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.

P'tit Belliveau 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.”

Maky Lavender “There’ll be lively songs that could be used to introduce events during the Olympic games, as well as dirtier stuff à la DMX,” Maky Lavender told us in January 2019 about his upcoming project. Nearly 18 months later, the rapper from the Pierrefonds borough of Montréal is glad he found the right words to describe his new album – which, back then, was merely an embryonic EP. “Wow! I don’t remember saying that, but it’s crazy on-point!”

Slated to be released last fall, …At Least My Mom Loves Me was released on Feb. 29, 2020, on the Montréal-based imprint Ghost Club Records. “Rappers often release all they have as soon as it’s recorded, but we preferred taking our time to polish the project,” says Lavender. “If a track wasn’t good enough, we tapped someone else to make it better,” he adds, mentioning singers such as Sophia Bel and Brighid Rose, rappers Speng Squire and Zach Zoya, and producers like Lust, Yuki Dreams Again, Dr. MaD, JMF, Max Antoine Gendron, and Rami B.

And although the public health crisis cost him his record release concert, the 24-year-old rapper couldn’t be happier about the reactions to his album so far. “I should have been sad [that the buzz was so short-lived], but I feel the current re-set that society is undergoing will benefit everyone,” he says about the cope of his album, which he dedicated to his mother, and which he believes is in synch with the current social climate. “Of course, I’ll do tons of shows and festivals, but right now, I have no choice but to relax, finally! I have time to do the stuff I should have done when I was younger – like going for a walk, playing my Nintendo Switch, taking time to talk with my parents…”

As a matter of fact, time is the central theme of …At Least My Mom Loves Me. Time that flies by and, consequently, pushes us to accomplish great things, or freezes us completely. And for a long time, it was the latter that had the best of Lavender. “I had a tendency to see myself as a loser when I was 16 or 17, mostly because I still hadn’t accomplished anything in life,” he admits. “My friends were graduating from Cegep and I was, like, ‘What am I going to do?’ I was the biggest hip-hop fan, I would go see all these shows, and I was both mesmerized and paralyzed by everything that was going on. In my mind, the people on stage were robots. It was impossible for me to ever get there.”

But instead of cultivating his anxiety, Lavender channelled his stress to guide his ambition. In 2017, he started from the beginning, which is to say he self-produced his first show – the West Island Nite Show at Pauline-Julien Hall. “Everyone was telling me not to do it because nothing ever happens on the West Island,” he says, “but it was important for me to conquer my borough before I could conquer the city. Shortly after, I released Blowfoam 2 [the mixtape that launched him on the local scene] and then I went downtown to do music. There was no way I could learn the business if I stayed in Pierrefonds!”

…At Least My Mom Loves Me is the story of this period of urban discovery and personal revelation, a sinuous coming-of-age story. The transition is presented with sincerity, self-deprecation, and humour, but also with a healthy dose of the braggadocio he inherited from American rap tradition. “Attitude is often a big part of this music and it has helped me,” he says. “When I was a kid, we were all wondering who was going to be the ‘Montréal guy,’ the one who would represent our city on the international scene. We had Céline Dion and Saku Koivu that kinda played that role, but nothing super-obvious. At some point, I decided that I might be that guy.”

“It’s often been the case in my life that people believed in my talent way before I did.”

But as with some of his favourite artists – like Jay-Z, Vince Staples, or Tupac – such exaggerated confidence comes with a downside. The album’s first single Bloom – Accompanied by a hard-hitting video directed by Alexandre Pelletier – is an eloquent illustration of Lavender’s vulnerable side. “I wanted to be honest about myself, my jealousy, my envy,” he says. “There were a lot of things that were going wrong in my life, but I knew that, hopefully, things were going in the right direction.”

And indeed, the song helped Lavender believe in himself: “To me, it was a song like any other, but the more people heard it, the more I understood that to them it was the best song I’d ever done so far. It’s often been the case in my life that people believed in my talent way before I did.”

…At Least My Mom Loves Me, which was created over a period of two years, almost never came to be. “I got disheartened after a few months,” says Lavender. “I sat down with big labels to try and create a partnership with Ghost Club, but nothing panned out… Doing Anglophone hip-hop in Québec is hard!” he says. “But I thought it would be stupid to not release this project for reasons I have no control over. So I decided to fight for this album.”

And it’s certainly not going to be another two years before he releases new material. When he’s not going for a walk, playing with his Nintendo Switch, or chatting with his mom, Lavender is currently finalizing a new mixtape. “It might be something like a Blowfoam 3,” he says. “Putting the album together was cool, but now I want to do something grittier and more energetic, à la DMX!”

High Priestess is a brand new player in Canadian music publishing, but it sports an impressive pedigree. Launched in February 2020, it’s a partnership of Toronto-based music company Six Shooter Records and Kim Temple, Six Shooter’s Director of Licensing & Publishing, and a 20-year veteran of different facets of the publishing business.

As Six Shooter founder and President Shauna de Cartier explains, “Kim has been managing our publishing catalogue [published under the name Girl on a Horse] for some time now. She was always interested in setting up co-writing initiatives with our artists, so we signed Lyle Bell, a member of The Wet Secrets, as our first songwriter.

“One great synch placement can fund their next tour or their next album.” – Kim Temple of High Priestess

“He was writing for other artists, in other genres. This was an exciting new branch of the business that we weren’t yet involved in. Six Shooter’s core interest lies in artist development, whereas Kim’s interest lies in songwriter development, so we wanted to create a new company where she would be able to fully explore that area.”

Temple says, “Shauna and I were both very interested in diversifying the catalogue and finding emerging artists who excite us, and with whom we definitely want to work , but who perhaps don’t fit the label. High Priestess really opens it up for us to bring more people into the family.”

The High Priestess roster has launched with four songwriters and producers, working in genres separate from the primarily roots-focused Six Shooter brand. The list comprises Polaris Prize short-listed singer-songwriter Zaki Ibrahim, dance artist James Baley, Toronto R&B/hip-hop artist Witch Prophet, and producer/DJ SUN SUN  (Above Top Secret, Witch Prophet).

“Shauna has supplied the capital for High Priestess,” says Temple, “but has basically given me free rein as President, saying, ‘Go for it.’ Her support is phenomenal.”

De Cartier can also take credit for the striking company name. “I like names that evoke imagery and immediately capture people’s imaginations,” she says. “I was riffing on Kim’s last name, and this landed instantly. I love High Priestess, because it both inspires confidence and conveys our spiritual connection with music and artists.”

“My aim with High Priestess is to provide mentorship and guidance,” says Temple. “I want to make sure our writers’ work is properly registered and represented around the world to help generate a revenue stream for them, allowing them to keep making art while growing their own businesses. My goal is to allow these amazing artists to be self-sufficient. One great synch placement can fund their next tour or their next album.”

While High Priestess takes care of Canada, peermusic administrates its publishing internationally. “Peermusic has offices around the world, and it’s important for us to have a bigger partner,” says Temple.

Asked about her creative approach, Temple says, “I can’t but think I’m going to be unconventional in some way. I come from a different background, starting in indie bands [Nerdy Girl and ‘90s JUNO Award nominees Bodega], and I’ve always been surrounded by visual artists. I’ve not been in the commercial pop realm, where a lot of music publishers have naturally gone to generate income.”

Her indie-rock past gives Temple a deep and genuine empathy for songwriters and artists, though she notes a real change in their outlook. “When I was coming up in the ‘90s, it was very taboo to write music other than for your own project,” she says. “If somebody wanted to put your song in an ad, it was, ‘No way. I’m not going to sell out.’

“Now, being a songwriter has evolved to where you don’t have to pigeonhole yourself. If you’re a hip-hop artist but you can write EDM or pop, why limit yourself?”