Image & Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“The distance between good and great is short but dense. When you hear
someone great, it’s a real kick in the groin. All of a sudden
you’re wont to throw away your whole approach and scrape the lining
of your guts to see what you’re capable of.”
Bedouine is the solo project of Azniv Korkejian, who was born in Syria to Armenian parents, and grew up in Saudi Arabia before immigrating to the United States. Currently based in Los Angeles, Korkejian signed to Richmond-based record label Spacebomb, and is releasing her first solo album, Bedouine.
Musician and producer Gus Seyffert has worked with artists including Sia, Norah Jones and Ryan Adams and toured with the Black Keys and Beck. He founded the label Sargent Records, and fronts his own band, Willoughby, which has opened for Band of Horses.
Born in Aleppo, Syria, and raised in Saudi Arabia, Azniv Korkejian took the stage name Bedouine as a nod to the nomadic tribes of Bedouin people, who live in Middle Eastern and North African deserts, travelling by camel and setting up camps for home. Korkejian is a lifelong nomad herself, who immigrated to the United States with her family and lived in Boston, Houston and throughout the South before moving to Los Angeles, where she began spontaneously writing music. It was never the plan to be a performer—Korkejian works in Hollywood editing dialogue and music. But sitting in her room above Sunset Boulevard with “a guitar in my lap and red wine or bourbon at my side,” she wrote and performed for herself until it felt inevitable to start recording. Bedouine’s self-titled debut layers her striking, soft voice over folk-inspired, finger-picked guitar. She performs the tracks “Nice and Quiet,” “One of These Days” and “Solitary Daughter” off the album and talks with us about her process.
Where are you from?
I was born in Syria and raised in Saudi Arabia. My family moved to the States after winning the green card lottery.
When did you start making music?
My first instrument was piano at age five. I played trumpet in school for a few years. I didn’t really get into the guitar until my twenties.
Who did you listen to growing up and who is your music influenced by today?
It was mostly Armenian and Arabic music around the house growing up, but you wouldn’t know it listening to my music. My influences are essentially the heavyweights: Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Harry Nilsson, Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, Karen Dalton, Judee Sill, JJ Cale, Astrud Gilberto, Loretta Lynn. Very original, I know. Sometimes I’ll make a late discovery of someone who must have been a subliminal influence, like Bobby Gentry for example.
How would you describe your music?
Nods to ’60s folk and ’70s country/country-funk, with the vocal dynamics of bossa nova, which is to say: little to none.
How and when did you decide that this is what you were going to do?
I rarely considered the notion that I have something to say, I just keep returning to it. I joke with my friends that it’s something to do, that we all just need something to do. It’s like a dog that starts chewing your things if it doesn’t get enough exercise. If we don’t let what’s inside out somehow, we’ll want to bite the walls or give up and stay in bed. So it’s not one big decision. It’s small, continual decisions; a propensity that builds momentum that may or may not lead to recognition. It’s hard to imagine that something you volunteer yourself for can sustain you, but I guess that’s the goal, so that you can get deeper and more devoted to it.
What’s your story of getting started as a musician?
I started writing songs around the time I was fiddling around on the guitar. It wasn’t until I moved to Kentucky and Georgia that my taste in music and songwriting evolved. But Los Angeles is what inspired the desire to be better. The distance between good and great is short but dense. When you hear someone great, it’s a real kick in the groin. All of a sudden you’re wont to throw away your whole approach and scrape the lining of your guts to see what you’re capable of. That’s what moving to LA ignited in me.
“If we don’t let what’s inside out somehow,
we’ll want to bite the walls or give up
and stay in bed… It’s hard to imagine that
something you volunteer yourself for
can sustain you, but I guess that’s the goal.”
How does it feel to have finished your album?
New. It’s a very unfamiliar feeling, like when you arrive to a place to stay overnight and in the morning step outside to see its exterior for the first time. While I was writing and recording, I hardly considered I had to step outside of the thing and look at its exterior.
What was the process like?
I lived in a studio apartment overlooking a busy section of Sunset when I started writing what would eventually become the record. I’d sit tight at my table by the window, guitar in my lap and red wine or bourbon at my side. The writing started pouring out of me, one after another for months. Inspired by Sibylle Baier’s Colour Green. I decided what was left to do was get a hold of a small tape machine and do what I had been doing all along but with a recorder in front of me. If I didn’t start compartmentalizing, there would be too much floating around in my head or various devices. When I sat down with Gus Seyffert to ask him about it, we recorded “Solitary Daughter” on a whim. We kept the first take, and he added some tasteful finishing touches. We seemed to have an understanding that it was something we would continue to do since it was so fruitful. Gus produced the record and when Spacebomb signed me, [Spacebomb founder] Matthew [E. White] and [producer] Trey [Pollard] added the arrangements. The whole thing was so, dare I say, organic.
Can you tell us about your song “Summer Cold,” which seeks to recreate the sounds of your grandmother’s street in Aleppo?
I wrote “Summer Cold” after repeatedly reading that the US was funneling arms to rebel groups in Syria. The weapons reportedly ended up in the hands of prominent terrorist groups, which had scattered themselves throughout the opposition movement. No matter your stance on regime change, that was a short-sighted, counter-productive solution that further aggravated an incredibly tense situation. This song grapples with trying to understand how blindly pouring weapons into a country would alleviate devastation.
Regarding the soundscape, one of my fondest memories of Aleppo is waking up in my grandmothers apartment to the sounds of the street below. It was a perfect collage: dice in a backgammon board; porcelain accents of coffee or tea; donkeys pulling carts; storefronts rolling up their gates amidst the busy traffic on either side of a residential street. I recall it often, so it occurred to me to recreate it and I did, in the washy fog of an old memory. It’s become an access point to a place I can’t return to in the foreseeable future.
Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
I’m not sure specifically. I’ve wanted to work with an animator. Maybe a comedian. They are the real purveyors of truth.
What are you working on now?
I’m also a music editor for TV and film. It’s pilot season for us, and I’m in the middle of one with a hilarious cast and crew. I’m really enjoying it.
What’s your favorite book, film, and music right now?
Favorites are tough. My Robinson Jeffers pocket book has been within arms reach.
What are your interests and passions outside of music?
Before editing music, I worked on dialogue and FX. I started compiling an SFX library a few years back, which I pull from to design soundscapes for interactive art installations. Actually, there’s a soundscape on my record. I’ve taught sound briefly, which is a formidable experience, but I also try to volunteer every once in awhile. I created audio books for kids before. I think if kids start hearing their voice back to them at a young age, they might gain a sense of conviction earlier than, say, I did. So this skill set has really come in handy. Otherwise, I do yoga when I can. It’s the most mentally and physically athletic thing I’ve practiced.
What’s next for you?
The writing and recording process have been lengthy and insular in nature, so I’m looking forward to sharing it.