Music

Bedouine On The Story Of Her Meticulous Folk Breakout And Finding A Place In The Music Industry

Antonia Barrowman

Last year, Azniv Korkejian quietly released her first collection of original music into the world, and was immediately met with the kind of rapturous praise that feels over-the-top. That is, it feels over the top unless you’ve heard the music. Korkejian writes deceptively simple story-songs that sound at once new and ancient, like all the best folk music, guided most directly by her simple finger-picking and lovely, soothing alto. She evokes the greats with her meditative, solitary sound, and even worked with the legendary Smoky Hormel while writing songs for her debut, which draws an easy comparison to Nick Drake’s sweetly dark stoicism.

Korkejian is an Armenian singer/songwriter who was born in Syria, lived in Saudi Arabia for the first decade of her life, and then traveled with her family to live in America via coveted green card status. Eventually, she adopted the name Bedouine — a feminization of the more familiar bedouin — to encapsulate her nomadic upbringing. After bouncing around further for college, Korkejian finished her degree in Sound Design while studying in Savannah, Georgia, and surmised her options for pursuing work in that field boiled down to New York or Los Angeles. Selecting an internship in LA that led to a full-time job working in that field, it wasn’t until another role allowed her to work as a freelancer from home, and assignments began to dwindle down, that she began to consistently write music on guitar.

Though music and writing had been threads through her early life, putting them together in this way was new for Korkejian, specifically using guitar as the focal point for her songwriting. And something about it just clicked. Collaborating with producer Gus Savert to create some early analog recordings of her work, it was the Virginia-based studio Spacebomb that caught Korkejian’s ear as the perfect home for her new work, and Matthew White and co. agreed immediately upon hearing a taste of her music. Known for their ability to create velvety, orchestral backdrops for intuitive songwriters like Natalie Prass and White himself, Spacebomb expanded their already prestigious reputation by releasing Bedouine last year.

In the ensuing wave of praise that followed the album, Bedouine has been out on the road for an extended tour, including appearances at festivals like Portland’s folk and country-based event, Pickathon. I caught up with her at the event for a conversation about her beginnings in the music industry, her career in Sound Design, and what the next Bedouine project looks like. Read a condensed, edited transcript of our conversation below.

Polly Antonia Barrowman

Why don’t we just start with you talking a little bit about when you first felt drawn specifically to music, and what your age was, and sort of the circumstances?

Music around the house when I was younger, was always like Middle Eastern music, Arabic, Armenian, Greek music sometimes. Getting into music that became an influence for my record specifically happened much, much later in life. So, it really was not until relatively recently that I started listening to the great folk singers like Joni Mitchell, or like Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, and stuff. I felt like that only happened a few years prior to my record release. I mean, I’d always known about them, but really listening to catalogs and discography and records front to back and stuff. So, that came a little later in life.

And was that when you decided to make music of your own or had you already had that inkling?

I always had been making music in one form or another. My mom had me playing the piano when I was really young, but she was so strict that it kind of worked against her. And I was just plotting to quit as soon as I started piano. And then I played other instruments in there, but I just kind of picked up the guitar in college and started finger picking. And that’s when I started writing on the guitar, but prior to that I had written on piano and stuff like that, and always liked singing in different settings.

I know you moved around a lot. Where did you go to college exactly?

Oh, God, where did I not go to college? I kind of used college as an excuse to travel a little bit. I think I considered all the finances of it, so I only kind of went to places that I got grants or scholarships and stuff like that. And it took me like eight years to graduate, but I ended up studying something I really loved, so that was good — sound design. I actually moved to L.A. to be a sound editor, not a musician. I just didn’t think it was realistic. But then I saw people were playing music even if it wasn’t their bread and butter… and I was like, ‘Oh, I could.’ Like, there’s no reason I should lose interest in this. So, I just continued to write, but I had been writing in some respect it felt like, most of my life. I picked up guitar later in life, putting writing and music together in this latest iteration on guitar was when I started playing what would be considered more like folk music.

When you moved to LA to do sound design, were you excited to move there.? Were you drawn there? Or was it just like with that degree, that makes the most sense?

I graduated from Savannah, Georgia, and in my mind, there were two clear options — either New York or LA. I knew that I wasn’t really suited for New York, so that might be the only chance I would get to really dive in there is for an internship. So, I applied to internships in both places, and the one that really stuck was in LA. Like, I could’ve gone to New York for this internship that was once a week, and that was not what I was trying to do. I was trying to do something really immersive. So I went to LL and did this internship that was so immersive and they eventually did hire me.

It was a full-time job, but later I started to do the same exact thing for a different company, but it was freelance, so I was working from home. All of a sudden I had so much flexibility. Like, throughout the day, when I wanted to take a work break, so I’d pick up the guitar, and that’s when I was really starting to write more and more. And then my work started dwindling, which was really, really scary, but then I was starting to write so much. The bulk of the record comes from that time, so it was like a blessing in disguise.

What is the tension between those two jobs, like, the sound editing and writing and musicianship? How are those connected and different?

They are very different conceptually, but they use really similar technology. We recorded the record on tape, but then we transferred everything from tape so we could edit digitally. So I was able to sit in the hot seat and navigate through the session and do my own work on my own time too. Like, doing some comping and AB-ing things, and stuff like that. So, it’s really, really nice to not have to depend on somebody to just translate that language for you. I find it difficult when I can’t be hands-on like that, which I can’t really be hands-on like that with tape, because I don’t have the same background as tape. But yeah, it’s like the best of both worlds, the tape, and then transferring tape.

Why don’t you tell me a little bit about meeting [producer] Gus Savert, who seems to have been a big influence on you eventually recording those songs, particularly getting them on tape.

So, I had known Gus for a really long time. We were living in the same neighborhood, and I met him in passing, really briefly, at a coffee shop. I was sitting with a mutual friend of ours, and she introduced me to him. Cut forward a few years, and I knew that he was a tape guy. He would have people over at his house for parties and stuff like that. Then, around the time I was writing so much, I thought I really should put the songs away like in a medium that has a bit more fidelity, because I was just drafting things on my phone. So, I really wanted to pick his brain about it.

I wanted to see if maybe there was a simple tape machine I could bring home and just do it by myself. I talked to him about it after finally trying to peg him down, because he was so busy. And we talked a little bit about it. He told me about this 388 tape machine that I could do it by myself, so we were considering options like that. And then at the end of the meeting, I think I played him a song, and he was like, ‘Can you do that again while we record? Just like once through?’

I had been playing “Solitary Daughter” so much around the house because I grew to love that song. I felt I was really prepared for that moment. And it blows my mind, because now I’m working on my second record, and I’m not… it feels so difficult to go through one take like that and have a really solid performance. But I think it’s because I’ve also had a really busy year. I’m not just circling my apartment, like, singing the songs over and over again. It was a luxury that I didn’t really notice at the time. It felt really exciting at that time, whereas now, I’m really preoccupied with touring and stuff and playing the same songs over onstage.

And I know at that point you were very interested in working with Spacebomb. What was it about Matthew [White] and their set up that drew you in?

Well, I had been listening to Matthew’s release of Natalie Prass’ debut album.

Love her.

Yeah. It’s so beautiful, and it really struck me to hear something like that, that sounded so classic, because I wasn’t hearing a lot of that on the radio or anything like that. And so, it made me feel like Matthew might appreciate what I was doing, because my music, I mean when you compare it to what’s on the radio these days, it sounds like children’s music. It’s just so simple. There’s not a lot of tricks to it, production tricks or anything. It’s just good sounds and simple melodies. And I just thought it was rare for someone to see potential in that, which is why I made a point to approach Matthew.

Did you feel more confident after the meeting with Gus? Did that impact you in some way?

I mean, it was so gradual. That kind of just prompted the next three years of just recording here and there in tiny, tiny pieces. It became kind of a passion project for us. We didn’t really know what would become of it. There was a part of my mind that was totally ready to accept that nobody might hear it, because I felt really loyal to that side of the project, which is just writing and recording. It didn’t bother me so much, but when I said things like that, Gus got really pissed off. He was like, ‘of course, people are gonna hear it. This is gonna released somehow. We’ll find a way.’

So, you mentioned that you’re working on your next album. Can you tell me where you’re at in the process?

So, we just put down 10 or 11 live tracks on tape. And so, the goal is to write, or put down as many live tracks as we could, so that we can get them over to Trey Pollard to start writing on the arrangements and stuff for orchestra. And then we’re picking back up in September when we’re both done touring and we’ll keep working on putting down more parts.

Do you think it will be next year the album will come out?

We’re shooting from anywhere between March and May. Knock on wood.

You’re currently on tour, so I wanted to ask you about Pickathon compared to other festivals. How has it felt? Does it feel markedly different for you to be here on a country/folk focused bill?

Right. Well, I love it. I love that about it. Like, when I first released the record and started touring, I didn’t know exactly where I fit and stuff. I wasn’t sure I’d be doing any festivals, to be honest. So, it’s really nice to discover that I will. And my favorite thing about Pickathon is how conscious they are about sustainability. I’ve been trying to tour plastic-free for the last year, and it is so much easier than you would think it would be. You just need to be on the same plane with … The hardest thing is really explaining it to people that aren’t really conscious of it. And so, it’s really nice not to have to worry about that here. Because I usually tour with a cup of my own and usually have a fork in my bag. So, it’s so refreshing to not have to fight back.

Bedouine is out now via Spacebomb Records. Stream or revisit it below and look for more new music from Bedouine next year.

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