Marc Broussard‘s deeply personal A Life Worth Living measures family (“I’ll Never Know”) and friends (“Hurricane Heart”) with a keen eye. CMT Edge spoke with the Louisiana native about songwriting, his musical influences and the buoyant new collection to be released July 29.
“The title track was the first song written for the project, a song I wrote as my grandmother was taking her last breaths,” Broussard says. “I pitched to the label that it be the title track, and they loved it. We moved forward from there, writing with various partners in Nashville.”
CMT Edge: You’ve said the title track wrote itself.
Broussard: I visited my grandmother in the hospital, and it was bizarre. She was still the same gal I knew my whole life, lucid and completely mentally there, but she was dying of a cancer that had overtaken her body. I got home that evening and we all knew she wasn’t going to make it through the night, and the first line just hit me. I got my guitar and computer out and went into my little studio in the back of the house and let it happen. It wasn’t a really active process for me as a writer.
Do you find it easy to allow the song to just come out?
No, it’s a difficult process to surrender to. Every line of the song is so gut-wrenching for me personally because it’s about this woman I love with all my heart. Yet it’s quite a cathartic process that brings a lot of closure. Nonetheless, it’s heavily emotional. Every single line pulls another set of waterworks out of you. I think it only took 30 or 40 minutes to hone in on what was going on.
As I wrote the song, I could really feel her presence, her spirit hugging me and telling me, “It’s OK. Keep going. This is something you have to do.” I played it for my mom and dad, and my mom asked me if I’d play it at the funeral, which I did. Luckily, because I’d already gone through the song several hundred times in my head, I could get through it without falling apart.
Can you distance yourself now when you play it onstage?
That’s an interesting question. As a professional, my job is to get through the song. Honestly, I have to detach myself. I have to focus on something else going on in the room, but it’s not an easy song to sing. I would absolutely fall apart every night if I thought about it.
Describe your typical writing process.
I do a lot of co-writing. The typical process is me and another writer sitting in a room together, chatting about what’s going on in my life and my relationship with my wife or kids or music business. Then one or more of us will come up with some chord changes, which will typically give us an idea of the tone of the song. That’ll lead to us finding where the lyric is gonna live.
I try not to spend more than three hours with a co-writer, especially if we’re not getting anywhere. If a song’s cooking, though, sometimes it can be written in three hours.
What’s the biggest advantage with co-writing?
The plus side is working with good writers gives you a level of confidence, knowing you’re going to walk out of the room with something strong and not contrived. Whereas when you’re writing alone and you get bored or preoccupied, you might just go through a rhyming dictionary and throw in a bunch of rhymes that don’t really mean anything. Co-writing is a really honest experience. The only way I like to co-write is if my co-writer has the confidence to tell me, “Nah, that’s a really shitty line.”
There must be a sense of pride in writing something by yourself, though.
Yeah, I think there’s definitely a level of pride in solo-written songs. You know, I wrote by myself to get into this business. My entire first record was written by myself and a producer who helped punch up the material. This record has more solo writes than any of my previous since that first record.
Tell the story behind writing the opening track, “Hurricane Heart.”
That song was inspired after a falling out with a friend. I tried to write it with several writers, and it never worked. Finally one afternoon, I called in a guy by the name of Sean McConnell, who had co-written a couple of the others we tracked for the record. Originally, it was a very different song musically, Coldplay-esque, if you will. We agreed pretty quickly that it wasn’t working. Within 20 minutes, the song was done.
What songwriters do you draw from?
For this record, my set of influences shifted quite dramatically. For years, I’ve pulled a lot from Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder and old soul singers. For this record, I started to dig more into rock ‘n’ roll and alternative sources. There’s a song called “Don’t Tell All Our Friends About Me” by a guy named Blake Mills that I heard on YouTube that set the tone for this record. It just punched me in the gut. It absolutely knocked me to my knees.
How did that impact your writing?
I basically had avoided writing about the darker side of my relationship with my wife. The fighting and the fussing had taken a backseat to the loving and the kissing for so long, just because of a fear of offending my wife’s sensibilities. Once I heard that song, I realized I was suppressing some portion of my artistry. I no longer wanted to do that.
So, I had a talk with the wife and let her know, “Look, this is just me being an artist. This has nothing to do with what I really feel about you.” You know, “Hurricane Heart” could be construed as a song about a breakup. And in a sense, it is, but it’s between two dudes.
Tell the story behind writing “I’ll Never Know.”
That song started to happen very naturally. It was a song I wrote with a writer in Nashville who I’d never written with before. We talked for about 15 or 20 minutes about our kids. He mentioned that as a touring artist, he’d missed a lot of his children’s childhoods. His son is now 18, and he was really anxious to make a connection with him because he himself was getting older. We just started to talk about that and how can we possibly tell our kids everything we know when we don’t really know a whole lot at the end of the day.
How does being a father generally impact you as a writer?
I think it changed me as a man more than it changed me as a writer. It gave me a perspective I didn’t have prior to having kids. That perspective informs my world view, which in turn informs my writing.
Is any topic off limits?
I’ve always felt pretty strongly that I need to make music that’s somewhat uplifting. I never wanted to make music that brought any kind of destruction to anyone’s life. You know, even a sad song can be healing. So, that commitment will remain throughout my career. But, no, there are no topics that are off limits. I think it’s the way you address the topic that’s the most important part.