By RYAN KING
– with files from René J. Roy
Jason Benoit is a West coast born and raised county singer with a music career spanning eight years, but there remains plenty on the horizon. Among his many memorable moments were various performances such as trying out for Canadian Idol, and winning a Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) award.
Born in Stephenville, Benoit grew up in West Bay Centre on the Port au Port peninsula. His family had strong French roots, though unfortunately, much of that sense of culture has diminished over time.
“Both of my parents’ grandparents spoke fluent French. But just because of the culture here at the time, when the church moved in, it was looked down upon in some communities to speak French. So, my parents lost their ability to speak fluent French,” explained Benoit. “It’s sad, because it would have been great to be bilingual.”
While his family’s French culture may have fallen by the wayside, one thing that remained within the family was music.
“Probably every two or three weekends we’d either go to a family member’s place – an aunt or uncle or grandparents – and there was always somebody showing up who’d play guitar,” recalled Benoit.
It was his brother that put Benoit on the path to become a musician, teaching him guitar at age 14. As a young man, making music served as a boon to his confidence and got him out of his shell. However, this skill was hard-earned only by playing for at least one hour a day.
“If it was a weekend where there wasn’t a lot going on, I’d play for four or five hours, messing around,” said Benoit. “I just really ate it up.”
The first inkling that this could be an actual career for Benoit happened around age 18, when the Arts and Culture Centre put on a ‘Country Night.’
“It was basically a fundraiser for the hospital here, and they’d have eight or ten different performers come in and sing two or three songs each,” said Benoit. “That was the beginning; what really drove me to go towards this career. I mean, just the feedback from the community was incredible.”
He then went on to play in local clubs around Stephenville and Corner Brook, and entered what competitions he could. Benoit won the Bay St. George Idol contest.
“It was their first one, and I won that one, and I still got the little trophy,” said Benoit.
He went on to hone his performing skills in local clubs and at the Arts and Culture Centre, playing alongside other musicians. However, in his heart Benoit is a solo artist.
“I was always a solo artist, so it’s not like I had a full band that I kind of always stuck with. Every time I left the province to do anything, I always had to get local guys from somewhere else, because it just cost too much to do anything anyways, to fly everybody out and stuff like that,” said Benoit.
The next big moment for Benoit was at age 21, when he tried out for Canadian Idol in St. John’s. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it past the first round.
“You’re never prepared for something like that, because you have to walk out in front of the judges, and there’s probably three cameras, and a bunch of lights planted at you. So that alone is like a deer-in-headlights kind of moment, because you don’t know what to expect when you get there. Then you’re standing in front of three of some of the most critical people that you could think of. The pressure to do that is absolutely unreal. So, I just kind of messed up what I was doing, and I didn’t really put my all into it, because I was so nervous.”
Benoit did not let this setback get him down. Instead he used the experience to drive his passion to accomplish more in the industry, posting his music online when he felt the songs were good enough. He shared his music with his cousin, who grew up with music executive, Jenson Vaughn, and who in turn shared it with him. Vaughn would then go on to become Benoit’s manager.
“He wrote for Madonna and a bunch of really big artists,” shared Benoit. “Because he started doing a lot more for me we decided, ‘Why don’t you jump into management?’ I thought it was a great idea, and he was a lot more experienced with that world than I was.”
It was during a break in a recording session for demos of his songs that Benoit cut his cover of ‘This is How it Feels.’ This was his first single and Billboard success, released in 2013 and rising to number 42 on the charts.
“It was a cover of an Armin Van Buuren pop song that came out at the time. The reason why I did that one was, my manager actually co-wrote that song, so we were just sitting around and recording some demos in Ontario, and I just started messing around with it. He loved how it sounded, so we decided it would be a good idea to present to Sony, because Sony was in Canada,” explained Benoit. “Vaughn, he was working with them to develop his own imprint record label, so that was the first one that they decided to release with Sony Music Canada.”
Further success followed in 2015, when Benoit had his first top ten hit. ‘Gone Long Gone’ went to No. 7 on the Canadian Billboard charts.
“I had three subsequent Top 3s, and I’m still recording now. It’s just radio is a little bit different than it was back then. They seemed to be playing a lot more independent at the time, and now it’s kind of shifted again back towards the majors,” noted Benoit. “But I’m still releasing music, and my latest single, ‘A Lot About A Little,’ is No. 4 right now on the CBC, Sirius XM CBC country station. So, that’s pretty cool, and it’s No. 10 on the Indigenous Country Top 40.”
It seems 2015 continued to be an eventful year as Benoit also won the CCMA Discovery Atlantic Award for his country music success. Another notable award followed in 2020, with Benoit taking home the East Coast Music Association award for Fan’s Choice Video for his single, ‘Slow Hand.’
With a series of successes behind him, Benoit continues to move forward, making a change with a new sound for an album that’s currently in the works, which will show him getting back to his musical roots.
“I’m really excited about this one. I think I’m at the point where I’m not chasing the radio sound anymore, and I’m going back more to my roots. So, it’s going to have a little more of a traditional sound. Well, I can’t call it traditional, because it’s technically not a traditional country album. It’s still going to have a newer tone to it, but I think the writing – there’s going to be a lot more soul into it – an old country soul kind of a style, like Hank Williams Jr.”
In September 2021, Benoit will also appear on the album ‘Covers From Away’, which is being released by Concord Records in Los Angeles. The album is being released by the creators of the hit Broadway show ‘Come From Away’ about the 7,000 passengers stranded in Gander on 9/11 and will showcase NL talent. Other artists appearing on the album will include Alan Doyle, the Irish Descendants, and Shanneyganock.
“I will be performing a mash-up of the hymn ‘Make Me a Channel of Your Peace’ and the traditional Mi’kmaq song by George Paul called ‘Honor Song’ to help represent Newfoundland’s Indigenous Mi’kmaq roots,” shared Benoit. “I’m very excited to be a part of it.”
On Friday, Aug. 27, Benoit will perform at the Road to Cavendish Fest in P.E.I. He will also be playing at the Festival Country de Lotbinière in Québec on Tuesday, Sept. 28.
For details on Jason Benoit’s music, check out his website online at: http://www.jasonbenoitmusic.com.