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Interviews, Music

Live and Die: An Interview with Geneviève Bellemare‏

By: Anan Rahman (@anan_ra

Geneviève Bellemare‏.

Geneviève Bellemare‏.

Geneviève Bellemare‏ sounds slightly reticent over the phone. The Canadian-born songstress who recently released her debut EP, Live and Die, sounds hesitant, as if unsure of how much she should reveal to a complete stranger. She takes her time, choosing her words carefully; but when she hits upon an idea that sparks something in her, she runs with it. You get the feeling that it’s the same combination of insecurity and instinct that animates Bellemare’s songs. We spoke to the singer to find out more about her musical journey.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Where did your musical journey start?

I mean I grew up singing in church, but I stopped singing for a long time because I didn’t think I was very good at it. Then I started doing dancing, and my dance teacher happened to be a vocal teacher as well, like more Broadway stuff, and jazz. And I started paying closer attention to jazz artists that my mom listened to around the house, stuff like Natalie Cole and Diana Krall. That got me singing in a different style of music than church music.

So I asked my teacher, Mrs. Kathy, “Can I babysit your cats while you’re on trips, and I’ll feed your cats, but you can’t tell my mom.” Because I didn’t want my mom to know I was taking vocal lessons. I didn’t want anyone to know.

Why is that?

I don’t know. It’s like a weird thing. If I don’t know that I’m good at something, I don’t want anyone to know that I’m doing it.

Is it a perfectionist thing?

I think so, yeah. I think if I like what I’ve done, then I’ll show people what I can do. But if I suck, then nobody can ever know that I was trying it. And so we started doing vocal lessons at my teacher’s house. We did quirky, corny jazz ballads.

There’s a completion in Oregon when I was around 13 in the small town I lived in at this ghetto church. And so I said okay, I’ll do that. And my friend was doing it too. She had done it a lot, and had a lot of trophies, and I had never won a trophy in my life. And so I was like “yes, I’m gonna do this.”

And then I told my mom about it, and she was really surprised, because I don’t think she really knew that I was singing non-church music. At that point maybe she suspected that I was taking vocal lessons.

But in general, it was a very musical household. Both my brothers play guitar, one of them sings, and plays guitar, piano, and anything you put into his hands. My mom is also a really good singer, she was in the choir. My dad plays every instrument as well. So it’s pretty much in my DNA.

Tell me about the EP. Did you have any overarching themes that you wanted to explore, or did it come about more organically?

They were definitely organic. I had no focus as to what I was going for. It just kinda happened, and it all happened to be cohesive. And it happened to be the type of thing that it ended up being.

What is your songwriting process like? Does the music come first, or the lyrics?

Well, what I used to do is hum a melodies into my phone, and then I’d have a bunch of melodies, and I’d pick one that I like. And then maybe I’d do another line or melody, and that would become the chorus or the verse. And then maybe I’d do lyrics later. Like lyrics always come second for me.

But when I started working with producers who were co-writers, it was a lot different for me. It was awesome actually, because it’s a lot easier. Because what I found was the best way for me is if I choose some type of a drum loop, some thing rhythmic. And then we put that down, and there’s no chords, or anything that’s creating any larger structure that will make me go a certain direction. Then I’ll start singing a melody over it. And I’ll do that for however long as I feel necessary. And then I’ll come back out and we’ll listen to it. And we’ll choose things that we like. And even if it’s just one thing we get from it, we’ll start building off of that. And then we’ll start adding instrumentation and all that stuff to it. So there’s a lot of improvisation that goes on in the studio.

Geneviève Bellemare‏'s new EP, Live and Die, features a blend of different genres from rock to jazz to electronica.

Geneviève Bellemare‏’s new EP, Live and Die, features a blend of different genres from rock to jazz to electronica.

What about the music itself? The EP is musically quite rich, ranging from rock to jazz to electronica. How did the musical direction of the EP evolve?

That’s kind of a hard thing for me to answer. I mean, I guess I know what people mean when they’re referring to more obvious things like rock and jazz and electronica, but it’s just something that I don’t necessarily realize that I’m doing. I don’t know where it comes from, but it probably has to do with the fact that these are types of music that I get influenced by. So it somehow transfers into the song.

Yes, often these things happen on a subconscious level.

Yes, that’s what it is. I think a lot of my songwriting in general is very subconscious. People always ask me, “Hey, what is this song about?” And I don’t really know! I don’t know how to answer! Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. I’m not doing things super consciously. I think that’s the beauty of having music as a natural thing because it feels really effortless and therapeutic. It’s like you don’t have to be super conscious about it.

Yes, your lyrics seem quite impressionistic. They don’t give too much away, but you get flashes of occasional clarity.

Yes, I think that’s not something that I mean to do but I think that I find it hard to be vulnerable and be super open in general. I’m a very private person. I think with writing, I might be consciously or subconsciously trying to give a little bit away without letting people know exactly what’s happening. So it’s left a little bit in the air.

You’ve worked with producers that range from Mitchell Froom to Tony Berg. What effect did these collaborations have on the EP and recording process?

So Mitchell Froom worked on two songs. There is something really special about Mitchell Froom. He opened up this whole entire other area for me that I had never visited and it was really fun. Just a lot of different things from anything that I had done. And I thought it was really neat, everything that we would do together. I think the songs that we would do together, there’s a very dark element to it, but also very beautiful. That’s the way we describe it. He just really likes things that groove. He was really fun to work with.

Tony Berg was the other guy who makes everything sound really cool. He still keeps a really cool element to it. He brings more of the practical side of the music to me. He makes sure there is a song structure. He makes sure there is something that people can feel connected to. And he pays attention to close detail, he’ll consider the people who are listening to it.

And that was really good for me to have because it was something I tend to forget. Like when I record something, I think that “Well, I like it. So who cares if no one else does? This is for me.” But no, you have to connect with your people, your fans.

What do you love about music?

What I love about it is the nostalgia that it can bring to you. Certain songs that I hear…I can smell things and taste things. And I feel super strong memories when I hear some songs. I love the impact that it can have on you, because if you’re feeling bad, there are some artists that you can sulk and listen to and it makes you feel better because you’re getting some kind of release. Then there’s happy music, summer music, there’s winter music. It just goes with everything. That’s why I love it.

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