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!”

You wouldn’t guess it – especially when listening to “Uebok,” a song sung in Russian that’s been viewed nearly two million times on YouTube – but Apashe lives and works in Montréal. It’s in his Mile End studio that he composed Renaissance, an orchestral/electro album recorded in Prague with a 65-piece orchestra.

ApasheJohn De Buck, a.k.a. Apashe, is a special case. Born in Belgium, his Francophone parents chose to enroll him in a Dutch-language school, and the now-trilingual producer completed a degree in electro-acoustic music at Concordia University before his career exploded. To this day, he’s written music for ad campaigns by Budweiser, Adidas, and Samsung. Famous franchises such as Marvel and Fast and Furious have also availed themselves of his services.

We meet with him in the office of his record label, Kannibalen Records, also home to Black Tiger Sex Machine. It turns out De Buck is the antithesis of his music, which is full of abrupt drops, intense buildups, and frenetic crescendos. The man is calm and affable.

The secret of his success? Following his instinct. “My team and I work in a very organic way,” he says. “We create music, we put it on the internet, and we wait and see. It grew very naturally, to be honest, we never really tried to push things. But we’ve now gotten to a point where the projects we get are huge!”

Huge? The word could hardly be more appropriate. SOCAN members who see and hear their sheet music played by a horde of seasoned musicians in Prague’s Dvořák Hall are few and far between. After seducing the dubstep world and ad agencies, Apashe was chosen for a substantial subsidy, the first of his career.

“Up to this point, I’ve always been 100% independent,” he says. “We were so used to doing things on our own that now, if someone gives us the financial means, we’re like ‘Yo! Let’s go all out!’ Without FACTOR’s help, I wouldn’t have had the chance to work with the orchestra. I owe them that.”

We already knew he had a knack for epic, opera-like creations. But this time around, he’s not re-mixing a Mozart concerto. It’s his own creations. “I listened to a lot of classical music when I grew up, all the great composers,” says Apashe. “Now I’m exploring the lesser-known composers. I listened to a lot of movie soundtracks, and they’re generally classically-trained composers who work with orchestras. People like Daniel Hoffman, Philip Glass, or even Hans Zimmer… People always tell me I make cinematic music, but the thing is, when I try to do something else, I just can’t.”

Apashe’s love of strings, and especially sacred music, has been well-known for a long time. He also loves foreboding and heavily treated choirs, to add another level of intensity to his music. “I’m not sure exactly where that comes from, it’s quite strange,” he says. “I just love grandiose and supernatural sounds. Just like bass music! It’s heavy and immense, like classical music. That’s why I want to bring them together.”

This penchant from dramatic sounds doesn’t mean he can’t flirt with hip-hop, such as when he collaborates with Instasamka. Their collaboration might have seemed improbable at first, but it was unavoidable. “I wanted someone to rap in Russian over the melody of ‘The Little Birch Tree,’ a very popular folk song in Eastern Europe,” Apashe explains. “I asked my contacts over there, and she [Intasamka] was highly recommended. They told me she’s more of a comedian and influencer, but that she had just dropped a kick-ass album. I listened to it and thought it was perfect. I wrote to her manager and he told me she knew my 2014 track ‘No Twerk.’ She said yes right away, and within a week everything was done.”

The video, which was filmed between his appearance at the Sziget Festival in Budapest and à concert in Nizhny Novgorod, is articulated around Russian stereotypes. A ride on a tank, bare-chested hunting (à la Vladimir Putin), a face-to-face with a bear… The images that play over “Uebok” allow Apashe to add a touch of humour and self-deprecation. Clearly, aspiring to excellence hasn’t gone to his head.