Prolific Maine music creator Joel Thetford has had a lot of labels attached to his music over the years: singer and songwriter, country artist, alternative country artist, indie, Americana and a myriad of other labels that , according to him, are all pretty much irrelevant. Thetford’s next project may well blow label designers’ heads as the artist continues to expand her craft to include new sounds and genres. Two recently released singles are an indicator that changes are underway.
At the beginning of October, Thetford released “Walk Through the Dark”, a very 80s inspired track augmented with synths and vocal effects which surprised many listeners. The track first aired in Thetford on WCYY, the Portland alternative rock station, and WHSN, the alternative rock station in Bangor operated by students at the New England School of Communications.
Country radio would not touch Thetford’s “Walk Through the Dark”, but the format could support broadcasting quality material like his wonderful new single “Pushing and Pulling”. Thetford doesn’t expect to hear his music on a contemporary country station anytime soon.
“Maine country radio stations won’t play my music, but I take that as a compliment,” says Thetford. “When I turn on these stations, it doesn’t take long for me to get away from them. ”
His new sounds don’t necessarily mean Thetford traded his Merle Haggard albums for the Human League discography, but he says “Walk Through the Dark” more reflects some of the music he loved growing up and still does today. ‘hui. A lot of people have told Thetford they love him, but he admits not everyone is a fan.
“Some of my old band mates weren’t a fan of where I go with my music, but almost everyone supported me,” Thetford said. “I’m 47 years old and I grew up in the 80’s listening to all kinds of music. I love The Cure, Depeche Mode and a lot of synth bands from that era. The War on Drugs is a newer band that I got into.
Thetford says he’ll always be a fan of old-school country, but admits that’s not what he listens to most of the time. During his interview, he also cited the music of Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent and The Cranberries as highly rotating artists in his house.
Thetford says the simple message of “Walk Through the Dark” is about the beauty of life and how easily most of us forget it.
“We all go through things in life that sometimes take us to dark places,” says Thetford. “It can be a family affair or a work affair, but it happens to everyone. The message of the song is that we are going to be okay with it. The big release of the song is me (with collaborator Renée Coolbrith) repeating the line “Life is so beautiful”. When you go through something dark, it’s easy to forget how beautiful life is. ”
Thetford assembled a star group to record “Walk Through the Dark”, including Dave Gutter of Rustic Overtones on bass, Luke Mallett of the Mallett Brothers Band on guitar and guitarist John Nils.
Thetford says he’s always felt the pressure to create a cohesive sound for each of his albums, but he pinpoints that concept on the record he’s making with producer Ryan Ordway at the Studio in Portland. . The record, still untitled, is due in March.
“He (Ordway) played me a few examples of albums from other artists, including Brandi Carlile, that don’t necessarily have a particular vibe,” Thetford said. “I’m just going to do what feels right to me instead of worrying about whether or not a song fits the whole album or not.”
The new sounds shouldn’t come as a total surprise to anyone who has followed Thetford’s career since he released his first EP “Here I Go” in 2015. His music has evolved and expanded with each release, inspiring more of these aforementioned labels in the process.
The last song from Thetford’s latest album, “January Heartbreak”, is the swaggering synth and drum dance track “Don’t Need Your Love” that gave it a whole new sound. It foreshadowed “Walk Through the Dark” and served as an indicator that Thetford as an artist was not about to stick to one genre.
In early November, Thetford unveiled another track from their upcoming album with the haunting single “Pushing and Pulling”. On his haunting chorus, Thetford sings “Some people they don’t understand, I live the best I can.” This line probably doesn’t refer to the detractors he referred to who aren’t happy with his new sounds, but it could, just like the title could refer to Thetford continuing to grow as an artist.
On ‘Pushing and Pulling’, acoustic guitar, bass and drums are complemented by a touching steel pedal guitar and a powerful voice from Thetford. It’s a perfectly arranged contemporary alternative country slice that totally shifts gears for about 45 seconds towards the end, giving an already excellent song an unexpected boost.
If the seductive “Pushing and Pulling” and the delicious surprise that is “Walk Through the Dark” are any indicator of the quality of Thetford’s next album, fans will be in for a treat. He gave no clue as to what sounds he had planned for the rest of the record, adding that he probably had about five songs to finish.
“Winter is my favorite time to be in the studio and I feel so lucky to be in this position where I can create my music with all of my close friends,” Thetford said.
There is no doubt that Joel Thetford is evolving and developing as an artist and it is a natural progression. He says he’s doing just what feels right, and more than that, he says he feels he has done it before.
“I have a lot of friends who moved to Nashville with the goal of becoming a big player in the music scene. I consider myself one of those artists who have done it before in the sense that no one tells me what my music should be like. I record whenever I want with the musicians I choose. I feel so lucky to have such loving people in Maine’s music community supporting me.
(Joel Thetford’s music can be found on https://joelthetford.bandcamp.com/ and on all digital streaming platforms.)