If the current situation makes everyone wish for simpler times, P’tit Belliveau already had both feet firmly planted in an era of calm, a place where life is simple. His first album, Greatest Hits Vol. 1, talks about rural life and paints vignettes of a worry-free daily existence.
The album was done almost a year ago and I worked in construction when I wrote those songs,” says P’tit Belliveau. “A lot of the album is about my life in La Baie-Sainte-Marie. I talk about nature, living simply and about work.”
Jonah Guimond, as he’s known generally, talks about where he lives like you and I would talk about a friend. La Baie-Sainte-Marie, in Nova Scotia, is renowned for its tight-knit, almost entirely Francophone Acadian community, where musical rituals are central. “The fact that I sing exactly like we talk here is a side effect that I like, but it’s not intentional,” he says. If you ask about his linguistic roots, he’ll tell you he’s “acadjonne.” “I’m proud to expose people to that, and I use subtitles so that people can understand,” Guimond says. “It’s a happy result. Besides, I don’t know how I could speak any other way. I can’t write an album in Québécois, or in so-called international French.”
Music is second nature to him, but it’s a communal nature. “Everyone plays music where I’m from,” he says. ”People always have a guitar or a piano in their closet. My step-dad and his family are really into bluegrass. People are usually turned off by their parents’ music when they’re young. So I turned to electric guitars, producing and beat-making,’ he remembers, adding that it was when his grandfather gave him a banjo that he allowed himself to embrace his familial roots.
P’tit Belliveau wanted to release his album this spring, one year exactly after being a contestant in the Les Francouvertes competition. No matter what the situation is, he doesn’t subscribe to “what ifs.” “I didn’t want to make people wait,” he says. “Anything has the potential to become an opportunity, or a loss. We had a plan, we need to change the plan. We could have considered only the negative aspects, and tell ourselves we wouldn’t have live shows, but people have a lot of time to listen to music right now. I wasn’t going to sit with my head between my hands. I already have ideas for what’s next. It’s my first album, so I don’t have any standards for what’s normal.”
For Guimond, music comes first, in life as in songwriting. “I’ll write the whole instrumental track first and even use an instrument to sub for my voice, and then I’ll work on the lyrics, one line at a time,” he says. “I rarely write lyrics without music. Generally, I’ll listen to the beat over, and over, and over again, and then I write the lyrics.” The only time he wrote outside of his comfort zone, which is to say to a finished instrumental, was during a song camp in Tadoussac, and the results were “L’eau entre mes doigts” and “Moosehorn Lake.”
For Guimond, who now lives in Moncton, New Brunswick, this period of self-isolation isn’t so bad. “When I’m at home, I’m in my studio anyways, working on my stuff at any time,” he says. “My life really isn’t that different from what it was this winter. It’s same-old, same-old for me. Just an extra-long winter.”
And why start one’s career with a Greatest Hits? “I thought it was funny,” he says, while pointing out that the eclectic nature of this collection of songs is akin to a greatest hits album. P’tit Belliveau isn’t afraid of going in different directions with equal energy. “Before this project I was doing electro and hip-hop,” he says. “Right now I only do beats to keep my juices flowing, and I only keep the more refined ones.” What will come next remains nebulous. “Maybe a folkier vibe,” he says. “I have no idea if it’s good or bad, but that’s what sounds good to me right now.”
In the current, quiet chaos of unprecedented days, Jonah hopes his music has soothing powers. “I can’t imagine being stuck in an apartment in Montréal and only longing to be in the forest,” he admits, while specifying that the ultimate goal of his project was to take people out in nature, but musically.
“I hope people will find a bit of comfort and forget about their stress,” he says. “If you’re sad and you’re able to remember that we can go back to simpler things, hopefully we can imagine ourselves in some other place that makes sense.”