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Joel Thetford teases new album with two wildly different singles

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Joel Thetford teases new album with two wildly different singles (image by Tadin Brego)

Prolific Maine music maker Joel Thetford has had a lot of labels attached to his music over the years: Singer and songwriter, country artist, alt-country artist, indie, Americana and myriad other tags that he says are all pretty much irrelevant. Thetford’s next project just might cause the label-makers’ heads to explode as the artist continues expanding his craft to include new sounds and genres. Two recently released singles are a bellwether that changes are afoot. 

In early October, Thetford released “Walk Through the Dark,” a very ‘80s-inspired track augmented with synths and vocal effects that surprised a lot of listeners. The track has given Thetford first time airplay on WCYY, Portland’s alternative rock station, and WHSN, the alt-rock station in Bangor operated by students at the New England School of Communications. 

Country radio wouldn’t touch Thetford’s “Walk Through the Dark” but the format could stand to play quality material like his beautiful new single “Pushing and Pulling.” Thetford doesn’t expect to hear his music on a contemporary country station anytime soon. 

“The country radio stations in Maine won’t play my music, but I take that as a compliment,” Thetford says. “When I flip on those stations, it doesn’t take me long to get away from it.” 

His new sounds don’t necessarily mean that Thetford has traded in his Merle Haggard albums for the Human League discography, but he says “Walk Through the Dark” is more reflective of some of the music he loved growing up and still does today. A lot of people have told Thetford they love it, but he admits not everyone is a fan. 

“Some of my old bandmates are not a fan of where I’m going with my music but most everyone has been supportive,” Thetford says. “I’m 47 and I grew up in the 1980s listening to all kinds of music. I love The Cure, Depeche Mode and a lot of synth-driven bands from that time. The War on Drugs is a newer band I’ve been getting into.” 

Thetford says he will always be a fan of old-school country but admits it isn’t what he listens to most days. During his interview, he also cited the music of Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent and The Cranberries as artists in heavy rotation in his home. 

Thetford says the simple message in “Walk Through the Dark” deals with the beauty of life and how easily most of us forget it. 

“We all go through things in life that take us to dark places sometimes,” Thetford explains. “It might be a family matter or your job, but it happens to everybody. The message in the song is that we’ll get through it. The big outro of the song is me (with collaborator Renée Coolbrith) repeating the phrase ‘Life is so beautiful.’ When you go through something dark, it’s easy to forget how beautiful life really is.” 

Thetford compiled a band of all-stars 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 pressure to create a cohesive sound for each of his albums but he’s popping a pin in that concept on the record he’s making now with producer Ryan Ordway at The Studio in Portland. The still-untitled record is due in March. 

“He (Ordway) played me some examples of albums by other artists, including Brandi Carlile, that aren’t necessarily one particular vibe,” Thetford says. “I’m just going to do what feels right instead of worrying about whether or not a song fits the entire album.” 

The new sounds shouldn’t be a complete surprise to anyone who’s followed Thetford’s career since he released his debut EP “Here I Go” in 2015. His music has evolved and expanded with each release, inspiring more of those aforementioned labels in the process.

The last song on Thetford’s latest full-length album, “January Heartbreak,” is the swaggering synth and drum-driven dance track “Don’t Need Your Love” which gave him a totally new sound. It foreshadowed “Walk Through the Dark” and served as an indicator that Thetford as an artist was not about to boxed into one genre. 

In early November, Thetford unveiled another track from his forthcoming album with the haunting single “Pushing and Pulling.” On its haunting refrain, Thetford sings “Some people they don’t understand, I’m livin’ the best that I can.” That line probably doesn’t refer to the detractors he referenced who are unhappy with his new sounds, but it could, just as the title could refer to the fact that Thetford is continuing to advance as an artist. 

On “Pushing and Pulling,” acoustic guitar, bass and drums are augmented with stirring pedal steel guitar and a powerful vocal from Thetford. It’s a perfectly arranged slice of contemporary alternative country that totally shifts gears for about 45 seconds near the end, giving an already great song an unanticipated lift. 

If the alluring “Pushing and Pulling” and the delightful surprise that is “Walk Through the Dark” are indicators of the quality of Thetford’s next album, fans are in for a treat. He didn’t give any clues about the sounds he has planned for the rest of the record, adding he probably has five or so songs to finish. 

“Winter is my favorite time to be in the studio and I feel so fortunate to be in this position where I can create my music with all of my close friends,” Thetford said. 

There is no question that Joel Thetford is evolving and expanding as an artist and it’s a natural progression. He says he’s just doing what feels right, and more than that, he says he feels that he’s already made it. 

“I have a lot of friends that moved to Nashville with a goal of making it big in the music scene. I consider myself to be one of those artists that have already made it in the sense that I don’t have anyone telling me how my music should be. I record when I want with the musicians that I choose. I feel so fortunate to have such loving people in the Maine music community supporting me.”

(Joel Thetford’s music can be found at and on all digital streaming platforms.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 01 December 2021 08:30


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