Tuesday, May 19th, 2020
Bedouine – COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In
“What concerns me most is how science and facts have become politicized.”
May 19, 2020
By Mark Redfern
We are checking in with musicians during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic to see how they are dealing with everything. What has their home quarantine experience been like so far and how is the crisis impacting both their career and art? Here we check in with Bedouine, the project of singer/songwriter Azniv Korkejian.
We’re living in future history right now, unprecedented times that will define our era. At some point we will be living in a forever-changed post-COVID-19 timeline, but right now we’re deep in it. Many have had their livelihood interrupted by the pandemic and included are most musicians, who make a lot of their money by touring and performing, two things they can’t do right now. Most record stores are closed and vinyl factories are shut down, so album sales are depressed too. Our intention with this series is to highlight the challenges musicians are going through right now to hopefully encourage our readers and their fans to rally around and support each musician (financially if you can, but we know it’s tough out there for many people).
We’re all in this together, a whole planet united in this fight, and we hope these interviews will help illustrate that. We put together the same set of questions about the current crisis and emailed them to several musicians and will be posting their responses as they come in.
Korkejian was born in Aleppo, Syria to Armenian parents, but spent her childhood in Saudi Arabia and then moved to America when her family won a Green Card lottery. She’s lived all over the U.S., including Boston, Houston, Lexington, Austin, Savannah, and Los Angeles.
Last year Korkejian released a new Bedouine album, Bird Songs of a Killjoy, via Matthew E. White’s Spacebomb label. It was the follow-up to her self-titled debut album, released in 2017 also via Spacebomb. Bedouine was one of our Top 100 Albums of 2017 and one of our Top 15 Debut Albums of 2017. Gus Seyffert (Beck, Norah Jones, Michael Kiwanuka) produced Bird Songs of a Killjoy in his LA studio.
When Korkejian recorded and released her debut album she was an unknown and even some close to her weren’t aware of her talent. “After I released the first record and got a little press, all my friends said: I didn’t know you played music!” she said in the official bio for the album.
After all the attention, glowing press, tours, and late night appearances associated to the first album, Korkejian had to face up to the pressure of recording a satisfying follow-up. “The stakes do feel higher,” Korkejian admitted in the bio. “The fact there are stakes to begin with! When I recorded my first record I had no idea if it would come out, and I was okay with that. It was just thoughts I needed to put down—a personal project. There’s something so beautiful in that. With the second record that feels a little compromised. I try not to get too wrapped up in how people will receive it but, whether I want to or not, that’s the reality.”
Read on as Korkejian reflects on her COVID-19 experience so far. She also submitted a photo of herself under quarantine.
Where are you spending the quarantine and who are you spending it with? If you’re spending it with other people, have you found that the quarantine has brought you closer together or caused tension?
While things were unfolding, my partner and I started out at my house in Yucca Valley, CA. We eventually returned to his place in Los Angeles where we spend most our time. We’ve taken safety measures since we were first made aware but the challenges to self-isolating were delayed for us; probably because it’s not too dissimilar from coming home from tour. We’ve been generally really grateful to have each other but there are difficulties too. A partner isn’t meant to fulfill every desire in a person. Friends, family, community, and strangers paint a vibrant picture in anyone’s life so, of course, things are different. Ultimately, we are fortunate to have a roof over our head and food in our bellies.
Is everyone in your family safe and healthy so far?
Thank goodness everyone is okay so far. I’ve been hearing about severe cases through the grapevine. It’s surreal to see the virus take its course on people I hold dear like John Prine. Oddly enough, that was when it started to feel personal for me and I’d never even met him. My parents got stuck in my brother’s household while they were visiting from overseas. They’ve been ready to go home but haven’t been able to since they would be higher risk travelers. They’ve started to take it seriously, albeit slowly. It seems parents have generally taken some convincing, probably because they’ve lived through a lot already, but still, geez!
What’s your daily routine been like? Have you spent much time outdoors? And since musicians spend so much time on the road, have you found it hard adjusting to so much time at home?
I’m a homebody. I’m learning that’s the reason I made a point to leave the house regularly before quarantine because I can stay in to a fault. Most of my days are a mish mash of projects and cleaning. I’ll write a phrase to a song, then pick up my hand held vacuum to trail my shedding dog. Step outside. Watch a short movie. Pick my guitar back up. Learn a cover. Stretch. Watch a long movie. Read. I’ve still had a few music assignments so I’m not totally off the hook. I wouldn’t mind having a completely blank schedule for a bit, it makes me excited with possibility.
What financial impact has COVID-19 had on you and your band? Have you had to cancel or postpone any tours or festival appearances or postpone an album release because of COVID-19 and how will that affect you in the long term?
As much as I’d like to I haven’t yet been in a position to regularly tour [with a] full band. I have had a lot of dates canceled but they were mostly solo performances. I do get concerned, but more than anything I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for what I do have in such precarious times. So many people are in a similar position that it feels unimportant to focus on my singular experience. All anyone can do right now is try not to make it worse for the public and essential workers (and support local businesses when possible).
Do you trust the government and our leaders (such as President Trump) to effectively deal with the pandemic? What most concerns you about the response of elected leaders at home and abroad?
Sadly no, I don’t trust much about our administration. On the bright side, there are leaders in California that’ve made me feel somewhat hopeful. I listen to our press briefing most days. The policies are based in science and the sentiment seems to come from a loving place, something we don’t get in the White House. There needs to be more discussion about how the crisis is exasperating our racial divide and effecting people of color far worse. What concerns me most is how science and facts have become politicized. I going to go take a break in fetal position now that I’ve just typed that…
How do you think the crisis will affect this November’s U.S. presidential election? Will it make it easier or harder to defeat Trump?
Okay, I’m back. One would think a lot of things. Like how our healthcare shouldn’t be tied to our employment. Or how the health of low income citizens is not an isolated incident. We are all connected! Our differences are fleeting! The people applying for unemployment, just maybe not long ago some of them were judgmental about those who relied on government aid. Just maybe they will start to acknowledge that people are deserving of that money and that taxes are meant to serve us. We need a centralized power that responds to all kinds of potential dangers and lessens the blow to fundamental human needs. My hope is that people ultimately have more empathy and recognize the need for a government that looks out for its citizens. I have no idea whether or not that will actually be the case.
Which sources of news have you been turning to most during COVID-19 and which social media platform have you found most useful?
Definitely NPR. I have a kitchen radio and I start my mornings making coffee to it and toggle it on and off throughout the day. I can’t overstate my appreciation for NPR. Otherwise, Instagram is pretty much the only social media I use. I have a love/hate relationship with it but I can’t deny that it’s entertaining/informative if you curate it to be. I try to be mindful because I hate the feeling of getting off and wondering where you’ve been for god knows how long.
What do you think will be the lasting effects on society of all this isolated time at home?
I would think we’re flexing our ability to sit with ourselves or share space, recognize and process any discomfort/frustrations, which has innumerable benefits. Maybe we’ll realize how many of us can work efficiently from home and continue to ease emissions. In regards to government, I hope regulations go up and we look further down the road to avoid catastrophes because ultimately it’s the working and poor class that will suffer.
What other steps should record labels, music streaming platforms, and other music industry entities be taking to help struggling musicians through this time?
I wish there were reimbursements for content creators built into social media platforms. Now more than ever people are finding creative new ways to connect to an audience and not making a dime. I’m impressed by the generosity of people donating in such precarious times, but it’s imperative we find ways to build compensation into these systems, which are profiting from it. Most stock is owned by the 1% and it sucks that the people providing content are just pumping more money to them. If only social media could be some kind of co-op, owned by the users or something. I won’t pretend to be an expert but there’s got to be a better way.
What is the best way fans can support you financially right now? Buying vinyl and CDs, downloading and streaming your music, buying merch, supporting your Patreon page or other crowd sourcing platform (if you use one), or some other means? Is there a particularly cool piece of merch you’d like to highlight?
The best way to support a musician is to buy records/merchandise directly from them. I’d suggest visiting an artist’s profile to see if they’re shipping merchandise themselves. I may do that soon, in which case I’d say my BSKJ T-shirt. Spreading the word online is a great alternative. I’m always moved by people sharing my songs on their own profiles and platforms.
Which albums, songs, films, TV shows, books, podcasts, live streams, video games, board games, etc, have been helping you get through the quarantine?
One positive thing about this experience is that I’m making better decisions about movies. I’ve really missed Film Struck so I finally joined Criterion. Watching movies by director has always been fun for me since you see how their work has evolved. I’ve been watching a lot of Agnès Varda films and interviews. I finally saw Wadjda, a film set in Saudi Arabia by Haifaa al-Mansour. I’m shopping for books on my bookshelf so I’m finally completing a lot of my high school English assignments. Otherwise I’m a backgammon freak.
Beyond the obvious items (such as toilet paper), what things have you made sure to get from the grocery store when stocking up? And, also, do you have any toilet paper?
Sweet potatoes are my sustenance. We’ve actually been subscribed to a bamboo toilet paper delivery so we’re okay on that front. Toilet paper is great and all but do you have an attachable bidet?
Read our 2017 interview with Bedouine.