Flavorwire Premiere: Tom Brosseau’s “Take Fountain” Turns People Watching into Personal Storytelling

Tom Brosseau has lived a few lives: he’s a music school dropout, a chronicler of natural disaster, a prolific country-folk singer edging towards indie rock, a North Dakota transplant in SoCal, an associate of Jack White’s Third Man Records, a John C. Reilly pal, and most of all, a quietly beautiful storyteller. In “Take Fountain,” a swaggering song off his forthcoming album Perfect Abandon (March 3, Crossbill Records/ Tin Angel Records), Brosseau plays an L.A. wanderer, channeling what he sees along the way into his own personal journey. Flavorwire is pleased to premiere the song.

Read on for our quick Q&A with Brosseau, who retreated with his tidy band and PJ Harvey producer John Parish to a community theater in Bristol to record Perfect Abandon live with a single microphone. Brosseau hits the road at the end of the month for a string of West Coast dates and SXSW performances.

Flavorwire: Particularly on “Take Fountain,” I hear so much history in your guitar tones. Who influences you as a guitar player?

Tom Brosseau: When I was younger, I believed the acoustic guitar  was something I had already mastered. I was reminded of this when I recently went home for a visit. There was a holiday party, and a little girl there told my mother and me to watch how she could play the piano. This little girl pulled herself up on the piano bench, opened up a songbook, studied it for a second, as if she were reading the music, then proceeded to bat the keys in no order whatever. It was beautiful, but surprising. She had been so convincing. She even got down from the piano bench and took a bow. Pretending is important, a true building block of life. Sadly, it seems to drift away with age. Maybe when you’re younger you’re totally open, and maybe when you’re open you’re conductible. If so, who really knows what’s doing the influencing? A force of some kind, a spirit. Maybe throughout life we remain conductible beings. Funny, then, how we want to take the credit.

Much later, in junior high, when I became more aware of myself, I started listening to these blues compilations my father gave me, and really started to want to sound like some of those players. Lonnie Johnson was someone I began studying, religiously. His style was original, accessible. Not easy, but with Lonnie I could pick apart what he was doing. There was no effect to any of it, just pureness — vocal and guitar.

FW: What inspired “Take Fountain”? It’s just one line, but I keep coming back to the “husband, a house, kids in school” lyric; to me, it seems like maybe it’s related to an affair that’s bringing you (or the narrator) more anguish than happiness.

TB: I put together songs while I walk, and in Los Angeles, since it’s a sunny kind of place and for the most part level pathways, it’s a good condition to work. I strap my walking shoes on and just go. There are plenty of Mexican joints if I get hungry along the way. The best way to create art is by forgetting yourself.

The song “Take Fountain” is personal. Lord, but so’s the entire album. I don’t know if that’s the whole point of it all or not, to get personal, and perhaps I’ve always been personal in my songwriting, but with Grass Punks [Brosseau’s stunning album from 2014] and Perfect Abandon I’m autobiographical.

FW: You recently ended a tour with John Reilly & Friends, marking just one of your several collaborations with John C. Reilly, including Third Man singles. What does he bring out in you?

TB: John Reilly and Becky Stark [the other primary member of John Reilly & Friends] bring out my high, lonesome side. With them it’s really all about harmonies. I think about Ira Louvin.

One of the biggest treasures is watching how John and Becky are able to relate to an audience. That’s so important. It isn’t just about the music. There’s real opportunity to connect with people in between songs. An anecdote, an observation. A good performer will hit you on a couple levels.