BANFF – Laid off and sitting in a makeshift home recording studio, John Michealz scribbled down lyrics for a month to create the song about the shut-down mountain town he loves and the beauts living in it.
‘Quarantine Song,’ Michealz’s new single and music video about the COVID-19 situation in Banff and beyond was released in May, and unlike previous work from the Banff musician, Michealz was eager for this one to form a bond with its audience.
“I was desperate to make a song [that could] go viral, so I even Googled it, ‘How do you make a song go viral?’ and one of the topics was you have to hit a subject that relates to everybody at the time and that subject wasn’t just in the Bow Valley, but the whole world,” said Michealz, a.k.a Jean Michel Lamothe.
But before 'Quarantine Song' dropped, Lamothe was laid off due to the pandemic. He crashed to a low point and was ready to end his MC persona and call it quits on his dreams.
Lamothe, who was born on Grand Calumet Island, Que., quit hockey as a teen to pursue music and entertainment despite knowing the bleak news would break his dad’s heart.
"He's been hard [on my music career] because he wanted me to be a hockey player all my life," said Lamothe, who was named after NHL coaches Jean Perron of the Montreal Canadiens and Michel Bergeron of the Québec Nordiques. "When I quit for my music, he still hates [music] for it."
In 2013, Lamothe described himself as a “lost soul” after bouncing around the Quebec and Ottawa music scene. He voyaged out west and hitchhiked through the Rockies with a suitcase and guitar. He found solace in the popular town of Banff, which was meant to be a short stop before returning to Quebec. For months though, the struggling musician stayed in the resort town and busked on Banff Avenue, making barely enough money for that day’s food and shelter.
“I was following my heart. And it was hard,” Lamothe said. “All my focus was on music. I was ready to starve just to play music and I think at some point it’s not good. You got to find a balance.”
But before he knew it, things started to turn around for the starving artist, who styled himself after the reggae and hip hop genres. Lamothe found employment at local pubs in town, started hosting open mic gigs four days a week, and created the popular Banff Latin Fiesta with his spouse Catalina. The couple's first child was born in 2016 and their second is on its way for November.
Things started becoming comfortable for the guy who at one time didn't know if there'd be a roof over his head, or food on his plate.
But, for Lamothe, the comfortable lifestyle needed to change.
"My family has become my motivation," he said. "I'm thirsty for all the time [to do music] and financial security. The main mission is to write an album and make it go viral and provide for my family."
He said he wanted to do things the hard way – an entrepreneurial way.
Having started to build a solid reputation around town with small gigs and hosting open mics, Lamothe suddenly was on the verge of disaster. His ill-timed song ‘Never Work Again’ came out at the end of March, falling flat on its face with the recently unemployed listeners. And playing for “views and likes” wasn’t putting bread on the table – especially with a second child on the way.
“I thought it was going to be a big move, but it was the worst move ever,” said Lamothe.
It was the low-point for Lamothe’s music career as the flame died down to an ember. Then the pandemic hit.
“I was on the verge of quitting and I talked to my dad,” Lamothe said. “I said, ‘I never thought I’d tell you again, but think I’m going to give it [music] another shot’ and he said, ‘You know what? Maybe you’ll be able to tell your kids it was because of that incident you made it happen’ and that just gave me everything."
The “magic of being in quarantine” gave Lamothe energy to focus on family and music. He added all his work onto streaming service Spotify and other digital platforms in the hopes of lining his pockets with a bit more cash. After seven years of “learning the ropes in Banff and seeing what people want” at open mics, he gained invaluable insight on what kind of direction he'd start moving in.
"Now I'm writing about actuality," he said. "I put a bit of twist on every song with my genre ... because I play music for children and seniors, I just try to open as much ears as possible, so it's just my own style."
In addition, a music video was created for 'Quarantine Song' by Victor Saavedra Miranda, showcasing the deserted streets and closed businesses in the once lively town.
In 'Quarantine Song,' Lamothe wanted to take the grim reality and anxiety and flip it to "bring a little bit of hope" to town.
"There's always sunshine behind the clouds. Banff, man," he said.
'Quarantine Song' and Lamothe’s other work is available at the Facebook page John Michealz Music and on all major streaming and distribution platforms.