It was in his hometown of Mont-Laurier, Québec, a small municipality of less than 15,000 people in the Laurentian Mountains just north of Montréal, that singer-songwriter Bobby Bazini – born Bobby Bazinet – spent his charmed summer of 2007 and the week, he says, that changed his life.
It’s an idyllic region, once enchantingly described as a place where “a muse is keeping watch somewhere in the silence of a Laurentian forest glen, attracting artists and writers in search of inspiration.” It’s a time and place wistfully recalled in the title track of his recently-released third album, Summer is Gone. The recording marks a measured step into the future for Bazini as a songwriter and performer with global ambitions, but also takes a moment to look back at his small town roots.
Bazini was 18 that summer. He’d performed outside of the local radio station CFLO-FM for crowds attending the Festival international de théâtre de Mont-Laurier, and had become friends with Hugo Sabourin from the station – who’d shown up one day with a set of drums and asked to jam. In that same week, he not only met singer-songwriter Odessa Page, his girlfriend of nine years, but also forged a working relationship with Sabourin, with whom he wrote the song “Turn Me On.” That became the calling card for a management deal in Montréal, which helped to kick-start his career.
With the release of the single “I Wonder” in 2009 from his platinum debut album Better in Time, the music world was formally introduced to Bazini. He’s an artist who likes to keep things authentic when it comes to instrumentation – no computers or synthesizers. He also takes a great deal of inspiration from legends like Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Johnny Cash, but has found a contemporary style and voice of his own. And he can sing with the compelling voice of one whose affinity for the iconic performers of Deep-South roots music runs soul deep.
“The first two albums I wrote on my own and I felt like I needed to do something else with this third album.”
Between the first and second album, Where I Belong, there was a dispute with his ex-manager that prevented Bazini from recording for an extended period. It was a frustrating time. When the smoke had finally cleared, he was signed to Universal Music and on his way to Los Angeles for sessions at Village Recorder, the legendary studio which has played host to many of the icons of contemporary music, with producer Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock) at the helm. The musicians included Booker T (organ), Jack Ashford (percussion) and Jay Bellerose (drums).
Where I Belong proved to be a huge success. It topped the Canadian Album chart in June of 2014, the year in which Bazini was the only Canadian artist to sell more than 100,000 units. He also spent a lot of time on the road, playing to capacity crowds – including a free concert at the Montreal International Jazz Festival which drew close to 60,000 people.
As Bazini contemplated the writing of Summer is Gone, he knew that it was time to try a new approach. “The first two albums I wrote on my own and I felt like I needed to do something else with this third album,” he says. “I needed to travel and get out of my comfort zone. I first went to Nashville, then to L.A., and finally to London, where I found the direction of the album.
“I had an amazing time in Nashville, but what I did there felt too close to the last album,” says Bazini, who worked there with producer/songwriter/musician Brendan Benson (The Raconteurs). “I wanted something a little different, but at the same time I didn’t want a drastic change in sound. It was a smooth transition, I think. There’s a good balance of having songs like ‘Leonard Cohen’ or ‘Summer Is Gone’ for something different, but then you recognize Bobby Bazini in songs like ‘Where the Sun Shines.’ It was important to keep that balance.”
Given Leonard Cohen’s recent ascension to the Tower of Song, the track on the album which bears his name, written in Nashville with Angelo Petraglia (Kings of Leon), makes you wonder if Bazini is somewhat psychic. “Coincidence,” he laughs. The line “She loves me like a Leonard Cohen song” will give you the general drift of its meaning.
“My first session in the U.K. was with Jake Gosling [Ed Sheeran], who works outside of London in Surrey,” says Bazini. “We sat down and wrote ‘Blood Is Thicker Than Water,’ and I remember coming back to the hotel, playing it for my girlfriend, and telling her that I thought I had the direction of the album. It was exactly what I had in mind, more of a soul feel, with a touch of rock – a little more contemporary. I wrote four songs with Jake, but there are only two on the album – ‘Bird Has Flown’ is on the 13-song deluxe version of the album.
“It’s funny, my all-time favourite records are all from the States – the soul stuff. Lately the music I listen to – my favourite music – has been coming from London, artists like James Morrison. I also like the first James Bay album. People used to compare me to Paolo Nutini, but I hear it much less now. I actually got to write with some of the writers who were involved with his first album including Jimmy Hogarth [Amy Winehouse, James Morrison, James Bay], who had written a few songs with Paolo and had co-produced the James Morrison debut album.”
Bazini’s initial reason for wanting to record in London was to work with Grammy Award- winning producer Martin Terefe (James Blunt, Jason Mraz, Ron Sexsmith), who’d worked with aforementioned British blue-eyed soul singer James Morrison in the early 2000s. Morrison’s debut album Undiscovered, released in 2006, was one of Bazini’s favourite albums at the time.
“I didn’t know if Martin would be the producer or not, but I knew I wanted to work with him,” he says. “I also knew that he was a songwriter. We booked a writing trip to London for three weeks and every session was great. Not every song from every writer I collaborated with was album material, but most of them were. I remember coming back from London with all these songs and I was so excited. I couldn’t wait for people to hear them.”
But arriving home, Bazini decided that one more trip to London was in the cards. “We had more than 30 songs, but I felt that something was missing,” he explains. “I came back with ‘C’est la vie,’ the first single from this album, which I wrote with Martin Terefe. I remember my managers and the label getting very excited about that song. When I heard it the first time produced by Martin, I felt we had not only the album finished but also the first single. I love the song because it has a nice message and it’s simple. There’s a bit of a bluesy progression but it sounds contemporary, and it’s what I had in mind.”
In the studio, Bazini says that Terefe pushed him to do more, not only with his voice but as a musician. “Martin is a very creative producer and I loved working with him,” says the singer. “I’m used to playing acoustic guitar on my records but he didn’t hire a guitar player. He suggested I play electric guitar on the sessions, which was a first for me. I play on all the tracks and I actually did my first guitar solo. That was fun, and it was pretty amazing to have that kind of support from the producer. The guitar parts are also important in terms of my sound. I write my songs with my guitar, and the fact that you can hear me play on it is part of my sound. That’s what people will hear when they come to see me live.
“The fear is, even for me, in trying something new. You never know where you’re going to end up. You want people to follow you. I know when I first released ‘C’est la vie’ as a single, there was great response, but some people were like, ‘Oh, this sounds different!’ You want to push the envelope and some fans want you to stay where you are. It takes awhile for them to get used to the change.”