Ali Thibodeau's Journey As a Producer for Her New Album, 'Legacies'
photo by Lucienne Nghiem
Ali Thibodeau, who performs under the moniker “Deau Eyes,” is a Richmond-based songwriter, vocalist, guitarist, and producer. Her sophomore album, ‘Legacies’ was released on June 10th, 2022, and is “a sprawling, majestic exploration of what it means to leave things behind that have integrity and meaning.” In this interview from June 21st, 2022, Ali talks about the process of bringing ‘Legacies’ to life, her role as co-producer, and she explores themes of her experiences thus far as a woman in the music industry. Her new release can be found on all streaming platforms, and is available for physical purchase.
Nan Macmillan: How are you? Congrats on the album release, it sounds so great.
Ali Thibodeau: Thanks so much, thanks for listening to it! It’s definitely so awesome to have it out, it’s kind of surreal, you forget about that part – that it’s gonna come out. You just get so lost in making it and everything that goes along with the album cycle, releasing singles and everything like that. But I’m really glad it’s out.
N: Can you speak a little bit about the thematic content behind ‘Legacies’? What’s the story behind the album?
A: This record was a collection of stories, kind of like journal entries. I was feeling an overarching theme once I started putting them together over all this time. I have lived with the feeling that every single thing I do is the last time I’ll do it. Like when people said growing up, “Dance like no one’s watching” or, “Live like it’s the last day of your life,” I really took that to heart. So I treat relationships and pursuits in general as if it’s the highest stakes possible. The way that the climate is right now, socially and physically with illness and Covid and everything, it was feeling more and more apocalyptic. Like anything could happen and the stakes were really high. And the drama in my heart and mind was at an all time high. So originally when I was putting this all together, I was going to name it 'Love Songs for the Apocalypse.' I think the choices you make and the legacies you’re leaving behind really fueled this record.‘Ends’ is that love song at the very end of time, between me and whomever – it could be anyone, like a stranger. And just knowing that our existence was shared, and there’s a level of compassion that supersedes any circumstance.
N: Was there a song that felt like a turning point for the album? That once you wrote it, you then knew what the album was about?
A: ‘Moscow in the Spring’, I wrote first out of all of them. In that one, there’s the theme of just owning the space you take, just saying you know what, this is my one life. I can choose to either keep being an escape for other people or I can own it and stand my ground. And I’m still actively learning about that. Most of these songs are anthems for myself to keep learning that because it hasn’t quite integrated. And so, I think that song set me up in a way to stand my ground and own my experiences in a different way than I usually would.
N: When you were writing, what was the process like? Did the songs all sound similar in their origin phases, i.e. you and a guitar?
A: Yeah, I just play guitar, sometimes I mess around on keys. And of course playing around with my vocal looper and stuff. ‘Moscow’ is the song that took the biggest, complete 180 degree turn in style. I wrote that song four or five years ago. It had electric guitars, was an angsty, guttural song, and extremely raw. In the place I was in then, it was really important for it to start that way. And the evolution of the song got to the point where I couldn’t stand it anymore. I went into the studio and said “Here’s a song that I feel like should be on the record, but I also don’t feel like it should be on the record.” And then Scott Lane, my co-producer, said “Well let’s just put this in a completely different place. Like, where else could this live?” And I said, “how about we go to an Iceland airport and we’re in a waiting room, see how that feels.” And he responded saying that maybe we completely strip it back and make it ambient. It’s so cool to work with someone who just so immediately understands your language. That’s what I love about collaborating and co-producing. All of the songs I wrote on an acoustic guitar started as a folk song. Very storytelling heavy, no production at all. And then going in, it’s like having a coloring book and you color it in the way you want it to look and sound.
N: Were you working with anyone in-person?
A: Scott and I kept ourselves pretty much just he and I. I was waiting tables most nights and I would go to his studio every night after waiting tables. We made this record in the middle of the night.
N: It sounds like it, you can hear that coming through.
A: I was very tired, starting to get to this point where I was really burnt out. There’s a moment in my voice of being exhausted but in a way that pertains to the content. And so, we definitely did a lot together in the middle of the night. And then Devonne (DJ Harrison) came in for a couple of days. For a lot of the stuff with Devonne in the pandemic, we would just send each other texts and talk on the phone. He was extremely fast and incredible with digesting my ideas. That all started with “Haven’t You Had Quite Enough.” It was the first time I went into something with someone in that way. Like, here’s the concept of the song, and going from there. So that was really cool to have that relationship where I could be at home and recording vocals from my closet and sending him an acoustic version and then he could build around it.
N: The recording process was a pretty long one - almost two years, correct? Tell me a little about that.
A: I intentionally really wanted to take my time with this one, and really get to know these songs and put forethought into it. The first record I made, we recorded in two days. It was insane. I was totally just on a budget and really wanting to make something. And I was so raw and [messed] up after a breakup, so I just wanted to throw it into the world or else I would have gotten cold feet and not made anything. So yeah, making that record with Nashville session musicians who can just whip out anything, that was awesome. But it was limiting to my learning process, like I couldn’t even really digest what had happened. Luckily with the incredible time and attention from Scott Lane and Devonne, they were so down [with this pace].
N: What was the dynamic of having the three of you producing this record? And did you see yourself as a producer the whole time, or did that feeling emerge as you were going through?
A: Yeah, Scott and I had been working together for a really long time, just on management and business stuff. He’s been extremely nurturing and has encouraged me to pursue the producer role. I have a lot of imposter syndrome about it. Like everybody, we’re always going to be learning constantly. I definitely feel like I have so much to learn, and I’m really eager to learn it. I feel like these songs came from my brain, and could only have come from my brain. So I think of producing as far as concepts and feelings and generally illustrating the songs sonically. A lot of those ideas, like out of the box stuff, definitely came from me. And so, just because you’re someone who doesn’t know all of the engineering aspects of producing doesn’t mean that you are not a producer.
There is also an incredible backbone that we as female producers carry and provide to the art. It would not sound the same at all without the direction that we give. It was really nice to have the opportunity to be there [the whole time] and to learn things that nobody had ever told me, that I never went to school for. To where now, going on my own and starting to create things on my own, I have more of a concept than before of what I want and what things should be. There’s so much gatekeeping with that stuff, and it really keeps us away from it. So it’s really nice to be like, okay I’m invited to this party. I’m inviting myself. I’m gonna learn how to make my songs sound the way I want them to sound.
"I think of producing as far as concepts and feelings and generally illustrating the songs sonically... Just because you're someone who doesn't know all of the engineering aspects of producing doesn't mean that you are not a producer."
N: Were Devonne and Scott the only other people playing instruments on the record?
A: Yeah, it was those two and then Reggie Chapman on ‘Legacies.’ It was a really big deal for me to play guitar on this record. Talking about being a woman in this industry, there are so many people who have said, “Oh you’d really sound great if a guy was playing guitar with you. And it’s this feeling of, “No, that’s not the point.” And it’s definitely just been such a thing, as someone who comes from a very working class family and background and navigating life in a way that wasn’t a clear cut path, I’ve had a lot of trouble finding the time to even practice. There are a lot of feelings of “maybe I don’t belong here” and “maybe I should just get somebody else to play this.” But then, in recent years I’ve found a way to play that feels so authentically me. It’s not perfect, it’s definitely not something that I feel 1000% a master at. When you talk about songwriting and authenticity, mastery is not always the goal. It doesn’t have to be the only way. And once I started treating it that way, it became way more fun, and I feel way more confident about recording.
N: On that note, how did the process feel as a woman, and being the only woman who was a part of the production team? Did you feel supported and heard?
A: Yeah, I feel like with this particular team of people on this record, I felt 1000% supported. And the reason I went down this path with them was that I knew Scott was all for me being there in the studio over his shoulder watching everything and being a part of every moment. And having Devonne come in, he’s just so caring with music in a way where he just really wants to support the vision, and there is no ego involved at all. If you say, “Hey, on beat five, can you not play anything,” he just does it and it’s no questions asked. So I went in with people who really trusted me and who really wanted to be there to lift up my vision with this record. And the fact that it was such a small team was so essential to my learning and my growing.
N: On upcoming projects, do you want to hire more women to collaborate with?
A: Yes! After going to SXSW this year, I think it’s really necessary to see myself in other producers. To be represented by other people who look like me. I’d love to have some kind of female mentor in production. Because I do think there’s something subconsciously that happens when working with men that I just assume they know what they’re talking about. I’m realizing that’s not always the case. A lot of men are waking up to this conversation and are starting to take women seriously and involve women in a conversation they didn’t realize they were shutting them out of. I think our society is waking up and being like, “Oh I didn’t even realize I was doing this.” And that’s really exciting and I really hope that we keep on actively inviting each other into these conversations.
So I’m pretty hopeful that things are gonna start turning around. And I’m really excited about this next generation of female songwriters and producers and engineers because I think there are so many more women outwardly doing this. We just have to keep inviting each other to the party. I feel like there are a lot of things that affect how we participate in [the music industry]. And one of them is reaching out to each other and creating together.
"We just have to keep inviting each other to the party."
N: In a few words, what message do you want to communicate through this album, ‘Legacies’?
A: I think there’s so much we can latch onto in this day and time, and I think in all of it, holding onto the moment and knowing that our shared humanity is so much more powerful and so much bigger than we can even comprehend. And through all of the [stuff] that’s going on, there’s always something to love, always something to laugh at, always something to feel devastated at. And all of it is so beautiful in the way we have this shared experience. And I think just remembering to hold compassion in your heart for each other through it all. I think that’s the big picture!
-Interview and editing by Nan Macmillan