Fabulous Baker Boy
– By Stacey Gualandi
Brad Pitt? A rocket scientist? Elvis? For Shania Twain, those don’t impress her much.
But Bastian Baker is another story. Twain was so taken by his performance over 6 years ago at the Montreux Music Festival, she handpicked the Swiss singer and songwriter to be her opening act.
“I would’ve never ever been on this tour if she hadn’t decided to have me,” says Baker. “It’s kinda crazy when you think back about it.”
This summer, The NOW World Tour marked the 27 year old’s savvy stateside debut as a warm-up for tens of thousands of “Twainiacs,” finally giving Americans a taste of what European audiences have known for years. (Yes, this fabulous Baker boy already has a Swiss army of fans.)
Growing up in Switzerland, he shared a passion for both singing and skating. As a teen, he was even on the country’s National Hockey Team. But faster than you can say Toblerone, he got discovered in a bar (by Montreux Music Festival founder Claude Nobs); his first song “Lucky” became a big hit on the radio; and he sold over a million singles. By the time Twain met him, the transition from skates to six-strings was sealed.
“I can’t say that I was the performer or the entertainer that I am now. But [Shania] said I had a uniqueness in my writing that she doesn’t find in other songwriters,” says the acoustic admirer.
I spoke with the multi-lingual musician ahead of the final show in Las Vegas before the tour moves to his ol’ European stomping grounds. (Ever the hockey fan, I watched as he endeared the audience in a sing-along by invoking Stanley Cup runner-up the Vegas Golden Knights.)
While he’s been playing arenas for 10 years, Baker is not a household name here…yet. But with his wit, charm, charismatic stage presence (he ain’t bad lookin’ either) and his self-titled American album debut Bastian Baker dropping on Oct. 26, he may go from sharing the stage with Shania, to headlining his own tour someday soon.
Shania would definitely be impressed.
DVM: You really command an arena! How did you learn to do that?
BASTIAN BAKER: I started playing bars when I was 13, and it was at my dad’s [Swiss sports bar] where everybody was talking while I was playing. So I had to find ways to catch people’s attention. I’ve had shows where, literally, I would walk on stage and nothing would happen: they would still talk and talk. So before I’d sing anything, I’d just scream for like a minute to get everybody’s attention and then start my song.
DVM: Is that why you have no fear getting up in front of 15,000 people?
BASTIAN: I’ve always loved the challenge of opening up for an artist. I’ve always loved to be the underdog…to be the surprise. So I’m very relaxed when I walk on stage. A guy the other day was like, ‘Dude, do you realize that you’re whistling when you’re walking up on stage?’ I was like, ‘Oh really? Am I?’ I’m just really relaxed cause I’m in total control of what I’m going to do. I love what I do. And sometimes it takes me one-two-three-four4 songs before the whole room is going crazy. But so far on this tour, [the audience] is very loving.
DVM: How hard was it to give up your hockey career?
BASTIAN: I could’ve made it if I had worked a little harder. But I always had this music thing. I started playing hockey and playing guitar at the same time when I was 7 years old.
The last [hockey] season I played was 2010-2011. We actually won the championship that year! At the same time, I was recording the first album and doing some press. I remember I had like 6 months of transition where I would be driving to the practice for hockey and on my way there, I would hear my song on the radio.
DVM: What was it like hearing your song on the radio?
BASTIAN: First of all, I remember almost crashing my car. And second of all, I started thinking like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna have to make a choice.’ So after we were done with the season, I started playing festivals. The first album release was coming and we started having a lot of fans. So instead of looking into a new team that I could play for, I just went on with the music thing.
DVM: Do you miss playing hockey competitively?
BASTIAN: There’s one thing about sports in general that can’t be recreated in music, and if you ask me what I miss about sports, it would be that feeling of a Game 7 overtime win. [That] instant—the second—is something that doesn’t really happen with music.
DVM: What’s it like having your parents visit on tour?
BASTIAN: I love both my parents and they gave me so much while I was growing up. They gave me the opportunity to play hockey. We all remember these weekends they’d have to wake up at 5 in the morning for a hockey game that we would lose 8-0 and then come back.
So I think about all the sacrifices, all the money invested. The fact that nowadays I’m in the position where I can help them, or I can invite them to these shows and to live in these unique experiences…that’s something I really love.
DVM: Is there an experience that comes to mind?
BASTIAN: I was playing in front of the Brandenburg Gate—the iconic door in Berlin where Germany was separated in two parts—for the anniversary of the reunification of both Germanys. There were about 1 million people in the street as we’re playing. I remember I insisted to play one song—just guitar and vocals—because I thought it would be funny with just a guitar for a million people. Looking on the left side of the stage, at the VIP area, my mom was looking at me winking at her, and she shook her head like, “Oh my God, that kid is crazy.”
DVM: Do you have a nickname for your guitar?
BASTIAN: Well, my favorite guitar, my old-time guitar, just got completely destroyed in a terrible accident in Nashville. I’m still recovering…. I never had nicknames for my guitars. I just called them my girlfriends.
DVM: What is one behind-the-scenes NOW Tour secret that you can share with fans?
BASTIAN: [I’m] super competitive [when it comes to sports]. I play tennis with Shania and her husband on our days off. Just scoring a point makes me crazy! And let me tell you, she’s kicking ass. She’s really good. It’s pretty awesome, actually.
DVM: Shania Twain will be a judge on the new singing competition show ”Real Country.” As a former TV judge for The Voice (Belgium), did you give her any tips?
BASTIAN: Oh, she doesn’t need any tips from me! It was funny: The other day we were in Nashville and we were talking about how every country star has a restaurant now, and she was like, ‘Should I get one?’ I know a lot of people in Nashville so I was like, ‘Well, if you’re looking into that, I know a lot of people that could help you do that.’ And she laughed and looked at me and said, ‘Honey, I know a lot of people too.’
DVM: What inspired the song “All Around Us” ?
BASTIAN: I’ve kind of always been driven by this positivity. I’m mostly going to be the guy that helps you get out of your dark-zone. “All Around Us” is exactly that. [One morning] I needed to write a positive song; there was a terrorist attack in Europe and it was just all over the news and I was just sick and tired of all this. I’ve traveled around the world and 99.99 percent of the people I‘ve met are awesome…and do awesome things. And the world is great. And I just wanted to put the focus on that and give a shout-out to those people and a way of ‘thanking them’ song.
DVM: How do you feel about your latest single “Stay” and upcoming?
BASTIAN: It’s always been a dream of mine to release music in the United States… the home of the music I grew up listening to and drew my inspiration from. This record is the best introduction I know how to make, and is a true reflection of who I am and where I’ve been.
DVM: Ten years later, is your career just getting started?
BASTIAN: I feel like there’s so much more to do. I want to write so much more music. I want to play so many more songs. I want to travel so much more. I don’t think I’m the most talented musician that there is out there. But I think that I’m maybe one of the hardest workers. It’s not easy to open doors, but it’s even harder to stay in. I’m just happy that my passion has become my job.