“I got into music because of my health issues,” confides Céleste Lévis, a 26-year-old songwriter originally from Timmins, Ontario. “I had to undergo brain surgery when I was 14 because it was compressing my spinal cord. Nowadays I’m doing so well. I have to go round-trip to Toronto once a week for a treatment to deal with the pain. My headaches sometime radiate all the way down to my legs. The only moment I’m not in pain is when I’m high on adrenaline because I’m singing. But as soon as I’m done, the fun is over. That’s why I write songs: so I can move forward!”
Her fourth album, Si tu veux tout savoir, is unencumbered by frivolous things, and offers eight straightforward, bona fide folk-rock songs. It was produced during the pandemic alongside her husband, multi-instrumentalist Marc-Antoine Joly, in the basement studio of the couple’s Ottawa home.
“The goal,” according to Lévis, “was to achieve an indie rock band sound with more emphasis on the drums, and songs that are more pop,” says the artist, mostly known for her duets.
Are they love songs? “I’ll remain vague on that topic; it’s not really an album about relationships,” says the newlywed. “It’s a snapshot of the last 12 months, so if you want to know everything about me, you have to listen to them!”
From this rather unusual endeavour rises a genuine personality, all of whose stories have a common thread, a shared ambiance and atmosphere. “I’ll arrive in the studio with melodies, chords, and the lyrics,” says Lévis. But during the pandemic, I kept asking myself if I’ve said and sung everything. I was afraid of that.”
Guitars “intertwang” perfectly in order to get the best of her head voice. “I’ve always had a deeper voice, but this time around, I understood that it’s an instrument, and I pushed myself to sing more nuanced notes and more complex melodies,” she says. “I was afraid of that voice, but I’ve decided to embrace it.” Although there are no songs that seem revolutionarily innovative, one can definitely hear a major influence from the American duo The Civil Wars, among other charming contradictions.
Flashback to 2015, when Lévis was living in Montréal’s Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood, and a contestant on La Voix (the Québec franchise of The Voice TV singing competition). “Moisi Moé’ssi,” by Fred Fortin, is one of the songs she sang, while playing her Gibson SG-200 with great detail. “It represented me well, even though it wasn’t one of my songs,” she says. “I’d already played talent shows like Ma première Place des Arts  and the Festival international de la chanson de Granby [revealed at Ontario Pop]”. After her journey on La Voix, she was signed by Tandem Musique, and then opened 18 shows for Francis Cabrel. Six songs in 20 minutes, every night.
How hard is it to sing in French in Northern Ontario, despite trailblazers like Robert Paquette and Cano? “Contact Ontarois during Rideau in Québec Cityc, and the Trille Or gala every other year, give us better visibility and the context is generally more favourable for the province’s songwriters,” says Lévis. “I also had the chance to record live sessions at Madame Wood studio in Montréal in the midst of the pandemic, to boost the songs from my album Donnes-moi le temps . I’m serene as far as that’s concerned; the communications and promotion networks are increasingly efficient.
“Ontario’s Francophone community knows how to find itself, even 10 hours’ drive apart!” she continues. “We’re lucky, ’cause there ain’t a lot of us. On the other hand, there’s generally one venue per town where we can play, so once you’ve played one place, it might take three or four years before you play it again.”
In 2020, she released a Christmas album, Noël Tout autour, which she managed to write during the pandemic. She notably covers Robert Charlebois’ “Marie-Noël. Avec des mots qui grimpent au ciel.” She will tour that album throughout Ontario, with an additional stop in Montréal.