“My entire life was spent behind a guitar,” said J.P. Cormier. “All the places, people and things I encountered, all basically came out of that one instrument. After 47 years of playing and 39 years of being on the road full-time, I’m now just getting to live inside the world of this piece of wood and steel that I’ve utilized my entire life.”
The Nova Scotia singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist was reflecting on the past year and a half of his career, which has been spent on his YouTube channel. Every week he posts new episodes of A Life In Music, Guitar Stuff With John and the Wednesday night live broadcast of String Theory, an interactive question-and-answer show.
“It’s really heartening to see, not only the business people who are coming into the channel [as sponsors] and know a good word from me sells a guitar for them,” he said. “The bottom line of it is that people are buying guitars and learning to play music or re-kindling a love with the guitar. I think that’s one of the best things that came out of the entire pandemic. Music has been put way back up the list of important things in your life. I think that’s the best thing that could have ever happened to any of us. Music brings people together on an even playing field, no matter what colour your skin is or any of those things. It shreds all that away. You just become a human being in a group of people that love music. That’s magic. If we could bottle that and sell it, look out!”
Besides creating weekly online content, J.P. also maintains Master Music Method, the subscription service that contains detailed video lectures for guitar, fiddle, mandolin and banjo. As if that weren’t enough, he’s released his latest album, Us.
“Putting the album together was a natural occurrence because I was spending all my time in the studio. So when I wasn’t preparing YouTube content, I’d go to that record as a way to not do YouTube content for a while.”
The liner notes of Us speak to the belief that we are a single organism that can accomplish great things if we work together, J.P. said.
“Being faced with the pandemic, in the early days, I was thinking to myself, ‘This could be an extinction-level event,” he said. “You don’t know. When those sort of things happen, if you don’t open your eyes and see the truth of the matter, which I’ve described with the record, we have to start erasing boundaries between people as if there’s some great biological difference between all of us. There’s none. The album has hope in it, but personally, I really don’t have a lot of faith in us. I don’t think we’ll be able to do anything of the sort. But it doesn’t hurt to stand on top of the hill and scream it once in awhile.”
So how difficult is it to write optimistic songs when faced with that pessimistic reality?
“Well there are parts of the human experience that are uplifting and full of hope,” he said, “no matter how much darkness surrounds them. We still have people that are kind and trying to help their fellow man. You have love between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man, it doesn’t matter. If you have love between people that transcends everything that’s crappy about the world. That’s how we’ve all managed to survive for the last thousand years. As bad as the world is, I can walk in my house, look at my wife and go, ‘Well, I’m safe here for now.’ There are hopeful bits in our mechanisms as human beings. We should try to start focusing on them and projecting that stuff outward instead of using it as a place to hide from all the darkness.”
Part of that projection of hopefulness is displayed in 'Meagan’s Song' and in 'David’s Song,' songs that J.P. wrote for his wife and for his best friend Dave Gunning. For J.P., they exemplify the qualities of character that he admires in people.
“The biggest thing is how much and how often and how vigorously someone stands up and speaks for someone who cannot speak for themselves,” J. P. explained. “My wife does that all the time. She’s a very conscious person. She’s a mathematician and a pilot. She studied logic and philosophy in college, so she sees something, and it’s black and white to her. Dave’s the same way except Dave is the other side of the spectrum, which is the emotional side. He’s very smart in his defense of those who need defending. But I think he gets maybe 90 per cent of his fuel for those fights from his heart. You can’t help but idolize people like that.”
While Guitar Stuff With John and String Theory are avenues to display J.P.’s love of all things guitar, A Life In Music is a chance to get insight on, and learn about, the man behind the guitar, starting from his childhood. In reflecting on his life, are there things J.P. has learned about himself?
“One of the things I’ve mainly learned about myself is a lot of the more unpleasant things that have happened in my life, I’ve blocked out and had to struggle to recall them. I think everybody does that. I think there are certain things that happen in your life that are so traumatic that you go, ‘OK, well I can’t change that. It’s affected me for the rest of my life, but I’m not going to look at that anymore because if I keep looking at it, it’s going to continue to negatively influence my life.’
“So you put it in a box, and it goes into the back of your head, and it’s there but you don’t look at it anymore. That’s one of the main things I found in doing up to 68 weeks of that series. I’m not even out of 2009 yet. The human mind has some incredible mechanisms to keep itself safe. But now that I’m older, age does a lot to temper those things. You start to look at things a little more Zen and [say], ‘Well, I’m still alive. Nobody died…in most cases.’ I’ve always had a fascination with psychology and mental health. I’ve dealt with those issues with myself and dozens of other people that I know. It’s a mine field.”
The opportunities for live concerts have been opening up lately, especially in Atlantic Canada. But for J.P. his priorities have shifted, he said.
“It’s not the same for me somehow,” he said. “Unless things really open up the way they were before all this happened, which I don’t believe is going to happen. There’s a whole new mindset now. One of the reasons I don’t intend really to go back on the road as hard as I was [is] the YouTube channel is going to continue and grow. I’m going to augment that with live performances. I enjoy this a lot. It brings me hours of wonder and research and practice. That was something that was missing from my life for 30 years, because all I did was get in a vehicle and drive to the next show and play and play and play and play until it all just became a blur.”
For more information on J.P. Cormier and his new album Us, go to jp-cormier.com.