Stepping out of shadows
Winnipeg singer/songwriter Fontine Beavis fights imposter syndrome, releases debut EP
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Statistically speaking, in your whole entire life, you have likely never met a single person on planet earth with the first name Fontine.
Neither has Fontine Beavis.
“Not once,” she says the day after her moving debut EP, Yarrow Lover, was released on streaming services and her Bandcamp page.
It’s not a bad thing to have a unique name; in a monotonous world, it’s a gift. One-note is the last adjective one should use to describe Fontine. Often seen on stage in a blue corduroy hat that reads “Big Rig,” she is equal parts cowboy and cartoon character, emanating so much joy and warmth that it might seem from a distance to be a happy facade.
It is not.
When Fontine swings open the door to her Osborne Village apartment — with ceilings that feel too high to be in Winnipeg — she is exactly how she appears on stage. Her laugh bubbles upward and outward like it’s trying to escape from inside.
She sits down at her dining room table, in front of a buffet filled with liquor bottles, vintage Polaroid cameras, and topped by a letter board reading, “Happy Valentines Gay.” She offers a glass of water, while her cats George and Lily assess their latest houseguest. Her girlfriend Leah arrives home with a bouquet of flowers and gently leaves them on the table.
For years, Fontine has been slowly building toward releasing music of her own. While on tour with her friend Boy Golden, and especially at last summer’s Winnipeg Folk Fest, Fontine — a queer singer of Cree-settler descent — often stole the show, belting out rich harmonies with ease and good humour.
“As a part of a band, I get to play a character,” she says. Playing herself, on the other hand, was not so easy. Many of the seven songs on Yarrow Lover have been percolating in Fontine’s brain for years, but she needed some convincing that they were worth hearing. Imposter syndrome, have you heard of it?
“I’m not a very organized person, so my friend Jen Doerksen had a very big hand in pushing me to put this music out there,” Fontine says. “While on tour (with Boy Golden), (Doerksen) said, ‘We have a day off, let’s sit down and put this all together.’ I said, ‘OK. Sick!’”
Along with a circle of local musicians which included Kris Ulrich, Liam Duncan, Roman Clarke, and Micah Erenberg, who recorded the EP’s terrific final track, This Mess, on tape, Fontine made good on a personal promise to share her songwriting with the world.
“Performing solo for the first time I was an absolute nerve-ball,” she says. “It’s not at all what I was used to. Getting on stage and being me was very scary. Coming up with banter, whatever comes out of my mouth comes out of my mouth, and I think it’s really stupid most of the time, but I’ve heard a lot of people saying it’s really endearing.” That’s the imposter syndrome talking, but she’s gotten used to it.
“The only scary thing now is the silence when I have to tune my guitar,” she says.
Growing up in Brandon, Fontine sang in youth choirs and was a keen participant in musical theatre productions. “I was Martha Dunnstock in Heathers: The Musical,” she says, proudly, with a copy of the musical’s book a few feet away. “And I wanted to be a rockstar like Avril Lavigne,” she adds later.
She also grew up as a musician’s daughter: her father, Shaun Beavis, was a member of the award-winning Saskatchewan country band The Johner Brothers. “I as a kid went on tour with them,” she says.
“I was probably 10, and I have no idea where we were, but I was backstage. There were a lot of kids there, and I was peeking out to watch. In the middle of their set, some kid asked who I was and Brad Johner, the frontman, said, ‘That’s Fontine,’” she recalls. “The kids said, ‘Can we meet her?’ and so after the show I went out and signed autographs for everyone. That was the first time I signed one.”
She’s signed a few more since, but the release of Yarrow Lover, with hopes for a limited vinyl pressing, could require more Sharpies.
Her signature is seven letters long, and it isn’t the same as anyone else’s.
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Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.