Updated: Dec 26, 2020
by Scott Roos
- Belle Plaine performs with husband Blake Berglund
It’s fair to say that life as an artist has been a true journey of self discovery for Fosston, Saskatchewan alt-country, singer-songwriter Melanie Berglund aka Belle Plaine. Beginning her musical endeavours at age six, Plaine studied voice until her high school graduation in 1998. She was then accepted into the Grant MacEwan University’s music program.
“Coming from small town Saskatchewan there wasn’t a music community as such. So I was experiencing living within the arts for the first time in my life and it swayed the direction of my life. It introduced me to people who thought arts were a viable career and I’m not sure I would have pursued arts in the way that I have had I not been immersed in that,” reminisces Plaine.
Graduating from Grant Mac in 2000, however, did not result in Plaine immediately pursuing a career in music.
“I had many years after art school where I didn’t pursue (music). I think I suffered from what a lot of people do when they study art of any kind where they have an imposter syndrome and I certainly felt that because I was surrounded by people whose skills felt like they exceeded mine in so many ways, and truthfully I can look back and see that that is true, but I also know that my skills are no less. I worked with great drummers and great improvisers. That is just what they were great at and my excellence lies in other (areas). That sounds so pompous to say it in that way but I’ll just say it,” explains Plaine.
After a few years of travelling, Plaine returned to Saskatchewan in 2006 ready to reconvene her musical career. She had been writing songs here and there but never to the extent of being able to call it “full time”.
A lot of her renewed inspiration came in working for the Globe Theatre. Working as a lighting tech, Plaine had many hours to think about life, the universe and everything in between. She also experienced first hand the joys of being a part of a team of artists working towards a common goal. Finally, Plaine was ready to get back to the limelight and her work on debut record Notes From a Waitress was the perfect vehicle. This eventually led to Plaine’s transformation from jazz over to the current more earthy, organic, rootsy country vibe of her latest full length, 2018’s Malice, Mercy, Grief and Wrath.
“Malice, Mercy, Grief and Wrath is a far more representative piece of what it is that I do. It’s a mix of things and less about a streamlined idea of just jazz. It has jazz (chord) changes, it has country (chord) changes in the musical makeup and the lyrical content is just trying to get at something that any writer is trying to do - just trying to connect and make people feel like they are not alone. That’s what music is meant to be,” says Plaine.
These are indeed strange times, however. COVID19 has struck the industry hard but has it stifled it? Plaine is not so sure.
“It’s oversimplified (to say) that we all need to transition into something new all of the sudden. As any singer-songwriter, especially those who are self managed - that’s where most of my community lives is sort of in this world of DIY - I think we are always looking at how we are behaving within the industry to keep our careers going. We are always finding ways to innovate so this has been a big shock in terms of how you really need to look at how we are doing things in a different light but it’s a necessary evolution. I’m 40 years old and I love what I do but I also know that (2019) was wonderful and insane. We were everywhere and we loved it and we look back on the year as it’s captured on social media and that’s just a fraction of what we were doing but to keep that pace. There’s no longevity in that, so learning how to exist differently was something that I was already conceiving and still wanting to tour and still wanting to travel. It’s an amplification of what I was already wondering how am I was going to keep this up. And I don’t have an answer (yet). It’s one thing at a time,” muses Plaine.
At the end of the day, Belle Plaine’s feet are firmly rooted in what she does. She has an understanding of herself that is deeply cerebral. She’s not pretentious. She’s just a realist. And that suits her just fine.
“The world is not a meritocracy. If you are good at something it doesn’t mean you are going to be the top of the heap as far as success goes. I think in terms of just being an artist if you want to exist in the world and enjoy what you do you just have to be happy about the choices you are making and feel that they represent you and if people connect to that then that’s the success. It’s not about what your social media looks like. It's not even about how many streams that you have,” continues Plaine, “I’ll be honest. The industry doesn’t care if you succeed. It’s kind of built to grind you down and you have to understand why you’re doing it and keep coming back to that.”
- all photographs by Deanna Roos and Contingent Colours Photography