Montreal-based musician Jean-Sébastien Baciu talks about his experiences at Bishop’s and about working in Québec’s music industry.
Originally from Montreal, Jean-Sébastien became very passionate about music at a young age. By the time he was 12 years old, he could play the bass and read music, which surprised his high school music teachers who expected him to play the flute. Although he played baseball and hockey and was generally quite good at sports, he already knew that music was going to be it for him and chose to pursue his passion fully. “It was just like, tunnel-vision. I was gonna be a musician … I had the talent to go play baseball and sports, but I was just like ‘nah.’ When I was sixteen the music took over even more,” he explains.
Describing himself as a “metalhead,” he wasn’t interested in most Québecois music growing up but adds that, every once in a while, he would hear something on the radio that would be the exception. He names for example the song I’ll always be there, by Roch Voisine, with whom, funnily, he now works. His love for metal and rock music eventually led him to take a gap year and spend a few months in California with a metal band he had formed with a Cégep friend. He played the bass and worked at a music store for almost six months until he decided to come back to finish his studies at Bishop’s. “And I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do that kind of a metal band, you know … there were a lot of bands, but none were really good, so after a while I decided I kind of just wanted to finish my studies, so I came to Bishop’s.”
Baciu started his studies here in both music and education, but immediately realized he did not want to teach; he wanted to play. “I just knew what I wanted for so long,” he says. So, he dropped the education major and instead did his major in Music Theory and Composition. “It was fantastic … I would never go back to high school, but I would go back to university,” he says. He attributes much of his success to the quality of the teachers he had and the fact that the program was small enough to create real connections with professors and fellow students. Jean-Sébastien explains that his relationships with his professors definitely were “on a deeper level” than they would have been in a larger university. All of his professors pushed him to pursue opportunities that he might not have gotten in a bigger university and to develop his skills in many different ways. He adds that there is something special about music teachers and students who are invested; “it creates a lifetime bond.” He shares with a smile that, back in the days, there may have even been a contest between students and teachers measuring who could eat the most hot peppers… And that he may have won.
Up to this day, he remains in touch with professor, composer and Juno Award recipient, Dr. Andrew MacDonald, and a few other professors and classmates. “There was a lot of talent in that small department.” He also adds, “I was lucky to have [that kind of relationship] with Andrew. He pushed me in so many ways. He pushed me to do orchestral music, even if I wasn’t confident, he pushed me to do some jazz, and when they had guests coming in, he would push me to go play with them.”
After finishing his B.A., he chose to leave Sherbrooke to focus on building his career in the Montreal region, where the music scene was already well-established. He explains that the importance of immersing oneself in a community to develop a network is especially crucial in the arts and that Sherbrooke simply wasn’t there yet. “There’s a lot of great musicians, but there’s not a community, like there is in Montreal.” Even now, fifteen years later, most of the opportunities that present themselves to artists are in Montreal and musicians continue to converge there from all around Québec.
He however managed to make solid connections in his time in Sherbrooke, from visiting artists to classmates, and even through coworkers at the mall’s HMV where he worked part-time. From one of these connections, Jean-Sébastien played for a while with Jonas & The Massive Attraction, accompanying the group in Afghanistan to play for the Canadian troops in 2006 and 2008. “It was a great experience. You bring that back, you’re a changed person. Your views of the world are different.”
It is also through one of his connections that, in 2016, Jean-Sébastien met Roch Voisine, who had been active and very successful on Québec’s music scene since the late 1980s. He was putting together some demos and Jean-Sébastien was invited to contribute. The demos were so well received, they were asked for an album, and Jean-Sébastien became a co-producer, as well as playing most of the guitar, and the bass on the album’s recorded track. The resulting album, Devant Nous, was released in 2017 and toured through Europe in 2018. “Being named Roch Voisine’s band leader – musical director – I mean, that’s one of the highlights of my career. Roch is one of the biggest names in Canada and he’s huge in Europe … I’m honoured. It is a great honour to be in that position.”
Aside from music, Jean-Sébastien is also a skilled photographer who dabbles in portraits, travel and landscapes. A talent that he especially developed during COVID, alongside the few small shows they were able to play. It is now blooming into a thriving side business. “COVID was very beneficial actually … Last year, I had a lot of musician friends who needed album covers and that just snowballed, and now Roch called me up for some photos of his family … People are starting to notice and I’m getting calls.” He explains that he is booked until January of 2022 so he will be staying busy in-between shows.
Although COVID was a productive time for him, it was not without hardships. “I learned on Facebook that [an old band member] died. I went to the funeral … a lot of artists took [the pandemic] very hard … I had to keep busy.” He adds with a chuckle: “Thank God for Games of Thrones.”
In the Fall of this year, Americana Light will be touring across Québec to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Roch Voisine’s album Americana, released in 2011. The album covers popular American country-folk-rock songs. They will also make a stop in Sherbrooke on the 16th of October at the Salle Maurice-O’Bready.
Baciu’s advice to current students is to “dive into everything.” Be part of frosh week. Go to sports events. See plays. Listen to the choir. Go to wings nights. Be curious. Participate as much as you can. He explains that Bishop’s was a grounding space from which he developed a professional network, made lifelong friends and experimented with different passions. “Every decision I’ve made in life I can tie back to Bishop’s,” he says.
Good advice. Thanks J-S.