Joel Thibodeau is comfortable admitting that his lyrics are difficult to understand. It’s not that they’re difficult to hear — on his three releases as Death Vessel, his angelic voice is right up front — it’s that they are cryptic reels of poetry that give a mere glimpse into one person’s guarded imagination.
“I think when everything is laid out for you at the beginning and when everything is immediately understandable, it’s not that interesting,” says the singer. “The kind of music that I’m attracted to allows for discovery and potential excursion.”
Add to that list of excursion-worthy music the work of Sigur Rós singer Jónsi, who Thibodeau supported on a 2010 tour for the Icelandic musician’s solo album, “Go.” Sharing the stage with someone he admired greatly was worth traveling an extensive distance for Thibodeau — a gesture that would be returned in the end. “The very first night of the tour he mentioned that he wanted me to sing with him,” says Thibodeau, who had just driven straight from his Rhode Island home to Vancouver. “I thought he meant the night of the show!”
What Jónsi was actually hoping for was to collaborate with Death Vessel — a pairing that finally came to fruition in “Island Intervals,” which found Thibodeau traveling to Iceland to work with Jónsi and partner Alex Somers on an album of intensely heady, almost glacial proportions.
“Being in a foreign country by myself predominantly was a fairly solitary existence,” says Thibodeau, reflecting on three months spent working in Reykjavík where he witnessed the transformation of his finger-picked guitar sound vis-à-vis the more spectral production style of Somers — a transformation full of unorthodox percussion (think calliopes, music boxes, the clip-clop of hooves) set amid warm, sustaining layers of instruments and harmonies. “I had a lot of time to reflect and deal with my own thoughts and what I needed to do to finish the record. In addition to being in a really beautiful setting, it’s a really great place to be to concentrate like this. The minute you get out of Reykjavík it’s just expansive and open. There’s no shortage of space.”
Keeping up with Jónsi
Anyone familiar with the work of Thibodeau and Jónsi knows that both singers possess ethereal, unconventionally high voices. It’s a similarity that Thibodeau readily acknowledges.
“Obviously we share an interest in this certain timbre that other people aren’t doing as much with currently,” he says of the comparison between him and his Icelandic counterpart.
“But there are very different qualities to the way he sings,” he adds, alluding to their “Island Intervals” duet “Isla Drown.” “When you hear our two voices together they are distinctly different. In some ways I think his voice is more refined. He can hold notes forever!”