Track by Track: THIBAULT – OR NOT THIBAULT (CHAPTER MUSIC, 2020)

Words: James Frostick and Nicole Thibault
Band image: Jamie Wdziekonski

Today Naarm/Melbourne-based dream-pop outfit Thibault releases its brand-new LP Or Not Thibault via esteemed label Chapter Music. Comprised of Nicole Thibault of Minimum Chips fame and members of current-gen groups such as Parsnip, Traffik Island and The Ocean Party, Thibault revels in lush and considered sounds – music that inspires a kind of beatific calm. Nicole has kindly shared insight into the record, including the thoughts that shaped and inspired it.

Whenever I haven’t written for a period of time, I always find having to scrape off a considerable amount of rust before I feel like I’m back in my groove. It doesn’t even have to be a long time of inactivity – just a few weeks is enough to reset my brain and blunt my skills. I can’t fathom what’d happen if I put my pencil down for years – I’d probably completely forget how to spell. Nicole Thibault took more than a decade off writing music, stepping away from songwriting in the late 2000s after her lauded jazz-pop group Minimum Chips disbanded around 2007. Thirteen years is a long time between drinks, but time can’t blunt creativity – Nicole has returned with a new record under the moniker Thibault. Alongside a team of top-notch local musicians including Rebecca Liston and Stella Rennex (both of Parnsip), Lachlan Denton (The Ocean Party, Pop Filter) and Zak Olsen (Traffik Island, Hierophants), Nicole has crafted Or Not Thibault (out now via Chapter Music), a record that bears nary a sign of rust.

On this album Nicole traverses territory close to home – matters of the heart, mind and soul. She grapples with familiar concepts, bathing them in pools of effervescent dream-pop before enveloping them in plush towels of sighing tenderness. This adds a lightness to proceedings – softening the edges of harsh truths and diffusing the light she shines on moments of personal strife. Commentary on broken bureaucratic entities and inexorable march of time is offset with more localised dreaming – breaking the mould of expectations imposed by others (an ourselves), the ever-presenting yearning to escape (or to just be alone) and finding joy you previously thought was lost. Each singular moment on Or Not Thibault is given room to breathe – concepts are allowed to take shape and become what they are without pressure, filling out with only the gentlest coaxing (even the record’s more upbeat bops – of which there are a few – feel natural and easy). There’s a balanced harmony to the album that most records never quite nail, which shows that throughout her hiatus, Nicole’s talents never diminished – and her return (and this album) is a gift we should cherish.

Nicole kindly shared insight into the track list of Or Not Thibault, which you can read below:

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‘See The World’
This song has a special place in my heart because it was the first song I had written in a long time – it made me realise I can write songs again and how fun it was. I was feeling very trapped mentally, financially and physically (little did I know!) and really admired those people who were able to be real jet setters and travel the world without a care. I wanted to be one of those people. It’s also a little bit about watching the news too much and stopping yourself from shutting down and going into survival mode.


‘Centrelink’
Little did I know how bad things were going to really get, haha! I mean, as a friend recently questioned, “Is it more bad now or has it always been bad?” or something along those lines. I know it has been such a tough time for people dealing with the bureaucracy of this government right now, but I think the system has been broken for so long and maybe just maybe this complete and utter chaos is just what we need to shake things up a bit. This song essentially comes from a place of hope and change and I hope that people can see it that way. I mean, I wanted to create something beautiful from a bad experience and I hope I have achieved that!


‘Drama’
Sometimes it sucks to be you and you just have to work through what is happening. This song is about finding a way to stand your ground and believe in yourself again after not believing for a long time. Again, I took a bad thing that was happening to me and turned it into a song. Don’t worry, it’s OK – I’m not going to sing a song about the pandemic or how bad it is to be in Melbourne right now. I am trying to find other sad/traumatic/weird things to write about. As I said to a friend the other day, “I’m sure I will find something to complain about soon.”


‘Wanting To Be Alone’
You know those times when you find yourself in a pointless never ending tête-à-tête and in the middle of it you reflect and realise how lucky hermits have it? The peace and quiet, the freedom not to have to confer constantly and answer to anyone, be able to wear thick woollen jumpers and live on the end of a jetty. In saying that, I love my friends and I love people, just those select times that pop up now and then. Look, I wrote this song before all this lockdown hell broke loose and I’m hating being isolated from my friends and I don’t want to be alone, but back then it was a very attractive concept and I’m glad I didn’t follow through.


‘Continuer’
What can I say, this is my love song to Maestro Ennio Morricone. I love him so much and can’t believe this year took him from us.


‘Chatty Cathy’
I enrolled in an art course a couple of years ago and for one of the assignments we had to create a work that was very personal and I came across these dolls from the 60s called Chatty Cathy. I deep dived into the history of it found it really interesting. I had only ever heard “Chatty Cathy” being said as a pejorative, a put down, a way to silence someone and was unaware of this hidden world of passionate fans of the doll that could talk and that there were actually Chatty Cathy Clubs – I wanted in, basically!


‘Late Expectations’
This song is about getting on with it and getting over your and anyone else’s expectations of you and the freedom that follows it. Better late than never is my personal motto.


‘Spanakopita’
This word just fit really well with the melody and it sort of went on from there. It’s about having joy back in your life, recognising that feeling again and loving all the little things – like being able to cook dishes you liked and having the magic of being able to write music again, when you thought it was possibly gone forever!


‘Treasure Trove’
This is an instrumental but its working title used to be ‘Thomas’ as in The Thomas Crown Affair. I think when I sat down to write this song I set out to “be inspired by” Michel Legrand and his beautiful soundtrack, but it kinda went in a different direction and I really like where it went!


‘Later Expectations’
We played around with the song ‘Late Expectations’. We did a couple of kind of re-mixes/versions of the song and couldn’t decide which one was better and ended up loving both of them – so this one is the latter, hence ‘Later Expectations’. I probably didn’t need to explain that – it’s pretty obvious haha.


‘Moody Ghost’
This was a fun song to record. We really went to town with all the percussion bits and pieces. Talking is overrated – this song is kind of about that. It is also about proving people wrong and the joy that comes with that.


‘Too Much Time’
A couple of years ago I found myself with a lot of time on my own, which I hadn’t had for many years (again, haha little did I know). Alone in my dumb thoughts, diverting my gaze from the abyss as much as I could and also reflecting on what a weird concept time is. Y’know the usual ‘mini existential crisis’ we all go through. It made me reminisce on being able to get into one of these conversations with a super smart friend of mine who is no longer with us and also the bittersweetness of being able to finally make music again and make an album, but they will never hear it. They would have been very proud of me and I’m sure they would have loved this song.

Or Not Thibault is out now via Chapter Music. You can order a digital or vinyl copy here

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