It’s easy to see why Azniv Korkejian chose the stage name Bedouine. Born in Aleppo, Syria, to Armenian parents, her childhood took her first to Saudi Arabia, before eventually moving to America at the age of ten. In the States Korkejian kept on the move; living in Boston and Houston, before settling in Los Angeles where she would eventually establish herself as a sound editor – her credits including the television show Catfish, and film The Big Sick.
But it was in music that her passion lay, and having long fitted her songwriting and singing around her dayjob, she finally elected to commit to her music in 2016. It was a brave move, but one that has undoubtedly paid off. The ripples she caused through the music press with her self-titled debut in 2017, have evolved into full-on waves with her latest album Bird Songs of a Killjoy.
This September she returns to Southbank Centre – following a hugely successful Purcell Room gig in March – backed by her Spacebomb Band, and ahead of that gig we caught up with Korkejian to discuss the relative new experiences of performing and touring, and that decision to make a go for it as a singer.
You had a nomadic early life - as reflected in your stage name - have you always been musical? Was it always possible to be?
Music was definitely baked into my childhood. My mom had me playing piano at age five, and I joined band to play the trumpet at age nine. My dad also sang and played the jumbush around the house when I was growing up. Leaving Saudi Arabia gave me a reason to distance myself from the piano, which was a little too regimented for me. That may have been why I turned to guitar without formal training. It’s also portable in a way the piano was not.
Until two years ago you had a well established day job as a sound and music editor - what prompted you to take the leap into performing your own music full-time?
It was an intimidating but very gradual transition. I had finally worked my way into music editing full-time when I started the conversation with a record label, though I didn’t quite want to give up the footing I had just established so soon after I started freelancing. I was finishing a film just as things were picking up with my record so it seemed like a good time to stop hustling on the editing side of things. We were really fortunate to get some good opening offers on the table and eventually touring just kind of took over.
Touring and performing to large crowds is still a relatively new world to you, so how does it feel hearing your music on the radio, and seeing fans singing along to your songs at gigs?
It’s still super dreamy. It’s rare that I catch my song on the radio so when I do it’s definitely a treat. Seeing anyone sing along to my songs is surreal too. I avoid harbouring expectations about how familiar people are with the records when I play live so it still catches me by surprise.
Do you think breaking out in your early thirties, as you have done, means you grab the chance to perform more appreciatively than you may have done say a decade ago?
There are pros and cons to that. I’m grateful that I’ve had time to develop as a person and I think that’s contributed greatly to my voice. What I may have lost is the stamina and detachment that came with my twenties, whereas now I take comfort in being grounded at home. The former is definitely more conducive to touring.
Your sound has earned some interesting descriptions – ‘SoCal canyon folk’, ‘magnetic and intimate’, ‘timeless declaration of self reliance’ – to quote but a few. How would you describe it?
I tend to borrow from genres to make for an efficient translation. Like ‘inspired by 60s folk, hints of bossa nova, homages to country funk.’ I’m fascinated when people make comparisons to actual people because I’m just too close to it to know for sure.
Your schedule these days is pretty much non-stop, taking you across North America and Europe this summer and autumn; do you enjoy touring? Do you get to see much of the places you visit?
I can really dig touring but the thing is everything has to go just right. There really is no buffer for a spanner to be thrown into the works. For instance, the last time I was in London my phone and wallet were stolen and it was the beginning of a short run. Just telling the time was an obstacle. I had no way of replacing anything because I constantly had to catch a train or plane. With that said, when things go smoothly it can be euphoric to be on the move like that.
Your gig in our Purcell Room in March was a huge success, selling out really quickly, how does it feel to be back at Southbank Centre and playing Queen Elizabeth Hall?
It’s definitely a leap for me but I couldn’t think of a better place to make it. It’s such a beautiful room and one truly meant for listening comfortably and soaking up the performance like a sponge. I love to see people in the crowd at ease.
What can audiences look forward to from this performance? What do you hope they’ll take from it?
I’m happy to say it will be my first full band show in London. I like playing solo as well but having a band allows me to paint a fuller picture, even if there are still many subtleties at play. I may have some surprises in store too.
And lastly, once this tour has wrapped up, what’s next for you?
I don’t think I’ll be off the hook quite yet. There are still some exciting things in the works that have yet to be announced.