Azniv Korkejian’s stage name, Bedouine, is an allusion to her itinerant lifestyle. Born in Syria, she spent most of the first decade of her life in Saudi Arabia, before coming to the US, where her family moved around frequently, eventually settling in Texas. Korkejian then moved on to Los Angeles for college. But this propensity for globetrotting is, in actuality, only half the story of her nom de plume. “I have always appreciated a minimalist lifestyle, whether that was the goal or not. I also appreciate cultures that are not so overly capitalistic […] My mom always used Bedouin jewelry to decorate the walls and tabletops. It was just an aesthetic and culture that I always found really beautiful.”
Within the first five minutes, it’s already apparent that “Bedouine” is not an alter-ego or character; but rather a fitting self-description for the soft-spoken, articulate Korkejian. An eloquent simplicity characterizes her approach to her craft; her guitar, for example, was purchased for 80 dollars from a pawn shop. During our interview, she revealed that she doesn’t really consider herself a guitarist. The guitar itself is, for her, less a musical instrument than it is “a vehicle for songwriting.”
Korkejian’s day job is as a music editor. Most recently, she worked on the 2017 Judd Apatow comedy The Big Sick. Yet despite her fluency in modern, digital recording techniques, for her debut album Bedouine (2017), she opted to record entirely with analog tape—a veritable thing of the past for someone in her industry (though for many, there remains a nostalgic and perhaps, deeply emotional appeal to using such archaic methods—hence the massive comeback of vinyl as of late). But for Korkejian, it’s more psychological.
“It’s just about the state of mind it puts me in,” she explains, “When I record on tape, it all of a sudden becomes a huge priority for me to put down a really good performance. Even if not everything is perfect, if the overall performance is good, then that would make for a successful take.”
“If Charles Aznavour is reading, I’d really love to meet him! That’s kind of a fantasy I have about being in Armenia.”
It’s hard to believe, given her tendency toward a more somber sound, but Korkejian confesses that at one point, she overlooked artists like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan—singer-songwriters who had a reputation for being too “emotional, melancholic.” She opted instead for rock bands, like The Beatles, The Zombies, The Kinks, Big Star, and The Strokes. It wasn’t until relatively recently that she decided to delve into “smart, emotional music” and found herself drawn to what she was hearing on an aesthetic level. “The simplicity and also the brevity of their lyrics,” she says, have attracted her to folk. In an era of technological abundance, less, it seems, really is more.
“I started to recognize the talent in the intention behind [the songwriting]. That’s why I appreciated it from a more intellectual side of things. But also the way it made me feel […] So I think it is really a combination of those things: simple melodies loaded with so much meaning.”
Despite her commitment to simplicity, Bedouine’s lyrics are deceptively complex. Some songs appear, on the surface, to be about heartache, love, or travel; but they can also be about so much more. Her lyrics explore feelings of detachment or the horrors of the Syrian War. “What I do is really just intuitive. I don’t really have rules. I usually start with a really loose idea—it might even just be one phrase or a phrase that’s also a melody—and if I like it enough I’ll pick up a guitar and hash it out. A lot of times the best ideas are the fastest to come to fruition, oddly enough. So there’s no one particular way. I think it’s usually led by instinct.”
Take, for example, the song “Louise” (which was released as a bonus track on the deluxe edition of her album). “Louise,” which is sung entirely in Armenian, is a tribute to the Armenian population of her native Syria. The song, she says, is “personally, where I start to empathize with the difficult decision each person has to make in wartime, whether to stay or leave, and how they’re really the only people who can decide for themselves despite whoever may be passing judgment outside. It ended up being more optimistic than I thought it would, which I’m happy about.”
It’s clear that the war-torn country is often on Korkejian’s mind, even though the situation on the ground is starting to stabilize. “There’s a lot of rebuilding to do. My parents actually went to Syria somewhat recently and they seem to think everything’s safer now but it’s pretty devastating to see the damage it’s done to the city [Aleppo].” She admits that it will take a lot of time for the country to rebuild and for life to return to some semblance of normalcy.
Korkejian confides that much of her Syrian family—like thousands of other Syrian-Armenians since the start of the war in 2011—have repatriated to Armenia. “I’m sure that there’s a lot in the Diaspora that are experiencing this,” she observes, “but it’s kind of this bizarre full circle that within a few generations people are returning to where their ancestors left,” she says. Korkejian herself first traveled to Armenia three years ago, and has since returned once. However, since much of her family is now living there—and it’s also where her parents are slated to retire—Korkejian says she will probably visit again soon.
“If Charles Aznavour is reading, I’d really love to meet him!” she laughs. “That’s kind of a fantasy I have about being in Armenia.”
But before visiting the country to reunite with family or meet her personal heroes, Korkejian has a lot of work to do. If releasing an album and spending most of the last year on tour (she just returned in July after months on the road) weren’t enough, she is now preparing to do the same thing all over again. In October, she will embark on her second international tour. In the meantime, she has already started to work on her much anticipated second album, which she hopes will be released in the spring of 2019.
As for what to expect with the new album, Korkejian says that “the sentiment is going to be very much the same [as the first album]. If anything, I’m just going to be doubling down. I appreciate variation and things like that but I’m more of a fan of a natural evolution. It’s not like I really want to make a huge departure or anything like that. I think I still have a lot more [from where the first album] came from so I don’t think [the second album] will be a drastic change.”
But that still leaves the question of when can eager fans in Yerevan can expect to hear her melancholic tunes live. Korkejian hints, “It’s a little more nerve wracking to play to a room of people you know versus people you don’t know, so that would be something to overcome, just playing to family. I think that would be exciting [to play in Armenia]. If the stars align, why not?”