Azniv Korkejian is having a busy year.
The singer and songwriter who lives in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park goes by the stage name Bedouine, a "Gallicized riff on the wanderer or nomad" — which is as good a name as any for her lovely, free-floating songs that recall classic '70s country folk with a touch of Leonard Cohen and low-key bossa nova.
Bedouine, 33, appeared this year with a charming self-titled debut album released by Richmond's own Spacebomb label and featuring help from friends such as guitarist Smokey Hormel (Tom Waits and Beck) and producer and bassist Gus Seyffert (Nora Jones).
"I think my natural register is pretty low," she says by phone from rainy London where she's on tour. "I feel like I'm channeling some kind of strength there, not only vocally but emotionally. It feels more forceful."
Having played a show last night, today she's running around, first for a BBC radio appearance then for interviews and to find a place to do laundry. Tomorrow she'll take a train to meet Richmond artist, Matthew E. White, founder of Spacebomb, to tour with him for another few weeks.
White and his Spacebomb crew play major roles on the album, handling the subtle arrangements for horns and strings that make the starry-eyed folk tunes feel even more elegant and fleshed out, without intruding. And it all started with a chance meeting in Los Angeles, White recalls, when she introduced herself after a show.
"She asked if she could share some music with me and also asked that I didn't listen to anything online of hers," he says, "which I liked a lot — made me think she had a sense of direction to her art." A couple days later she sent an email to White with a few MP3s. "I remember distinctly putting them on as we drove through the desert and was immediately startled with how good it was. We started corresponding quite a bit, and she just kept on sending great songs, so at that point it wasn't a hard decision."
The wandering moniker is apt: Korkejian was born in Aleppo, Syria, to Armenian parents. She spent her youth living in an Americanized compound in Saudi Arabia before her family won the green card lottery and moved to this country in 1995, she says.
After attending Savannah College of Art and Design on a scholarship to study sound design, she moved to Los Angeles where she began editing sound for films such as the romantic comedy, "The Big Sick." Slowly she started playing her own guitar songs.
She recognized that Spacebomb was special because of its rare attention to "melodic choices" on albums by White and Natalie Prass.
"Even though Natalie's gets very lush and dynamic, there's still a simplicity. It's not a throwback, it's more than that," she explains. "I'm not an electronic artist, and it's hard these days to find a home for your music if you're not in that mainstream sound."
She finished the record, choosing songs from a larger reservoir of original material, before bringing it to Spacebomb. She and producer Seyffert traveled to Richmond to oversee the sessions with White and Trey Pollard. "It was unreal. Immediately the string players are sight-reading perfectly. I had to pinch myself," she recalls. "I couldn't believe that one of my stripped-down songs I'm used to playing on my guitar could have arrangements that were so lush, the tones and voicings."
Even though Korkejian was born in Syria, the album isn't political; most of the songs are about personal relationships, such as the stunning slow ballad "Dusty Eyes" about an infatuation with a date that went south. ("His eyes were striking," she recalls. "And he knew it."). But she feels political just by virtue of being human, she says.
"I'm pretty upset at what's happening [in Syria], but more than anything I try to take personal responsibility with how I live my life," she says. "There's a lot of anger right now, and I try to not get ahead of myself emotionally. I think that energy can be used better within our interactions and lifestyles."
There is one song "Summer Cold" that features a nostalgic snippet of ambient sound recorded on her grandmother's street in Aleppo.
"It's like I'm speaking to the country when I say, 'What have they done to you?'" she says of the lyrics, which were a reaction after she learned of U.S. weapons being placed into hands of the opposition. "By then [the opposition] was laced with 10-plus terrorist groups. It seemed wildly irresponsible. … I think it's important that Americans realize that propaganda is alive and well, especially on social media. Check your sources."
When it comes to songwriting, she has a simple motto.
"Someone said to make good art, be alone," she says. "Who said that? Was it Nikola Tesla? Every once in a while I get down on myself for not journaling, but these songs are essentially journaling for me." S
Bedouine performs with Howard Ivans at the Capital Ale House Music Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 15, at 8 p.m. $12 to $15.