One of the defining experiences of my adolescence was sitting on the beds of various friends while they played songs they had written spontaneously on mildly out of tune acoustic guitars. The feeling of a song sung directly to me, not in some mystical way but in a very tangible one, was simultaneously chilling and invigorating. While Azniv Korkejian’s debut album, eponymously entitled Bedouine, is anything but out of tune, it induces the same intimate feelings, and leaves me aching with nostalgia.
Though she describes herself as “always musical in some way or another,” Korkejian admits she didn’t give much conscious thought to being a songwriter until the last five years or so, which makes it all the more surprising that her sound is full-bodied, self-contained, and strangely familiar, like an aroma that summons a long-forgotten face. Somewhat inevitably, her work has drawn comparisons to artists like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon, but she seems to regard these icons as fellow travelers rather than idols. Her song “Solitary Daughter” in particular has invoked a multitude of Cohen comparisons. “That song was written very quickly– I wrote it in one sitting, at night in my apartment. I had a night in, and just poured a drink for myself and sat at my window, and I was feeling kind of frustrated with my relationship with someone, and I felt like the illusion had shattered and I was shedding that skin and the song just poured out of me because of it.” Of Cohen, she adds, “He’s an artist that’s been on my radar as an adult, and someone I’ve respected for a long time but…at this point I’ve read more about him than I’ve actually listened to him. I have this…collection of interviews with him, and it’s so fantastic. It’s emotionally dense, but…I feel like I know what everyone knows about him, I know the songs that everyone knows.”
“Solitary Daughter” became her first collaboration with producer, Gus Seyffert, who met with her to discuss recording techniques and ended up taking her under his wing. “I just met with him to talk briefly about tape, because I wanted to record on my own with a tape machine, and I wanted to kinda put the songs away and not think about the songs that were piling up, and we just started playing ‘Solitary Daughter’ out of nowhere. Well, not out of nowhere, but out of our meeting, we were chatting about it, and all of the equipment was set up, and he said, ‘Do you want to try recording it?’ We just wanted to record something straight through…to tape without really editing much…so we did, and he put down some bass and we put down some harmonies together, and it just felt so effortless that we kind of had an understanding that we would continue to work together. But we never had enough time and money to really block out any time. So we just worked in bits and pieces for the next three years.”
The serpentine pathway to finishing the album continued with the addition of the strings that flow behind Bedouine’s hypnotic vocals and guitar. “Spacebomb doesn’t really like to work like that, as an afterthought, you know? They like to produce the record themselves and think about the strings all along the way. But the record we were turning in, it had so much space on it, there was so much space for things to live in and I think that’s one of the reasons it worked so well.”
Along the way, Korkejian has become a member of a traveling creative class, but she says the name “Bedouine” has a deeper meaning than the popular conception of a nomadic wanderer: “Sure, it definitely does have to do with that, but not as much as people might think–it was a word that was always in my periphery having grown up in Saudi Arabia, and a word that I always found sonically and phonetically beautiful. Another reason I really liked the word was how the Bedouin culture just opts out of the consumerist lifestyle and how simplistic the culture is in terms of the material things, and that’s something I really admire and I try to practice myself. So yeah, I think there are a few different reasons, not necessarily just the traveling aspect.” She doesn’t deny the allure of such a lifestyle, though: “It can be pretty dreamy sometimes, like the portions where I was actually getting some sleep were really, really good. I felt like as long as I was rested, I could do it forever, but then, you know, that’s not always the case. You don’t always get to rest or you’re not always sleeping well, and those portions were pretty challenging. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, that was the longest run I’ve done, and I think that I don’t even have anything scheduled, that’s consecutively that long, so I feel like I’ve got a good experience under my belt already. Hopefully the next few things will feel like a piece of cake after that.”
As for what’s ahead, Korkejian says she doesn’t set an agenda: “I don’t necessarily write in terms of album cycles–I don’t consider that a reason to write or not write–I’d like to just work on it in bits and pieces, I like the time it affords you to think about what you’re doing, even though you might not have the other advantages of working in a consistent or consecutive time block…some of [the last session] might go towards the next record.”
In regard to the germination of her arresting lyrics, she reflects, “I feel like it all goes together. I have never been one to do just one of those things and then catch up with the other, maybe just because I’m not that skilled on the guitar, so I wouldn’t write a guitar piece or guitar melodies. But I also wouldn’t write a poem and then try to stick it to some chords. So…it usually starts with like a melodic phrase, or something like that, lyrics and some melody, and then I’ll just kind of think about it and start writing stuff, then I pick up a guitar. Yeah, I think it all happens around the same time for me.”
Catch Bedouine on Late Night with Seth Meyers TONIGHT, February 5th and on tour throughout the month!
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