Let’s Begin: Deau Eyes On Her Debut LP, Let It Leave
Would it be over-the-top to say that birth is overrated as a starting point? Sure, we’ve all been there, and we wouldn’t be here otherwise, but we experience all these other moments of being reborn, remade, and redeemed, often with intention and sometimes with great determination. And when they’ve been a long time coming, those moments are transcendent.
Let It Leave, the debut LP from Richmond-based singer-songwriter Ali Thibodeau who performs as Deau Eyes, represents one of those hard-earned beginnings. Over the course of nine beautifully rendered songs, Thibodeau demonstrates vocal skills and versatility that were shaped by a past in musical theater, while giving listeners every reason to celebrate her decision to leave that world behind to pursue her songwriting. It’s an inspiring listen, whether you’re rocking out with the wry and retrospective lead single “Some Do,” or soaking in her soaring anthem to freedom, “Autonomy” — a live set staple that ends, simply, “Let’s begin.”
Thibodeau recorded the album in Nashville with longtime friends Collin Pastore and Jacob Blizzard serving as co-producers. A profound sense of readiness marks Let It Leave, as does Thibodeau’s knack for connecting. “A lot of the content of these songs is hard. I went through major heartbreak, and what felt like failure and not being good enough… The thought [that] somebody knows the words or someone else is resonating with it, it feels like a huge hug for my soul. Like ‘Oh we’re in this together, and we’re both empowered now because we can both have an outlet through this song.'”
The album is out on May 8th via EggHunt Records, and while current circumstances have changed the shape of the album’s release — she’s been performing these songs via live streams instead of taking them on the road, as was the plan — Let It Leave sounds like pure personal triumph. I had the great pleasure of speaking with Thibodeau over the phone about how the album was made, how the lead single has been received, and the lyrical career counseling she’s provided along the way.
How did you pick “Some Do” as the single to accompany the album announcement?
I think that song, out of any of my songs, tells a direct story of how I got into music in the first place… I was working like four to five day jobs in New York part time and trying to be an actress. The only path I ever thought about was musical theater. I was always in shows when I was in high school. That’s what my performing outlet was, but I always had this creative expression in songwriting, and I never really believed in myself enough to do it in front of people. I just thought it was something I needed to do for my mental health, kind of.
So then, when I was in New York, I started to realize people were doing all kinds of things, and carving all kinds of paths, and I got really tired of going into these audition rooms and feeling so defeated for a couple years in a row. So yeah, it’s the story of my going home and my brother saying “You should just burn all your bridges and don’t look back and start working on your songs…” That’s what I did, and the music video captures a similar thing, with the day job and finding your own self-expression in the barn — in your dream world. That was music for me. It was my most vibrant self that I was able to bring to the surface and start expressing and contributing my verse in that way. I think that’s why I chose it first. It’s the beginning of the story, and the rest of the story unfolds on the album.
“Some Do” is such a fun song, despite the fact that being judged in an audition room is anything but fun. Have you found a sense of peace with respect to that chapter?
Absolutely. It’s definitely informed who I am as a person, and I feel like it’s something to celebrate when you can turn something that looks like failure or defeat into something to celebrate. When you take control and make the changes you need to make in order to feel like you’re contributing your highest vibration into the world. Life is too short to get hung up on things that are going to hold you back and make you feel bad about yourself…
This is an anthem for anybody that needs to change their path. The only guarantee in life is that things are going to change. Why not make that a celebratory thing instead of a dreaded thing? It definitely took some time. I was always brought up with the mentality [that] you work really, really hard, you be good to people, and you will find success. I think I had to work as hard as I possibly could at the musical theater thing to realize “You know what? I’m not even feeling this anymore… I think there will be something different that I would like more.” And I was right. It’s following your instincts, and a celebration of that.
There was a show that I played — it was probably a year and a half ago. It was in a basement at this college party. When I introduce “Some Do,” sometimes I’ll say “This is a song about quitting, and how it’s cool to quit sometimes.” And [a girl] comes up to me afterwards and [says], in tears, “I really needed to hear that. Thank you so much. I think I’ve decided now that I’m going to quit the job that I’ve worked four years to get at this law firm” or something. She was going to be a lawyer and [said] “I just really don’t want to do it. I think I’m just going to scrap it and travel.” And I’d had a few beers and [said] “Yeah, girl, quit your job! That’s so great!” And the next day I woke up [thinking] “Oh my god, what have I done…” But it’s true, you know, if you’re not happy, you should change it… I wish I knew her name so I could know if she’s traveling right now or if she’s in that job she didn’t want.
Sometimes art is the only thing that makes you look at yourself in the mirror in that way.
I will say about “Some Do” that I didn’t write that when it was happening. When that all was happening, I was scrambling for myself. I didn’t know what I was doing at all, and I was terrified. I wrote “Some Do” when I was working as a country singer on a cruise ship [laughs], I had decided to give up on the musical theater stuff, at least for the time being, and just play music.
I was learning all of these country songs that I loved so much. They were such beautiful stories, and also kind of the sound of my home. In a way, it was the sound that I always was embarrassed of. I was kind of like “I am an artist. I’m not a redneck.” But now I embrace it. My grandma is from the hills of Arkansas, in Boxley, and she listened to the Carter Family her whole life, and her favorite song is “You Are My Sunshine.” That stuff is where the most heart is for me, I think. So learning all those country songs on the cruise ship, even though it was such a means to an end to make money in order to make an album, it did inform a lot of the music that I play now. Like “Oh, I’m a country singer and I didn’t even realize it.”
There’s so much great genre variety on the album, and there’s also a great mix of singing textures and techniques. What was the process of recording vocals like?
All the lead vocals were done in the studio, and that was all done with a drum microphone. It’s pretty funny — we tried a bunch of different microphones to see what would sound the best with my voice, and it was this drum microphone… It’s a really cool, unique sound. The vocals in the studio were done in a day. This was kind of a speedy recording process, the whole thing, just because I don’t have very much money [laughs], so it was “Let’s do this as fast as we can and see what happens…”
So it was a short thing, but then, [with] the backup vocals, I took a lot of time in my room, actually. I do that a lot. I do a lot of background vocals to get songs started. I go the opposite way, sometimes, and make sounds and harmonize with myself. And I do that for other projects as well. Like McKinley Dixon [and] a few other artists in Richmond. Harmonies are so important to me, because it’s what I hear the most — fun vocal lines that inform the rest of the song. “Miner And Raven,” for instance — I had been hearing that forever, and it was a situation where Collin said “I don’t know if we need all of these,” and I [said] “I promise you we need all of these. They’ve been in my head so long, and it needs to feel like there’s a flock of ravens [or] crows over your head.” Those are all those voices. That was definitely a cathartic experience recording all the vocals.
I love the guitar sounds on the album. How did you and Jacob Blizzard start working together?
Jacob is one of my really good friends. He and Collin both used to record me and Lucy [Dacus]’s songs in Collin Pastore’s dad’s chiropractic office. While Collin was trying to get into Berklee [College of Music], it was kind of his test space. So I met Jacob then, when we were kids. He’s such a good friend. He’s always the one that picks you up from the bus station, and comes over if you have an idea and [say] “I really want to record this and see what it sounds like.” He’s that guy. He’s just always there. And he’s always letting me borrow his gear. It’s insane. He’s the best.
He and Lucy both were roommates — the three of us. They knew what I was going through at the time, before I was writing this record. I had this relationship with [a] guy on the cruise ship, and we went to Ireland, and all this stuff, and I fell hard and had a really bad heartbreak out of it. They were with me through all of it. One time they were going to Nashville, and [said] “Hey, we’re going to Nashville this week. Why don’t you come with us and record your songs? You should make a record.” And I [said] “What? Yeah. Okay, let’s do it…” He’s kind of the catalyst for all of this. He’s really nurtured my love for writing music and making music.
On several songs, there are references to waiting, or to being eager to move forward. Is that sense of being ready to go something that resonates for you?
Definitely. It really resonates with me, even without intending for that to be a theme… It is something that is a continuous thing in my life, just working really hard and knowing that I’m ready for anything, and whatever’s thrown at me, I’m ready to do it… My parents were both artists. My mom was a dancer, and my dad was a visual artist, and we all kind of flew by the seat of our pants all the time, so I think finding where I’m the most powerful is being ready. Ready and open for it.
In that sense, was it rewarding signing with EggHunt Records?
Oh my gosh, yes. And it still is. [It’s] kind of the first time I feel really [like] “We’re doing it. Other people believe in this.” And having other people believing in you, and having that on paper, means the whole world to me. It’s really cool. And it just makes you feel like you’re inching toward a new adventure.
Top photo credit: Joel Arbaje