Bobby Bazini, his girlfriend, his guitar and their dog were ready for their great road trip across the U. S. of A. They were headed from his native Montreal to L.A. to record Bobby’s sophomore album, Where I Belong, but he wanted to drive there so he could fill his head up with wide-open spaces, beauty and truth, stuff that would inform his work in the studio. Whether or not his Kia would make it 2,800 miles remained to be seen, but it didn’t really matter: he was well aware that the next time he travelled to L.A., it would be on a plane.

“It would’ve been a lot more romantic to take this trip in a sporty convertible, but it would also have cost a lot more in gas,” says Bazini, laughing. Since then, he’s been back in the United States to present showcases, give interviews and play opening slots for singer Lily Kershaw. “Breaking the U.S. market takes time. You have to start from scratch, and stop at nothing to make sure people come in contact with your music. Opening for other artists is hard. A lot of the concertgoers haven’t made it to the venue yet, and the ones who are there are talking among themselves because they’re not there to see you… You need to be in top shape and give everything you’ve got to capture people’s attention. After the shows, I go into the crowd of spectators to give out free downloads of my songs.”

“In the end, it’s my name and my face we see on posters. I want the decisions to be in line with who I am.”

The artist makes no bones about it: “The whole seduction game requires great discipline. I don’t have time to play rock star. When I’m on tour, I drink a lot more lemon water with a touch of honey than I do alcohol. I try to go to bed early whenever I can. I don’t want to be onstage and fear that my voice won’t make it ‘til the end of the show.”

Barely 25, Bazini does come across as a high performance race car surrounded by a team of engineers. Chief among them are Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Madeleine Peyroux, Melody Gardot), who produced Where I Belong and signed him to his Strange Cargo imprint before convincing Capitol to launch the album in the U.S. ; his international agent, Rich Isaacson, who’s also behind Mika’s career; Universal Canada; and, last but not least, his close entourage and local management team: Geneviève Gélineau and media personality Mike Gauthier.

Barely three years ago, following the immense success of his debut album, Better In Time, Bazini had to completely rebuild his career and team following a stormy breakup with his previous manager. (See Turning the Page, below.) “When I started my career,” he says, “I had no idea how the business worked, but now, I get involved in all the decisions about my career and marketing strategies. I get involved a lot more and I chose my team according to this philosophy: I want to know where I’m going, and I have a veto on all decisions concerning my likeness and my music,” explains the songwriter who, admittedly, finds this approach a bit difficult at times. “Sometimes, it means I get information that artists don’t always need to know, such as the offers and counter-offers during a contract negotiation, but in the end, it’s my name and my face we see on posters. I want the decisions to be in line with who I am.”

According to Bazini, a good example of this is the fact that not a single producer (besides Larry Klein) was allowed in the studio during the recording of Where I Belong. “Larry sent them the record once it was completed, and that’s I,” says Bazini. “It was like night and day compared to my first album, where management was constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure I was writing hits. This time around, I did what I pleased, such as leaving folk behind and incorporating more soul.”

This new musical direction started to germinate even as Bazini was still touring for Better in Time –  thanks to Larry Klein, who gave him the leeway to do so. “By writing my new songs on an acoustic guitar, I knew they’d take on another dimension once the soul arrangements did their thing. I’ve always loved soul music, and thanks to Larry’s rolodex, I had the incredible chance to play with soul legends, such as Booker T. Jones, who played organ for Otis Redding, percussionist Jack Ashford, who played on many Marvin Gaye records, and, above all, my favourite drummer, Jay Bellerose (Diana Krall, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Bob Dylan, Elton John). I was like a kid in a candy store.”

Quite obviously, his producers had nothing to worry about: the platinum-certified Where I Belong was the biggest selling record in Canada made by a Canadian in 2014 and is nominated at the JUNO Awards in the Album of the Year and Fan Choice Award categories. Even though he answers our questions with the voice of a kid, his album displays a newfound maturity, and his singing voice is as powerful and emotionally-charged as ever.

Turning the page
In 2012, Cesar Boestein, Bobby Bazini’s manager, filed a lawsuit against his protégé, claiming breach of contract and asking for $108 000 in damages. “I won, since he didn’t even show up in court, but after auditing his financial records, turned out it was he who owed me money. He went bankrupt and I lost a lot of money, but it’s all behind me now. I surrounded myself with a new management team, on the same wavelength as me. Our relationships are simple and very human; no one’s playing a game. During my concerts, it’s my manager Mike Gauthier who tunes my guitars backstage and hands them to me. I get a definite impression that we’re all working towards a common goal.”