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Interview: Singer/Songwriter Tom Brosseau

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If you’ve been to Largo in the past few years, chances are you’ve seen and heard Tom Brosseau. The 33-year-old singer/songwriter is a fixture among the cabal of regulars (Sara Watkins, John C. Reilly and of course, Jon Brion among them) gracing the venue’s stage. In fact, the cover of his latest album, Posthumous Success, is a kind of shout-out to his Largo family, featuring a photo of Brosseau chatting at a party alongside Watkins and Largo co-owner Mark Flanagan.

Brosseau’s music features heartfelt and quirky lyrics, which he delivers in a high-pitched, wavering voice that has become his signature. The half dozen albums he has released since 2002 have showcased that voice in spare and largely acoustic offerings that nonetheless colorfully evoke his hometown of Grand Forks, North Dakota. His latest album adds full instrumentation (Drums! Synths!), yet manages to retain the unique character that has made Brosseau a local indie-music darling.

But his recorded work is only mild preparation for the warmth and geniality one experiences at his live shows. Brosseau is arguably the most charming musician routinely gracing LA stages today. Always affable and routinely comedic, he will sometimes stop in the middle of a song, proclaim “nah, I really don’t wanna play that one, you guys wanna see a trick?” before trailing off into a brief monologue while he tinkers with his guitar or fumbles through the application of his harmonica holder. It’s far from an annoying experience, as the audience is made to feel like they are privy to the inner neuroses of the songwriting experience while being walked through a lovely set of music demonstrating his country, folk and rock influences.

Brosseau forgoes a car, instead riding a bike or taking the bus, though his doing so is far from an effort to be seen as clever or cool. “I gave up my car and started taking the bus,” he announced to a crowd one evening in Largo’s Little Room. “That was a bad idea. I just wanted to tell you all, don’t do that.”

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Not surprisingly, Brosseau arrived by bicycle for this interview, in which he talks about how taking a critical beating in Nashville furthered his career, why he doesn’t consider himself a folk artist and why he isn’t opposed to the idea of covering R. Kelly songs.

I have to ask. Are you still hoofing it around LA?

(laughs) Yes. I miss my car terribly. I really do. I had actually inherited a car from my grandmother. It was a newer Cadillac, and it was too expensive to keep it up. My grandmother fell and broke her hip and wasn’t able to drive, so I inherited this car. And right from the get-go, every time you brought it in for service, it cost an arm and a leg. And I was tired of it. And the circle I started running with, everyone was into the whole green thing. So I thought, this made sense for me to give my car up. I’ve been taking the bus for over a year now. And I really love it. But I just kind of miss getting in the car and really having no particular place to go. Having the freedom to do something by myself. On the bus you’re always with people. But that’s great too.