It’s hard to imagine a more impressive introduction than Azniv Korkejian’s debut album as Bedouine. The globetrotting singer-songwriter confidently strides into the frame with her Silvertone guitar and proceeds to unfurl one stunner after the next, each poetic dispatch enlivened by seasoned LA session players and lifted heavenward by the Spacebomb Orchestra. The sound is descended from decades of classics, but Korkejian possesses it with rare confidence and purpose. She knows exactly who she is and what she’s doing.
That sense of identity has been shaped through years of constant relocation. Born in Aleppo, Syria to Armenian parents, Korkejian spent much of her childhood on an American compound in Saudi Arabia before her family won a Green Card lottery and moved to the US at the dawn of her adolescence. She lived with them in Boston and Houston before striking out on her own to Los Angeles. Korkejian later did a stint on a horse farm in Lexington, spent a year in Austin, and earned a sound design degree from Savannah College Of Art And Design before finding her way back to LA. All that displacement explains why she chose a moniker nodding to the nomads of her native Middle East.
While working as a dialogue and music editor in Hollywood, Korkejian kept writing songs on the side and stumbling into friendships with people in the music industry. Her adventures in the Echo Park music community eventually led her to Gus Seyffert, a producer whose credits include work with Beck and Norah Jones, and his enthusiasm for her music helped her to view it as more than a hobby. As other notable names signed on, including session guitarist Smokey Hormel and symphonic arranger Trey Pollard of Matthew E. White’s Spacebomb crew, Korkejian pieced together their contributions into a lush blend of folk-rock, country-funk, and retro studio-pop — an ideal backdrop for such thoughtful lyrics deployed with gentle calm.
Today we present Bedouine’s video for new single “One Of These Days.” The clip is another collaboration with Tom Salvaggio, who directed Bedouine’s videos for the grandiose country showstopper “Dusty Eyes” and “Solitary Daughter,” a plainspoken folk song with shades of Leonard Cohen. This latest tune is an easygoing country-funk gallop matched with some winsome portraits of Korkejian. Watch it below, where you can also find an interview with Korkejian.
AZNIV KORKEJIAN: I’m coming down with something, so if I sniffle through this I am not upset with you.
STEREOGUM: Like in your song! [Track 6 on the album is called “Summer Cold.”]
KORKEJIAN: What’s that? Oh yeah. [Laughs]
STEREOGUM: It seems like the first thing that anybody learns about you is all the different places that you have lived. Where along the way did you start playing music?
KORKEJIAN: It was pretty formal, I was in Saudi Arabia. I was five years old and my mom really wanted me to play piano. It felt really formal. She had me with a teacher and I had to practice every day. There was a kitchen timer. I couldn’t get up for an hour. It was kind of annoying, actually. That’s probably the reason I quit shortly after moving from Saudi Arabia. I also got into band at school. I had two choices and I got my second choice instrument, which was trumpet. So I played trumpet for a few years.
STEREOGUM: Was this still in Saudi Arabia as well?
KORKEJIAN: Yeah, I started in Saudi in 6th grade. That carried on to the beginning of high school, but not much longer. It wasn’t until college that I really started, until I had a guitar of my own, which is still the only guitar I own. It’s this little pawn shop Silvertone guitar. It wasn’t until then that I kind of started writing anything with writing a little bit, I didn’t know what I was doing I mean I still don’t.
STEREOGUM: How closely did the music you were writing back in college resemble what you’re doing now?
KORKEJIAN: I think I was doing some fingerpicking, so that was similar but it didn’t have much meat to it. It was sort of like a means to just an end, just having something to practice and play but I wasn’t thinking too much about the songwriting aspect of it.
STEREOGUM: It seems like it would have been a pretty big leap then to what you’re doing now because I think that the lyrical component is really thoughtful and really stands out.
KORKEJIAN: Thank you! I think when you start hearing things that are compelling then you understand that there is really no use in doing something unless there is some meaning to it. I think why I felt more compelled to do something that felt more substantial because I was hearing things that were just putting me to shame. You know? Yeah, so, hearing good music.
STEREOGUM: You sound very in control of your aesthetic on the album. The songs seem to really be flowing out of you rather than just a collection of influences that you pieced together. Do you think all your traveling around has helped you to distill different kinds of influences into something more coherent?
KORKEJIAN: Yeah, it’s funny. People ask you what your influences are, and I sort of have to do some reverse engineering to answer that question because it’s like, yeah, you listen to stuff, but you don’t know what is really finding its way in. There’s definitely some heavyweights I’m influenced by, but I don’t know how literally. But to answer your question, does moving around make it more coherent? I don’t know. The other day someone asked me a similar question, and I think the maybe overarching sentiment of detachment or displacement finds its way in, and I think maybe even musically.
STEREOGUM: I’ve heard that you were taking a “whatever happens, happens” approach to a music career and weren’t actively seeking out music as a full-time pursuit. At what point did you realize you were going all-in with making a record and taking it seriously?
KORKEJIAN: Well, I think when it started involving like other people’s time and other people’s efforts that is when I feel a little bit more invested. I don’t see anything really as a waste of time. I think every little bit matters and counts. It’s all just a part of an experience. But when other people start investing their time into you, you feel like you can’t really take that for granted. You have to show up and make it worth everyone’s while because they’re a part of it too. When Gus Seyffert started producing more of the tracks and when Matthew E. White became interested in the project, I felt like, “Well, now there is a small village of people. I can’t fuck around.” And I am happy, too, by the way. I am thrilled that so many people believe in the project. I think that is what it takes to try and make it sustainable.
STEREOGUM: Since you bring up Matthew E. White, I know you specifically had Spacebomb in mind when you were leaving room in the music for some arrangements. What drew you to Spacebomb specifically?
KORKEJIAN: Well, I heard the Natalie Prass record, and I was taken by how something so soft and gentle and nuanced could do so well and be received so well in the sort of left-of-center community of music, especially because in LA there is a certain kind of music that does well or takes the scene, takes turns sort of being the darling of the scene. I thought that was a little bit more traditional, which I really liked, and simple. It was extravagant in some ways but still pretty soft, relatively. I like that. I think it has been a little bit difficult finding my own place in the music scene in LA just because it is really quiet and it’s not super social music.
STEREOGUM: It seems like that for music that requires more of your attention, it helps to get to a certain level of popularity where you can play in a venue that lends itself to people paying attention.
KORKEJIAN: Absolutely! This is something that I have been thinking about for years, ever since I moved to LA: Do I start playing to no one? Do I start playing where I have to wonder if anyone is going to be interested or they’re going to talk? That is the case. You have to do a little bit of that no matter what. I am happy to step up to that challenge, and it is always kind of nice when you take the stage and people start to pay attention. You see people take an interest. I think it is nice to have a little bit more intention to playing shows, to having a little bit of, for lack of a better word, a machine — like some marketing to help bring people out that are there with the intention of listening. They know what they are getting themselves into. It’s more of a win/win situation for an audience and the musician.
STEREOGUM: How did you get into doing sound design? That’s your day job, correct?
KORKEJIAN: Yeah. Obviously I realized that I wanted to be involved in music or have some kind of career in music, but I didn’t really expect any stability to come from being a songwriter. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do exactly. I heard about some people or musicians in bands starting to write for advertising and things like that. I mulled that over a little bit. I was between schools. I think I was in Kentucky at the time. My friend’s little brother, he was about to go to Savannah, Georgia to go to orientation at that art school SCAD. I wasn’t doing much at the time. I decided to hop along for the road trip. I was and I am super close to their family. I looked at the school online, and I found that they had a sound design program, which is so bizarre to me. I had not really heard of that or considered that being an option. I went down on a whim. I set up a tour with someone who happened to be the chair of the department, so he took me through the school, and we talked a little bit. He would ask me a lot of questions about what I did and I think was interested in the fact that I had been a musician and wrote songs. So he recommended me for a scholarship, and I wrote a cultural essay or something. I got cultural scholarship, which was almost a full ride because I mean it’s a pretty expensive school. I would never have really considered it otherwise.
Then I graduated with a BSA in sound design. It was a such a cool program. You’re in the same building as the film kids. We’re encouraged to collaborate, and our last project is working on a thesis film. It was a great. It felt like such a well-rounded program. It was not anything to do with music. I think there was one class about recording in the recording studio. It was really mostly in the box, like ProTools, dialogue editing, voiceover stuff, sound design techniques, and some music editing, which is now mostly what I do. After I got a degree I moved to LA for this internship, which then led into a job — well, I had a brief sort of entry-level job at a video game company doing video dialogue effects and things. Then I did some dialogue and effects editing. Then it wasn’t until I got into the union somewhat recently about a year ago that I started doing music editing, which I really love.
STEREOGUM: You spent a good deal of your childhood outside of the United States, mostly in Saudi Arabia, and you were born in Syria. Among Americans, are there some common misconceptions about what life is like in those places?
KORKEJIAN: Could be. I don’t know. I can’t speak for anyone, but I grew up in a very Americanized setting. I didn’t even really have a typical experience because I grew up in an American community, on an American compound, where it was sort of more or less American. In the compound we didn’t have to cover up. Men and women can go swimming the same pool. It was very Western. I also even went to an American school where Arabic was treated a second language. It wasn’t until 5th grade, my last year there, that we started taking our first course in Arabic, which is kind of a shame. I should be speaking a few more languages, but I also appreciate it would have been such a culture shock moving overseas otherwise.
STEREOGUM: We are premiering “One Of These Days” with this interview. Do you mind unpacking the story behind that song?
KORKEJIAN: It’s funny. The reason I sat down to write that song is I was borrowing my friend’s Blazer. He has an ’84 Blazer. It’s huge. I needed to run an errand downtown. I don’t know why, but I borrowed it. It was like driving a cruise ship downtown. He had this J.J. Cale record in the car, which is like the only thing that he has in the car. It’s as if he bought it with it in it. I wasn’t super familiar with J.J. Cale, but I was listening to it, and it kind of became the soundtrack to this car. I noticed how he would turn a phrase unexpectedly, and his phrasing was so cool. It stuck with me. And I don’t know how intentional it was, but I thought, “Hey, that’s kind of cool. I want to try to do that.” That is sort of what inspired the phrasing of “One Of These Days,” specifically in the section that goes, “We’re gonna get it and get it right.” I felt that was something really cool that he would do, so effortlessly cool. That inspired the phrasing. But otherwise, the meaning of the song is just asking, or not maybe asking outright, about someone being present in a relationship.
STEREOGUM: You talked a little bit about pursuing a subtle and gentle quality. On the rhythmic level, this song, I kind of swing my shoulders to it whenever it’s on, but it’s not like this hard, heavy song. I was taken by the way it was able to get that visceral, physical sensation but in a gentle and subtle kind of way.
KORKEJIAN: Yeah, super subtle. So the thing that is really cool about the song is our friend Jake Blanton was the drummer on it, and he’s not a drummer. That’s what makes this so fun. So Gus played bass and Jake played drums. They’re like best friends. They go way back to Kansas City, where they grew up and played jazz together. We’re all real good friends. It was just sort of a late night, hanging out. I think I just played them a few of my most recent songs, and they were like, “That one. Let’s do that one.” They like the country-funk type of thing. It’s just a fun song. It’s an optimistic song. They were kind of talking bass and drums language. They ended up playing all the same fills together, and they were just so stoked. We must have listened back that night like 100 times. They were so happy with it, and I was happy. I was happy just to get the song down. The whole thing was super fun.
Bedouine is out 6/23 on Spacebomb. Pre-order it here.