P'tit Belliveau

Photo by Alex Blouin & Jodi Heartz

P’tit Belliveau is a young-blooded old soul

Acadian musician Jonah Guimond on his debut LP and unlikely musical inspiration.

Hailing from Clare, Nova Scotia, an Acadian community on the shore of Baie-Sainte-Marie, country boy Jonah Guimond — better known as P’tit Belliveau — has what you might call an old-soul sensibility. Coupled with a young-blooded talent for composing catchy, rhythmic music and comically touching lyrics, it probably makes him something of a fish out of water wherever he goes.

But he makes one thing clear as we sit in the lobby of Montreal venue le National in early March, on a rehearsal break for a since-aired episode of Télé-Québec’s Belle et bum: he’s really not into big city life.

“I can’t sleep,” he says. “All I hear is cars and sirens going by. At home, when you hear that, you wonder who you may know that’s in trouble.”

The 24-year-old banjoman’s new album Greatest Hits Vol. 1, under his country music moniker P’tit Belliveau, is out now on Bonsound. And while his roots are geographically country, his musical background is not what you may expect from a country/bluegrass musician. 

With a sound that’s fit for spring living and an edge sure to lift moods despite the current state of affairs, Guimond’s honest approach to all he undertakes is refreshing and vital to the times. 

Here’s what he had to tell us about being P’tit Belliveau — and it all began with Girl Talk.

P’tit Belliveau: I’ve played music all my life and it’s funny now but what really got me started in producing was actually Girl Talk, who’s kind of a meme now. But I was a kid and I was like, “This is awesome, this is the best thing I’ve ever heard. I wanna do that!” I got the shittiest software I could, I think it was MixCraft, and I was making mashups. At like 12 years old I was like, “This is awesome. I’m a star.”

Eventually, more and more I was adding stuff to my set-up to make my own music, but because I was basically used to making sample-based music from taking existing music and fucking it up, eventually I got synths and started getting into midi, so by the end of (that period) I was mostly doing completely original synth stuff. 

I wasn’t doing that for very long until my grandfather from Ontario came upon a banjo and he sent it over. Growing up there was a lot of country and bluegrass back home, so I always heard that stuff but never played it. So when I got the banjo I was just kind of like, this makes sense now, I’m just gonna put this in my music. 

And it has been awhile that I wanted to write lyrics, so I just kind of did what I was doing with banjo and added lyrics. That’s how I saw it. I listen to it now and it’s completely different music. Like I was making weird, synthy chillwave stuff back then. I was like 14 or something, and until I was 18, I was making mostly just electronic music. 

This project has existed for around three or four years, so around 20 I started playing the banjo and started this project. But I still had drum machines and all that kind of stuff, so I feel like with this album I’m really bringing in more of my old producing habits, like the synths and all the midi tracks and drum machines and all of that. I can only imagine I’m gonna have even more fun doing all that in the future. I tell myself that the project is always country at the base, and I keep adding on what interests me on top of it, but still try to keep it country. In my mind it’s a country project. And live it’s definitely more country. [Find more information about free drum kits.]

Darcy MacDonald: Jumping back a minute, what did you make of Girl Talk when you were 12? Did you know the music he was sampling?

P’tit Belliveau: Yeah, I did! The first Girl Talk album I ever heard was All Day, with the skeleton on the cover. I don’t remember how I came onto it but I was this little small-town indie kid scouring the internet all day. I knew all the songs because my dad’s a big ’90s-head and my other parents listen to all sorts of different music. I grew up with my mom and step dad so they had an influence and my dad had all the ’90s stuff. A lot of it’s pop music that you kinda just absorb. 

Anyway, the opening of all of it is (Black Sabbath’s) “War Pigs” and “Oh No” (aka Ludacris’s “Move Bitch”) and I was like, this is just crazy. I wanna do this. A lot of people looking back hate on (Girl Talk) but I loved him. For me, it’s nostalgic. “Ante Up” with “Party in the USA”? That’s like, a statement. If it wasn’t for Girl Talk, I’d probably be making music, but it wouldn’t be this type of music. I’d probably just be in a rock band.

DM: It’s interesting that you came from a sample-based background and then graduated to a totally traditional style of modern music.

PB: In my mind it’s not that different. Musicians are weird like that. I don’t see it as crazy different. I still have the same influences, it’s just like, I’m giving myself different guidelines. Ultimately it feels pretty much the same to me.

To me, the big difference is that I’m writing lyrics. Before when I was writing music, in my mind it’s about something — “this part means this” — but of course, no one’s gonna get that. It had been nagging at me a while to write lyrics and to me, on this project, that’s the big difference.

DM: You definitely bring a certain sensibility to what you’re saying. It sounds like you give a shit, and I don’t know how true that always is for a lot of artists. 

JG: To me it’s almost like a story book for a kid. It’s a lighthearted story with a purpose at the end, and you might not even realize it right away. That’s how I try to write songs. I have some sort of philosophical idea or little thing I’m trying to make you think about, but I don’t want to just say it or push it in your face. It’s just a funny, lighthearted slacker journey, and you didn’t notice that you just absorbed the concept along the way. 

DM: As you’re preparing to play this new stuff live, do you have a synth element on stage?

Even on the old EPs, there was a synth element but it wasn’t as integral and live it wasn’t necessary, we could get by with five bluegrass instruments. Now there are songs on the album that need a synth, like the main riff is a synth. Our main guitarist is actually a really, really great piano player so he’s gonna have a synth on stage. I’m actually gonna play guitar on a few songs.

Of course, it’s always gonna be a little more country, a little more rock when we play live, because I feel a live setting is like, beer in hand, having fun, and I feel like that type of music lends itself well to a live setting, so I kind of like that it’s more country-rock. And then when you’re listening, that layer or texture of synth is so cool. You’re not gonna notice that as much live, but we do have now a drum pad for the drummer to have electronic sounds, too. So we’re putting a little bit in it but like, let’s say if you’ve already seen us live, it’s not gonna be a shock. We’re adding little sprinkles here and there. 

DM: So what do you think the common element has been that you’ve brought from storytelling in sound to words?

JG: I don’t know how everyone writes songs, but I’m sure my background influences (how I do it). All day, most of the day, when I’m at home, I’m mostly making instrumentals, any kind of style. Some will fit in this project and I’ll save them in a separate file and listen to them over and over again. 

All my songs start as instrumentals and could probably be completed that way. I’m sure that’s an influence from before. I always think of the music, how this chord is gonna rise, resolve this way and make you want to feel this. 

For example, the job of a DJ is all about emotion control, and crowd control. I feel like when I’m making instrumental I’m always thinking of that. How will this little shift, this synth sound, all of these little elements, work to service what I’m saying? To make them feel how they need to feel then for the experience to be complete? 

DM: So how does that inform what you do now?

JG: When I’m writing a song, I want it to be personal to a certain degree. But I can’t help but think about the listener’s experience and picture what the listener, who isn’t a musician, will think. Not all listeners are gonna think, like, “That major seventh chord was nice!” They’ll think about how they feel. I think about that a lot, and how I feel when I listen to music, and try to apply that. I really respect artists that say they only do it for themselves and their art. But I can’t really say that’s what I do. There’s a lot of that. But also, there’s a lot of how I think someone will interpret that. 

There can be a lot of lying to yourself and posturing in creative circles. I’ve never been in any scene or anything. I come from a butt-ass small town with 8,000 people. I’ve never learned those tricks and I couldn’t do it if I tried. I’m kind of naive that way. And I think it services me. I’m thankful. 

Back home in Nova Scotia, there’s no option but DIY. There’s no infrastructure, no big grants, no associations. When you wanna do anything, you just do it. That’s also just the kind of general philosophy that exists in Clare. If something breaks, you can’t just go to the store and get a new one. You have to fix it. So everyone just sort of has to do everything. Or your neighbour knows how to do it, and he’ll show you. When it comes to music, it’s not different, if you realize your limitations and lean into them. ■

Listen to P’tit Belliveau on Bandcamp, here. Read our review of Greatest Hits Vol. 1 by P’tit Belliveau here.

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