A self-driven singer/songwriter, Geneviève Bellemare instills her music with moody soulfulness and an inventive sense of melody. For her debut album “Melancholy Fever“, the Vancouver-born, L.A.-based 23-year-old worked with producers Mitchell Froom (Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello), Tony Berg (Nickel Creek), Paul O’Duffy (Amy Winehouse), and Busbee (Ingrid Michaelson) to dream up a brightly arranged breed of pop, which, when paired with classic drum breaks, results in a stark and soulful sound that isn’t easily categorized. Mining inspiration from singers with an off-kilter feel for harmony and tone — her favorites include Astrud Gilbert, Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser, and Yukimi Nagano — Bellemare deepens that sound with a siren-like vocal presence that conveys every nuance of emotion.
At turns delicate and powerful, those vocals have been honed through a near-lifetime of practice. “I’ve been singing forever,” says Bellemare, who lived in Vancouver until age 11 and then moved to McMinnville, Oregon. “I grew up singing in church and at summer camp, and at home I’d get up on the table and sing Whitney Houston.” At age 14, after giving up on singing and focusing on dance for several years (“I went through a period of feeling like I didn’t have a good voice, and I’m the type of person who only does something if I know I’m going to be good at it”), Bellemare found her love of singing re-sparked by one of her mom’s Diana Krall records. “I started singing along and just had a feeling like, ‘Whoa, I can kinda do this jazz thing,’” she says. Still unsure of her vocal ability, Bellemare asked her dance teacher (also a vocal coach) to give her private singing lessons. “I told her I’d watch her cats while she was out of town, but I wanted to keep it a secret,” she says. “She taught me for a while, and I didn’t ever tell anybody about it.”
Once she’d placed highly in some local singing competitions, Bellemare quit dancing and devoted herself to music, which included taking up songwriting and forming a band at the start of high school. When the band headed into a local studio to record a batch of her songs, the studio owner was so struck by Bellemare’s songwriting and vocal prowess that he passed the recordings off to the director/founder of indie label Palawan Productions. Bellemare, then 15, signed with Palawan and cycled through several bands over the next few years — during which time she dropped out of high school and moved to Corvallis — and eventually caught the attention of Verve Music Group chairman David Foster with “The Hills” (a sparse and sultry quasi-cover of the title song from The Sound of Music). Through Palawan, Bellemare inked a deal with Verve in the fall of 2012 and relocated to L.A. to begin working on her first album.
Recorded in London and L.A., “Melancholy Fever” arrives as the follow-up to Bellemare’s debut EP “Live and Die” (a 2014 release acclaimed by NPR, who noted that “Live and Die” is “carefully composed, but her singing makes it all feel intuitive”). Throughout the album, Bellemare draws from her vast repertoire of melody to explore various dimensions of feeling. With its soul-pop stylings and urgent rhythm, “Shenanigans” twists lyrics like “You make me feel like a crazy bitch” into an unlikely message of empowerment (“I wrote that song partly as a way to deal with a few situations where I’d come off as weak, and really wanted to prove myself,” says Bellemare). “You Love, You Love” features slinky guitar and elegantly hateful lyrics directed at “those guys who keep you around mostly just because they enjoy torturing you,” while the darkly charged “Burned” channels what Bellemare calls “the feeling that you’ve used up so much of yourself — because of love or addiction or whatever else you’re going through — that now there’s just nothing left.” And on the breezy but bittersweet, piano-driven “Next One,” Bellemare meditates on the impermanence of passion. “I started that one on the Underground in London and stayed up until 6 a.m. working on it at my hostel,” she recalls. “It’s about getting infatuated with people really easily but also getting bored really easily — sort of a way of singing a mini-love song to someone before moving on.”
Elsewhere on “Melancholy Fever”, Bellemare shows her pop instincts with tracks like the R&B-flavored “Better” and the seductive, string-accented “Stay.” The album also reveals the timelessness of her sensibilities, with Bellemare belting out a masterful rendition of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David ballad “Don’t Make Me Over.” Not only evident in a vocal delivery that Eugene Weekly dubbed a “fragile, elegiac croon,” that timeless spirit manifests itself in what Mitchell Froom describes as “a depth of feeling that belies her age.” Bellemare, he continues, is “not exactly a soul singer, just absolutely real and soulful.”
True to that real-and-soulful dynamic, the songs on “Melancholy Fever” capture true pain but also offer a soothing effect. “A lot of the writing of this album had to do with me dealing with my anxiety,” Bellemare points out. “It’s like I’m talking to myself in the lyrics, trying to work things out so that I can handle them better.” So while it’s bracingly honest and intimate, “Melancholy Fever” ultimately leans toward a warm, wistful mood reflected in the album’s title. “Melancholy is something I gravitate toward — there’s a darkness to my music, but also a soft, nurturing feeling along with that,” says Bellemare. “Nothing’s too sad, nothing’s too angry, but nothing’s all that happy either. There’s a balance between all those elements, and I think that’s going to stay with me as my music evolves.”