotic spell as influences like Hank Williams ("You Win Again") and The Carter Family ("Don't Forget This Song") dance seamlessly amongst Brosseau's own compositions. 

An artist with so much respect for those who came before is a natural fit for The Playlist Interview, and Brosseau delivers, providing us with some of the most thoughtful and thorough responses to date. Johnny Cash, Etta Baker, and even AC/DC all make an appearance—Brosseau's influences reaching far beyond the borders of his own all-American songbook.


The Last Song You Listened To:

"Don't Bet Your Money On THE Shanghai" Written by stephen foster, performed by Nelson Eddy

My father sends me music all the time. I never know what he’s going to send me, it just shows up in the mail. Most recently it was albums by Peggy Lee and Roy Orbison.

Growing up, my father was busy all the time working. If he was in his office downstairs, the radio was on and tuned to Opera, NPR, or he’d play Heart on the cassette. He loved music, his taste was across the board. Once he brought home an album from the electronic band Underworld.

“Don’t Bet Money On The Shanghai” I first heard on a compilation entitled Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster, which my father sent to me while I was living in Los Angeles. Not until very recently did I really start listening to it. It features new-blood Foster renditions by BR549, Alison Krauss, Raul Malo, and others.

Stephen Foster worked hard at being a songwriter. He was prolific. Though he enjoyed popularity and success during his lifetime, he died tragically and alone. If you listen to his music quickly you appreciate how devoted and skilled he was at documenting life in 19th century America. “Don’t Bet Money On The Shanghai”, for example, is about cockfighting, which of course today—though it is still practiced—is banned.


A song from the year you were born:

"Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" by AC/DC

I was born in 1976, the bicentennial of United States and also the year AC/DC went international. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, while hardly the most tempting album cover in the AC/DC catalogue, nonetheless beckoned you to pick it up, turn it over to see what was on the back. Your mother did not want you to listen to AC/DC. It was dangerous stuff.

My introduction to AC/DC was the song “Who Made Who” from Maximum Overdrive, a 1980s movie about possessed machines written and directed by American author Stephen King. You may recall the opening scene. A man visits an ATM, and after he inserts his bank card the word asshole flashes on the screen over and over again.


A song that reminds your of high school:

 "If I Had No Loot” by Tony! Toni! Toné!


A song that feels like love:

“Where or When” written by Lorenz Hart & Richard Rodgers, performed by Harry Connick Jr.

I am passionate about soundtracks. If ever I were to be a DJ on a radio station, my show would be devoted to soundtracks. I think it would make for a great weekly program.

If you know Harry Connick Jr. then you know When Harry Met Sally. It features Connick’s takes on songs from the Great American Songbook. His version of "Where or When,” written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, is among the finest versions out there. Connick’s voice and his piano playing are at once spacious and up-close, like how an abstract painting could very well be the precise map of your heart.


A song that made you want to be a musician:

“La Bamba” by Los Lobos


The song guaranteed to get you out on the dance floor:

“Close To Me” by The Cure

A few songs do make me want to get up and dance. For example, “Sound and Vision” by David Bowie. When I first heard it I immediately felt like someone out there knew exactly how I was feeling. The same with “Close To Me” by The Cure. And I suspect I’m not alone. 

I’m reserved when it comes to dancing and I don’t know why I have to be that way. It’s not because I don’t think I’ve got the moves, I’m actually pretty fluid. I’m just shy, afraid people will laugh at the way I sway my funny bones. I dance a lot at home.


A song by one of your heroes:

“Round My Back Door Selling Coal” by Etta Baker


A song that should be more famous than it is:

“Red Velvet” written by Ian Tyson, performed by Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash was on Larry King in 2002. It might’ve been his last appearance on Larry’s program, I don’t know. Cash died in 2003. It was a great interview all around. Insightful, funny. At one point Larry asks Cash, “Is there a song you thought, this can't miss?” and Cash responds, “Red Velvet”, from his 1968 album Old Golden Throat.

I think about the expectation of a recording artist. A lot of time and energy goes into creating an album. The song choices, production. The album cover. On that same Larry King program, Cash went on to say: “When I recorded it, I thought, this is it. This is the one I have been looking for. Nobody wanted it. Nobody requested it. Everybody hated it.”