Shared Journeys

The songwriter behind Deau Eyes talks about her musical history and how today, genre feels irrelevant.

When Lucy Dacus plays this season’s final Friday Cheers, her opening band will be another talented local performer, Deau Eyes, aka Ali Thibodeau.

An up-and-coming indie rock songwriter known for thrilling audiences with her powerhouse vocals and inward-looking lyrics, Thibodeau’s star seems poised to rise.

Already she has played a host of local venues including the Camel, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, TheatreLab, Gallery5 and Strange Matter, most recently wowing crowds at the Valentine’s Music in the Garden on a balmy evening.

Style caught up with her from the road in California, where she’s driving for a band on tour.

Style Weekly: What’s your earliest musical memory?

Ali Thibodeau: It’s very mundane, but I was singing “Swinging on a Star” by Bing Crosby in a bathroom with really high ceilings. I was 6 or 7, feeling complete peace and solitude, unusual because I come from a big family. I remember marveling at the echo. I grew up in dance and musical theater and was mostly just singing in chorus up until high school. 

How much personal experience goes into your writing?

I used to write songs without the guitar, just with the same two cassette tapes in a karaoke machine. I’d never remember what I’d done because I was constantly recording over myself and only had the two tapes to play at the same time. The thought of anyone ever hearing them was mortifying to the point of recording silence on them when I was done. It was my little secret compulsion, writing lyrics and finding the perfect harmonies for therapy’s sake. It’s still that way. I have to write for the sake of my mental health and remind myself that it’s completely up to me whether or not anyone ever hears it.

How did guitar enter the picture?

My older brother bought me a parlor guitar for Christmas when I was 14. Google had just become available to me and my iPod Touch, so became my best friend. I’d look up a song online and then quickly get bored and start navigating my own twist on it.

What got you serious about playing music?

I was living in New York and working every odd job you can imagine. It wasn’t cutting it, so I started busking in the subway stations on my commutes. 

How about your influences?

Everything I listen to influences me, whether it’s friends’ bands or my dad’s taste in classic rock and country. When I started writing songs, my mom had me listening to Carole King and Joni Mitchell. She owned a dance studio and seemed to have every CD known to man. I’d flip through the booklets and fixate on lyrics and song structures. I like things that are poetic and empowering. Genre feels irrelevant. 

Tell me about touring.

Last year I went on my first tour with the band. Blush Face was very generous in lending us their van. No A/C or radio, so lots of conversation. We camped most of the tour and visited family and friends all the way down to New Orleans and back. It was the perfect grungy, first-timer tour experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Since then, we went out with Lucy for a few dates in the Midwest and lately I’ve been working as a tour manager-merch girl for a couple bands in between quick solo runs. 

Kickstarter was good to you?

The Kickstarter campaign was truly humbling and wonderful. I was pleasantly shocked by the community that developed around it. Richmond couldn’t be more supportive and motivating. This first record is the result of a lot of time and hard work, falling down and getting back up. It’s completely finished and all that I have to give at this moment. I’ve never put my heart on a plate like this before and I’m vulnerably thrilled to share it.

What’s most satisfying about writing music? Performing?

Writing music is like solving a puzzle with your subconscious. It’s necessary for me to move forward and to know what’s really going on deep down inside. Performing is something that takes me back to being a kid and unites me with my foundation, but it’s also the energy surrounding the performance: the lights, the stage, the meditative escape, the attention to breath that singing provides and the audience’s expressions and compassion. It’s a shared journey and that’s what life’s about. 

What’s hardest about being a musician?

The waiting. I’m someone who likes to act on things fast, but in this business and in life in general, there’s something to be said about being patient, collecting data and holding out for something that’s truly good for you.

[Friday Cheers usually offers a huge audience] What are you excited about?

Honestly, everything. Jacob Blizard is going to be playing guitar, which is a rarity. He’s a dear friend, produced my record and plays with Lucy full-time. The best dude ever, Shaun Smith, is coming down from Nashville to play bass and the incomparable Richmond gem, Ethan Johnstone, will be on drums. I’m really excited to see everyone both onstage and in the crowd. It’s bound to be a love-fest.

Lucy Dacus and Deau Eyes perform this season’s final Friday Cheers on June 28 at 6:30 p.m. at Brown’s Island. $5.


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