Change is good.
And sometimes, you need to take a page out of the past to help change the future. Mont-Laurier, Québec-native Bobby Bazini is a pretty flower blooming in a digital drought. While many contemporary pop songwriters rely on post-production as their scapegoat for poor tuning, Bazini goes it alone and never seems to hit a sour note. Hear for yourself in the unplugged version of his soulful new single “Bubblegum (I Can’t Stop This Feeling)” (via Southern Souls).
In the midst of the growing do-it-yourself recording industry, the traditionalist can take part in a much-needed organic renaissance or be doomed to analogue obscurity. Thankfully, Bazini leans towards the former at the hand of to Universal Music Group record producer Larry Klein (Herbie Hancock, Joni Mitchell, Dinosaur Jr.), who was brought in to produce the 25-year old’s sophomore album Where I Belong (released May 26 in Canada and August 12 in the US) to follow up his 2010 CRIA platinum-certified debut Better In Time. By enlisting the legendary Booker T. Jones on organ, Jack Ashford on percussion and Jay Bellerose on drums, Klein understands that arranging a heavy-handed yet understated band is the best way to let Bazini’s songwriting shine.
“It’s incredibly rare in this era… to come across a young man of Bobby’s age who has gone the extra mile and not only assimilated his influences and made them his own, but has developed his own voice as a songwriter,” said Klein. “I assembled a group of legendary musicians to work with on this album, and Bobby left us all shaking our heads after each take. This is just the beginning for him.” –
We decided to call up Bobby to discuss furthermore about his music, lifestyle, and general influences in this #IXclusive interview:
IX: Hey man, it’s L-Spex from IX, how’s it going, man?
Cool, yea, I’m good!
IX: Describe your background in music.
Growing up, I would hear a lot of American country music [from my parents], but I only became interested in music at age 13 when my parents broke up. [After that], I went to live with my grandmum, she was listening to a lot of Johnny Cash in the house. I just fell in love with the music and started picking up his tunes, then started writing my own songs to help me process my feelings. I’ve been mostly influenced by artists from the 50s up to the 70s, a lot of Otis Redding, Motown artists, Staxx Records, etc.
IX: Okay, what was the first record that changed your life?
Umm, I would say The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. I first learned about Dylan when he was often collaborating with Johnny Cash, you know, and I bought this album when I was 18 or 19 and I just freaked out! It’s still one of my favourite albums of all-time.
IX: The pop music industry is constantly changing. How do you make yourself stand out and stay relevant?
It’s kind of hard, you know? When I write my songs, it’s mostly just what comes out and what feels good to me, I never tell myself I’m going to go out and write a hit song, a folk song, a pop song, a soul song; it comes out naturally. Obviously, the competition is always there. I just hope I can keep doing what feels right and I hope there’s people that want to listen to that.
IX: Great. So how have things like AutoTune changed the way that songs are written?
Sometimes, it could be helpful, I guess, but I love the rawness and authenticity of the old stuff when people were making music with what they had without overthinking things. For me, what I don’t like about it is that [using AutoTune] anyone can sing, some fans may be disappointed seeing the artist live. The idea behind the album I did in LA with Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock) was to make a simple record with real instruments, without a metronome, we sat down and just played, you know? He didn’t give the musicians any instructions but to be creative and do their thing!
IX: Your voice reminds me of Macy Gray’s smokey vibrato mixed with the airy falsetto of Curtis Mayfield. How did you find your tone as a singer?
I picked up a lot of techniques by watching a lot of the old guys perform on stage and sort of took a couple things from them, the way they perform, like the way that Otis Redding fell to his knees, yelling. My voice has always come naturally for me, but I have to give a bit of credit to Larry for this album because he really pushed hard to [show me ways of using] my voice that I didn’t know I could sing. He used to say, “If you’ve got a voice, use it!” [and] I’m really proud of that because I love the vocals on the album and [Larry] was very helpful with that.”
IX: Montréal is known for it’s distinguished fashion sense. What is your favourite recent piece of gear you bought? What item from your youth do you hope will make a comeback?
Although it’s not from Montréal, my stylist helped me discover G-Star Raw from Amsterdam, which make some pretty cool stuff. [As for the comeback], you know, when I was younger, I used to Converse shoes. It was funny because my grandmum told me she used to wear them and found it weird that I bought Converse because she had to wear them because she was poor growing up. [She told me] “Bobby, you should buy better shoes, you know!” [laughs] I still like Converse, I wear that a lot.
IX: How has the atmosphere of the Québec countryside made you who you are today?
I grew up 2 hours away from Montréal in a very down-to-earth place called Mont-Laurier. I kept that sort of simplicity of being a normal guy. I don’t get superficial even though my career is going well, doing big shows and selling records, I still keep my two feet on the ground. Where I’m from is a big part of who I am because people there are simple people, very authentic. When I was a kid, I used to say that I want to go to Hollywood and be famous but to them, it seemed like a crazy dream, almost impossible. But you know, to be able to do it was just incredible.
IX: Beautiful. Anybody you’d like to say hi to?
Yea, I’d like to say hi to my Toronto friend Morgan Cameron Ross. I wrote [lead single] “Bubblegum (I Can’t Stop This Feeling)” with him. Shoutout to him! It was a lot of fun.
IX: Alright man, it was great talking to you, can’t wait to see what you have in store for us in the near future!
Great, okay cool! Looking forward !
The proof is in the pudding. A #1 debut on Canadian charts, a steady place in the Top 5 for the seven following weeks, 2 Juno nominations in one year, 60,000 fans watching in awe as the Québécois heartthrob graced the 35th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal with his presence. Remember, kids: numbers don’t lie!
All photos courtesy of Universal Music Canada