P'tit Belliveau Quebec

Photo by Erika Essertaize

Earnest goes to camp: P’tit Belliveau on being a Quebec phenom

We spoke with the Acadian country-synth musician ahead of his appearance at ShazamFest in rural/carnie Quebec.

Describing Jonah Guimond as a musician with small-town roots is a disservice. He’s actually a small-town guy putting down roots for a promising music career. The country-meets-synth jams he creates as P’tit Belliveau have been steadily garnering attention far beyond his hometown of Clare, a municipal district of about 7,700 residents on Nova Scotia’s Baie St. Marie. 

“We don’t consume Quebec music here. And for all intents and purposes, I’m essentially a Quebec musician,” Guimond says. 

“That’s the scene where I play and where people listen, predominantly. That’s where my label is at, all that shit.” 

To prove it, he headlines ShazamFest, the annual camp-out carnival of vaudevillian oddities, in rural Ayers Cliff, QC, on Friday, July 8.

A new P’tit Belliveau LP,  Un homme et son piano, came out in April on Bonsound, the label that also released his debut, Greatest Hits Vol.1, in 2020. 

And with two sold-out Francos shows at Club Soda last month and a summer filled with tour dates across the province, Quebec fans have been good to the 26-year-old Acadian. 

So has his rising star changed the way people look at him at home in Clare, where he recently returned after a few years living in New Brunswick?

“I would say people that are friends with my mom on Facebook would have the impression that I have some kind of success,” Guimond offers. 

“Because my mom will overblow it, right? And share any damn little thing. You might think it’s some big thing. But I personally know that it’s a very small newspaper in Winnipeg or something.”

(He’s not out for modesty points. That’s downhome pragmatism, never to be confused with bottled charm.)

“You know, people of my mom’s age are very, very heavy adopters of Facebook,” he continues. “Especially in a small place like Clare. She’s got half the municipality on there. They’ll maybe ask me some questions.”

Jonah Guimond is a truly hilarious dude. However, he’s quick to point out that while some of the music he makes is meant to be comical, there’s nothing ironic about his tastes, his personality or the songs he creates. 

But more on that later. Back in Clare, P’tit Belliveau and his mother’s friends take life at face value. 

“For you to be the type of person to have organically heard about me over here, you’re the type of person who goes out of your way to listen to ICI Musique and read French CBC and all that’s ,” he explains. 

“That’s a pretty rare type of person. Almost like a French intellectual-type.”

“Which…most people here just fish, you know?”

He shares an anecdote told to him by fellow Baie St. Marie native Jacobus of Radio Radio.

“Quite possibly at the peak of their fame, this random guy told him, ‘’Yeah man, I was at the (Halifax junior hockey) Mooseheads game and I heard your song on the Megatron. You guys are doing good!’”

“That’s just to say how disconnected the Quebec music scene is in my community,” says Guimond.

But he is proud to share that community spirit with Quebec and across Canada. 

During the early days of the pandemic, Guimond recorded a selection of covers by a childhood hero, singer-guitarist Baptiste Comeau, whom no one outside of Clare had ever heard of until the …chante Baptiste EP dropped in 2021.

“The most I know about him is he was a mechanic and a bus driver in Clare and Concession,” Guimond recounted.

“He had an SG. I don’t know if it was a Gibson or an Epiphone, but there was a big hole drilled in the body, just randomly, for no reason. He’d hook up to a tape recorder and a mic and just start writing songs about local stories and thoughts he had, in his patois. Rough around the edges. He did it himself. Not the best singer, his guitar wasn’t usually tuned, that kind of thing.” 

Guimond cites Comeau, hyper sincerely, as a huge influence on P’tit Belliveau.

“I heard him on the radio growing up and I always thought it was sick. Just a little drum machine, guitar and vocals. That’s kind of the basis for my project. The concept of stupid little country songs with a drum machine and local stories.”

While those devices remain at the core of Un homme et son piano, (which is currently longlisted for the 2022 Polaris Music Prize) there is also an evolution from Greatest Hits Vol.1 toward more orchestral composition and enriched production on P’tit Belliveau’s sophomore album.

But Guimond says he doesn’t waste time sitting around considering intention.

“I want to make something more emotional? Obviously, I’m just gonna add strings. Obviously! 

“I’m just using my own head. I think a lot of people will have that same thought and then try to do something else, so it doesn’t seem so obvious. 

“And I’ve definitely been like that,” he quickly added. 

“With my old project before P’tit Belliveau, I tried so hard to be unique and original that I made unlistenable garbage that wasn’t relatable to anybody. 

“Now, I get a thought, and I just do it.”

Therein lies Guimond’s honesty, which he laments is too often confused for irony. He points to an experience before the spring Francos shows as a perfect example. 

He and his band, les Grosse Coques, needed a rehearsal space to practice Papa Roach’s “Last Resort,” which they planned to perform as an encore. 

“The people there just looked at us like, ‘Yeah, right, okay,’” he says, mimicking the universal too-cool tone.

“And I’m laughing (now) because I know it is ridiculous. I’m not so self-unaware that I don’t think people aren’t gonna find it ridiculous and funny. But the main reason we did it is that we knew it was gonna kill.”

Guimond reasons that irony is often just insecurity disguised as appreciation for things conventionally judged to be uncool.

“When I was very young, I didn’t know that nu-metal was for nerds,” he said. “I grew up in the sticks. When I watched nu-metal videos, without internet access, I thought it was the epitome of cool. 

“Like, Korn wearing Adidas tracksuits and going crazy in the videos, all jittery. I thought it was so sick. And in a nostalgic way, my template for cool is that era. If I want to be a cool rock star, that’s the kind of thing I think about,” Guimond explained.

“I do enjoy absurd humour sometimes. But a lot of what I do is very much in earnest. And people just assume I’m this young guy who they think is some hipster. Like there’s no way I would do this seriously. 

“And I’m not going to go tell them,” he continues. “But what I do is heartfelt and in earnest. Because inherently, their type of irony is at someone else’s expense.”

But Guimond, who aspires to eventually become a full-on producer, is clearly more invested in genuine feelings than in shunning contrived, wannabe genius.

“I’m trying to do an homage to things I love. And I don’t think of myself as a particularly original person. I’m just very interested in highlighting the things people discount.” ■

This article was originally published in the July 2022 issue of Cult MTL. 

For more on P’tit Belliveau, please visit his website.

For more music coverage, please visit the Music section.