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FONTINE Is Here To Soothe Your Soul

Queen of the road, king of the song, the Cree folk-pop songstress makes beautiful music for the aching queer heart.

by Michelle Cavaleri

Photo by Jen Doerksen

After three years of late nights spent writing, arranging, and co-producing, singer-songwriter FONTINE is giving listeners a snapshot into her world and who she is as an artist with the release of Yarrow Lover.

Raised in a musically-inclined environment with her parents blasting classic rock on a daily basis, FONTINE always envisioned a career for herself in the music industry. Her father Shaun Beavis is a seasoned musician and would take her out on tour with him before she could even talk. As a result, FONTINE grew up surrounded by fans at concerts and rubbing shoulders with musicians backstage. It was during these pivotal moments that she discovered her desire for music, life on the road, and all the craziness that comes with it. Drawing inspiration from artists like Avril Lavigne, Three Days Grace, and Sum 41, the young artist went on to craft a distinctive folk pop sound that draws heavily from her Cree heritage. 

Yarrow Lover navigates the highs and lows of heartbreak, grief, and her Nehiyaw Iskwew roots. In particular, the track “4AM” showcases her raw, unfiltered emotions, immediately transporting listeners to the exact moment she recorded the track. “Nature” finds FONTINE mimicking birds, winds, and water sounds as a tribute to her love for her heritage and land, while also expressing sorrow at the loss of countless missing and murdered Indigenous people. 

In only a short time FONTINE has made sizeable waves within the music industry, having just completed a tour with The Sheepdogs and Boy Golden, releasing her debut single while on tour. Collaborating with her former roommate and co-producer, Kris Ulrich, FONTINE weaves a captivating narrative of love, loss, and the natural world.

We spoke with FONTINE about her upbringing, the inspiration behind Yarrow Lover, and her future as a rising star.

Who are you and how would you describe the kind of music you create? 

I am FONTINE! A queer, Cree and settler, average joe musician who loves hanging out with her friends, smelling flowers, digging in the dirt, drinking tea and beer, collecting Pyrex, and watching reality tv with my partner. I think I would describe the music I create as music for the aching queer heart. This EP specifically is soft and melancholy based in a sort of pop folk sound. It was representative of the fragile and also hopeful state I was in at the time we made it.

What does an average day look like for you? 

An average day looks like waking up and making my girlfriend breakfast every day; I look forward to it every morning! She goes to work and I putter around the house in between trying to sit down and get emails done. I will journal a bit, and if inspiration strikes, try to write a song. I feel like I have been on tour for so long that I don’t really remember what a normal day looks like so I am looking forward to getting back into a bit of a routine! 

Your single, “Homemaker” conveys a message about being at a stage in your life where you are comfortable, thus losing your true self in the process. What inspired you to write about this? 

I was in a relationship at the time that was too comfortable. It was easy to do the same thing day in and day out and I found myself feeling a little lost and not feeling like who I was or wanted to be anymore. I think I wrote it to kind of bring myself back to reality and understand what it was that really meant to be Fontine.

Nature is a recurring theme in your writing, with “Nature Song” specifically addressing the fragility and importance of preserving the natural world. Can you speak to the motivation behind your choice to explore this topic and how it reflects on your perspective and values as a writer? 

This song kind of surrounds a couple of big heavy and important topics. I actually wrote this song with MMIWG2S (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People) in mind. I was thinking about how every time an Indigenous person goes missing,  my (and all my relations) heart is flooded with ache and pain. We are all connected. This is a much larger issue that would need an entire other interview to speak about, however in regards to this song, I was hurting. Feeling loss and pain, and also thinking about how we as Indigenous people are so connected to the land. We feel loss and pain when the land is hurt, much like we do when another human is hurt. This song is me thinking about how far in the wrong direction we as a human species have gone, and hoping that we can get back to the way it once was.

Can you briefly explain ways that your Nehiyaw Iskwew roots inform your creative process and the songs on the album? 

I draw inspiration from the natural world around me, listening to and mimicking sounds of the wind rustling, ice crunching under my feet, birds chirping, water flowing, etc. I feel really connected to the land because of my Cree heritage, and being able to convey that connection through my art is something I find really special and important. Music is also a tool for connection. We have been making music since the dawn of time, and when I create, sing and play, I feel connected to my ancestors. 

Your track “4am” stood out to me for its unique structure that deviated from traditional song format and its ability to convey the feeling of an impromptu, raw, and unfiltered expression of emotion. Can you share a bit about your process behind its composition and how you achieved this distinctive style? 

So I literally wrote this song at 4 a.m. one night early in the pandemic. My sleeping hours were all out of whack and I was staying up super late and doing whatever I wanted, feeling really strange as I’m sure we all were. My room was in the upstairs loft area of the house I was living in at the time, and there was a thunderstorm happening at four in the morning that I was still awake listening to. I decided it would be the perfect time to write a song, but I wanted to try to convey the feeling and sounds of rain and thunder. Kris Ulrich (co-producer and engineer) and I recorded it quite some time after I had written it, and we wanted to make something really cool. We sat down in his studio and I sang and played the guitar without a metronome so I could be really free with the timing. We layered in the other instruments and some weird harmonies but wanted the recording to feel pretty spacious, so we were very careful about not adding too much. I think “4AM” is actually my favourite song on the EP because of how different it is. 

What was it like collaborating with your co-producer Kris Ulrich? 

Kris Ulrich is one of my best friends, he was my roommate at the time, and it was just an all around really fun and easy time making music with him. Because we lived together, and his studio was in the house, we could really chip away at songs whenever we felt like it. There was no need to finish something in one sitting, and at the same time we could work for as many hours in a day as we felt like working. If we were on a roll, we would go until we needed a break. He had so many incredible ideas for these songs, and it was the first time in a recording scenario that I really felt comfortable bringing forward the ideas I had without hesitation. I credit Kris, and am endlessly grateful to him for helping me find the sound that felt the most like FONTINE for these particular songs. 

Can you share with me your vision for the setting in which you imagine your fans would most enjoy listening to this EP? Are there any specific experiences or emotions you hope to evoke for your listeners? 

I think listeners would most enjoy listening to this EP on a warm summer day when the sun is shining; maybe they are in their car with the windows rolled down and can smell the fresh air. Maybe they are at home with a cup of tea, watering their plants with the record on in the background. Maybe they have just gone through a breakup and are snuggling their cat and laying on the floor listening to the songs. I hope whoever is listening can feel hopeful that no matter what they are going through at the time, things are going to get better. Specifically queer folks, to be able to have some very obviously gay music to listen to when they need a little pick me up or something to soothe the soul. I really hope this EP can do that for them.

What are your goals as an artist for 2023? 

My goals this year are to finish a brand new full length record that is already in the works, write a bunch of new songs, and get my guitar chops up. I want to tour this EP a little bit, just a small run of shows in the springtime, and I am excited for festival season!