Hi readers, Olivia here! Today, I have the absolute pleasure and honor of bringing you Providence musician: Joel Thibodeau who records under the name, Death Vessel. I saw Death Vessel play live and became obsessed with his music instantly. I cannot stop listening to his latest album, Island Intervals.
Joel collaborated with Jônsi from Sigur Rós on this album and in particular the song Ilsa Drown. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, Joel recorded with Jônsi from Sigur Rós. You can listen to the song here. Both of these incredibly talented musicians blew my mind on this album!
I know you will totally enjoy this interview and love his music.
Name: Joel Thibodeau
Where are you from originally?
What made you move to Providence and what made you decide to stay?
“I moved to Providence after visiting my brother here a bunch of times in 1998 for band rehearsals. I was drawn to the active art and music scene.”
How would you describe Providence to someone who has never been here before?
“It’s a well-situated and supportive place for the creatively inclined.”
What instruments do you play?
“I play guitar best, but I also play a little bit of drums, mandolin, banjo, bass, steel guitar, harmonica and piano.”
Your voice is one of the things that most people comment on when first hearing you– when did you realize you could sing and when did you decide that music was something you wanted to pursue?
“I started singing in elementary school music class. At the suggestion of my parents, I auditioned for The Boy Singers of Maine when I was ten years old and was offered a spot in the choir. I could’t join because the rigorous schedule was too demanding on my family. I’m the middle child of five. As a teenager I started writing melodies and experimenting with my voice while learning to play the guitar. After happening upon a specific vocal range that suited my developing musical style, I had a better idea of what I wanted to do. When I was twenty-one I formed the band String Builder with my brother, Alec That’s the point when music became a priority. As co-songwriters we released four 7″ singles and two full-length albums. Eventually, I went solo and formed Death Vessel in 2003.”
You’re currently headed on tour! Tell us, where are you and your music are headed?
“We’re headed overseas. We’ll play Britstol, Halifax, Brighton, London, Paris, Utrecht, Brussels, Hamburg, Berlin, Prague, Kehl, Basel, Rorschach, Baden, Atwerpen, London, ‘s Hertogenbosch, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo. The April shows are with Marissa Nadler.”
In your most recent album, Island Intervals you sing with Jônsi of Sigur Rós. Tell us how you came about to work with Sigur Rós and what that was like?
“In 2010, I opened for Jónsi on a North American tour. He was promoting his solo album, ‘Go’. The first night he mentioned that he’d like to collaborate with me on a song so we could sing together. He played me a tune, a duet of sorts, and asked if I’d write lyrics to it. Alex Somers (his partner who co-produced ‘Go’) was also on the tour playing guitar and keyboard instruments in the band. As we traveled and got to know one another, Alex suggested I come to Iceland to record in their private studio.
It was an incredible three-month experience filled with unfamiliar and rewarding challenges. Jónsi popped in from time to time to work on our duet (Ilsa Drown) between Sigur Rós tour dates. It was satisfying to hear the song come together four years after it was initially proposed. I’m grateful I got the chance to make music with Alex and Jónsi. They’re a wonderful pair.”
Tell us about the process of writing your most recent album, Island Intervals.
“I flew to Iceland in the fall of 2012 with a bunch of song ideas and no lyrics. I planned to stay for two months. My intention was to allow a foreign filter to color the music. The first week, my friend Pete Donnelly joined Alex and I in the studio as a multi-instrumentalist to help us record the initial tracks. Pete’s a good friend and very talented musician who’s been a big part of my music over the years. He recorded the first two Death Vessel albums and both String Builder albums. After he went home, Alex and I continued to record and experiment with sounds and arrangements.
When not in the studio, I’d take long walks around the city or spend hours in cafés writing. We chose Alex’s friend Samuli Kosminen (Múm) to play drums and percussion. He recorded his parts at his home studio on the island of Suomenlinna in Finland. We’d send him rough cuts of a song and he send back newly recorded tracks for us to toy with. The process was a bit risky, not having Samuli in the studio with us, but it ended up working exceptionally well. He’s an exceptional musician and sound engineer. As our deadline neared Alex and I realized we weren’t going to finish the album in time, so we made plans to continue in the spring. I flew back to Iceland in May 2013 and spent four weeks completing Island Intervals. In the end, the six-month break between recording sessions was beneficial. It gave us a perspective you don’t get when making an album in one block of time. I think that digestive period allowed our focus to become more clear.”
Here at Winter Moon, we are very interested in people’s creative process. Tell us about your process of writing music.
“The music always comes first. A vocal melody and chord progression will come to mind and then I’ll work the idea to find appropriate adjoining parts. I continually jot down words and phrases I find interesting on scraps of paper and in my notebook, but I only invest myself fully in lyric writing once an arrangement is outlined. While my musical ideas are generally impulsive, lyrics tend to take a lot of time and consideration to construct. It’s a solitary and often tedious part of the songwriting process.”
How do you feel before you perform?
“My mood varies from show to show. In general, it’s exciting to go on stage. Sometimes technical/sound issues can create anxiety, so I try to keep my instruments and equipment streamlined and in good working order.”
We find it so inspiring when artists, like yourself, pursue their dreams and passions. Tell us, what inspires you?
“Pleasure, pain and people who do interesting things.”
We feel like there are not enough hours in a day to do all the things we enjoy. Besides music, what other things do you like spending time on?
“I enjoy reading, walking, biking, baking, tinkering with electric guitars, hanging out with pals and looking out for my pooch.”
We’re fascinated by style, How would you describe your personal style?
What are your favorite places to travel?
“I enjoy traveling to foreign places. It’s good for me to experience different cultures. There are still many places I have not been that I’d like to visit.”
What is your favorite quote?
“A recent favorite quote is from Donna Tartt’s novel, The Secret History. It goes, “Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beauty, we quiver before it.”
What do you see in your future for Death Vessel?
“More music for more people.”
What words of advice would you offer to someone wanting to pursue music?
Photographs by: Corey Grayhorse
I met Joel after one of his shows and he was honestly so kind and cool. He is really stoked to be a part of Winter Moon and our journey. It’s been a total pleasure working with him and his label, SUB POP, on this interview. I encourage you to check out his latest album Island Intervals and support this very talented musician.