Listening to Bedouine is like walking into a rustically decorated Airbnb—you feel oddly cozy, like you’re at home, yet you feel the thrill of staying in a place that’s not your own. Bedouine’s self-titled debut (out now on Spacebomb Records) is sleepy and smart, smothered in ’60s folk and ’70s country, with lush orchestral arrangements that take you to another place. So much of it looks and sounds familiar, but it’s brand new and exhilarating, daring you to step inside and spend some time. When you listen, you wrap yourself in the wool blanket of her vocals, while letting the strings rustle around you like a strange shiver.
Bedouine, aka Azniv Korkejian, is very used to the feeling of being in a new place. Her entire life has been filled with temporary homes, different cities speckling her timeline with sometimes only a year between them. The name Bedouine is a nod to her transient ways, a play on the Bedouin, the Arab nomads.
Korkejian was born in Syria to Armenian parents and spent most of her early years in Saudi Arabia. When she was 11, her family won the green card lottery and crossed the Atlantic to settle in Boston, but she’s since hopped to Houston, Lexington and Austin. She graduated from college with a sound design degree in Savannah, Georgia (after trying out eight different schools), and finally settled in Los Angeles, where she’s calling me from her studio apartment that she shares with her German Shepard. Throughout her years of travel, she says, music has always been playing in the background, but it was never something she’d thought to make a living from—until her most recent move.
“It didn’t seem feasible that I could have a career in music,” Korkejian says, her voice less caramelized than what you’d hear on her album, but no less melodic. “I loved playing [trumpet in as a kid], but I was like, ‘What am I gonna do? Am I gonna play trumpet in college?’ I felt like it wasn’t a good investment to make. I was proven wrong because I moved to L.A. and all these people are making a living doing session work with brass and stuff.”
In college, she found a guitar and felt inclined to pick, harkening back to the ’60s folk that would become a major influence on Bedouine. In L.A., she collected a community of other musicians, who encouraged her to follow her inclination to write songs. But she also isolated herself as well, spending a “transformative” month alone, writing what would become her first album. “I didn’t leave the house that month,” Korkejian says. “It was a really emotional time. That’s where it really began.”
What spawned from the session were soothing songs like “Nice and Quiet” and “Solitary Daughter,” both of which explore the end of a relationship, but in completely different ways. “Nice and Quiet” opens the record like a lullaby, a selfless, whispered tale about trying to make it work when your partner goes cloudy. “Solitary Daughter,” however, takes on a smokier, all-knowing, Laura Marling-esque tone, where she lists all the reasons why she’s better off without them: “I don’t need the sunlight / My curtains don’t draw / I don’t need the objects / To keep or to pawn / I don’t want your pity, concern or your scorn / I’m calm by my lonesome / I feel right at home.”
“I wrote that because I just realized that this relationship I had with someone, it was like entirely on their terms,” Korkejian says. “And I snapped out of it. All these things started pouring out of me.”
While most of Korkejian’s songs on Bedouine deal with human relationships, she tackles capitalism on “Mind’s Eye”: “Don’t you even let them believe you’re not the light / They’ll try to frighten you into needing more than you agreed to,” she sings, her voice taking on a more motherly effect as she cautions the listener about the never-ending retail game.
Her phrasing has evoked memories of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, while she cites Nick Drake, Judee Sill and Joni Mitchell as influences. Sibylle Baier’s Colour Green, which was released in 2006, well after its reel-to-reel recording by the unknown songwriter in the ’70s, pushed Korkejian to record her own album on tape as well. And it was her attraction to Natalie Prass’ 2015 self-titled debut that brought her to Spacebomb Records’ Matthew E. White.
“It seemed really rare to me that someone would put such an effort into something that was so unlike what was happening in the mainstream, which was just softer melodies and just classic and traditional,” Korkejian says about teaming up with White. “That’s what it comes down to. There’s something so timeless and simple about what he’s doing.”
After signing with Spacebomb, she tacked another pushpin into her travel map, heading to the label’s homebase in Richmond, Virginia, to lay down Trey Pollard’s string arrangements. Along with producer Gus Seyffert, they filled out Korkejian’s sparse songs with subtle orchestral flourishes. And while it turned out beautifully, the added touches were initially daunting.
“At first it was really nerve-wracking,” Korkejian says. “I had so much time to grow attached to the songs, but they inherently had so much space in them that I could see it working out pretty well.”
The craning guitar of Smokey Hormel (Tom Waits, Joe Strummer, Johnny Cash) also slithers into the record, giving a mysterious life to tracks like “Summer Cold,” a song that compares Korkejian’s relationship with Syria to that of a forgotten friend she didn’t recognize anymore. “‘What have they done to you, friend?’ / You say, ‘Is this the end?’” she sings in a helpless, sedated coo. At the end of the song, she puts her sound design degree to work, recreating the memory of her grandma’s street in Syria in a soundscape that clatters with tea cups and bustles with men playing backgammon in the alley.
Whether she’s taking you to her childhood version of Syria or the isolating depths of her studio apartment, either way, when Bedouine travels, so do you. With this capsule of music, all you have to do is sink in and stay a while.