Tom Brosseau and Michael Leahy use the buddy system
Folk singer Tom Brosseau and Crossbill Records founder Michael Leahy reflect on 10 years of friendship
It’s been 10 years since Tom Brosseau, a North Dakota-raised singer-songwriter living in Los Angeles, stepped off a bus that plopped him in the heart of the UC Davis campus. He’d never been to the college town before and never had reason to until he sent his Late Night at Largo record to an enthusiastic KDVS radio deejay named Michael Leahy.
On that day, he navigated his way to the studio, which he remembered as being in the basement of the campus’ student union (the Lower Freeborn Hall building) “like most college radio stations are.”
Leahy, who would later go on to found the Davis-based Crossbill Records, was seated in the booth recording an episode of his Cool As Folk radio show. He invited Brosseau on the air to talk, and after the show, the men became immediate friends.
Now, a visit from Brosseau, who returns on Friday, February 28, for a show at the Veterans Memorial Theatre, means more than just another gig. During recent, separate phone interviews, both shared stories of biking around Davis and crashing grad parties. There was that time, too, that Brosseau posed as a human-behaviorist major who needed photos of grad students in their element.
“It wasn’t about barter or selling tons of records,” says Brosseau. “It was about making contact. Music has so little do with playing music. It’s more about the friendships you make along the way. That’s how we became good friends.”
These wild Davis nights gave Brosseau a friend he could trust, so when his FatCat Records deal went sour and the 37-year-old had no home for his Grass Punks LP, he called Leahy first.
Leahy, who’d just put his chips toward an album by the Louisiana band Brass Bed, said he wanted to release Brosseau’s record, but lacked funds. He suggested his friend shop it around instead. If the effort proved fruitless, Leahy said, then get back to him.
“I think Michael would have taken the record anyway,” Brosseau says now. “But I feel like he knew I’d learn something from shopping it around again.”
And so Brosseau obliged, but ultimately brought it back to Leahy.
“There was some interest, but it felt like to me, in the end, it belonged on Crossbill,” he says. “Why continue to search when the answer was right there all along?”
Leahy formed Crossbill Records, also home to artists such as Sea of Bees and Silver Darling, in 2005—a year after he first met Brosseau. Now, he describes the release of the folk singer’s Grass Punks album as a lifelong dream.
“The Brass Bed record sold well, so with funds from that I was able to reinvest in getting the Grass Punks record going. It’s become our most ambitious record yet,” Leahy says.
So what, exactly, most struck Leahy about Late Night at Largo—that record that started this journey a decade ago?
Troubled to remember his favorite cuts, Leahy reached for his copy of the album, the signed one that reads, “Mike, thanks so much for supporting my music. yours very truly, Tom Brosseau. September 30, 2004.”
“My little inflated deejay ego was immediately pumped. I’m getting a personal note from a songwriter,” Leahy remembers.
There was another connection, too, he says.
Despite Brosseau’s North Dakota upbringing, Leahy says he heard similarities on Late Night at Largo—specifically, elements of oral tradition—that reminded him of his grandparent’s small-town folklore in Astoria, Ore.
Now it’s about bringing Brosseau’s music to a larger audience, he says.
“I want others to appreciate him and hear him, because he’s living and available—[and] for him to not end up like a Nick Drake or a Townes Van Zandt, where we fall in love with these songwriters after they’re gone.”