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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

‘Singing and writing in English is a way for me to hide behind the lyrics’, says Bastian Baker

Singer-songwriter Bastian Baker talks Shania Twain, Justin Bieber and Swiss stereotypes ahead of his UAE debut.
Bastian Baker’s mother tongue is French, but according to the Swiss singer, ‘singing and writing in English is a way for me to hide behind the lyrics’. Anthony Alex / EPA
Bastian Baker’s mother tongue is French, but according to the Swiss singer, ‘singing and writing in English is a way for me to hide behind the lyrics’. Anthony Alex / EPA

Three albums into his career, Swiss singer-songwriter Bastian Baker will perform for the first time in the UAE on Saturday at Dubai’s Madinat Theatre. We caught up with the 25-year-old star, a former coach on The Voice of Belgium, for a chat about his career.

Your songwriting approach seems very honest, very personal. Has it always been that way?

With the first record [2011’s Tomorrow May Not Be Better], I wrote the earliest song when I was 15, and the latest when I was 18 – so it’s a time of your life when everything you think and feel is very unique. That was very naive, of course, but also very honest and authentic, and I tried to keep that for the second and third albums, even if I knew that by this time people might pay more attention to the lyrics that they would end up on the radio. I’m just part of billions of human beings, and it’s nice to be able to describe, I hope, some of the feelings people can’t put words to.

Some of it almost sounds like a diary – do you not feel exposed?

There’s a silly thing – my mother tongue is French, and I actually think I would feel the way you just described if I was singing in French. But singing and writing in English is a way for me to hide behind the lyrics.

Is there a sense of a glass ceiling? That you have made it in Switzerland, but might not find the same audience abroad?

Oh, totally unlikely – we’re really working hard to make that change. In the past five years we’ve played more than 650 gigs in more than 35 countries. That’s definitely trying hard – and it would be a total mistake to think it should be easy. That’s what you’ve got to do: work harder and longer than the others if you want to make it to the top. That’s probably part of my athlete mentality talking right now.

Still, being a big fish in a small country has given you the chance to support some huge international stars – including Bryan Adams, Elton John and Mumford & Sons. Who made the biggest impression?

I’ve become very close to Shania Twain – she lives part-time in Switzerland, so I met her at the Montreux Jazz Festival a couple of years ago. She became a good friend. Whenever I have a new song I’ll play it for her and she’ll give me amazing advice on production and writing. Right now, she’s like my mentor.

You will perform in Dubai as part of the Swiss Days celebration. What is the most-annoying stereotype you encounter about being Swiss?

Being confused with people from Sweden. This happens all the time, especially in the United States. Around the world, whenever you say you’re from Switzerland, people start by talking about the mountains, chocolate, cheese, then watches, banks, how everyone’s rich and healthy – Switzerland is a great pick-up line to start a conversation. Surprising, isn’t it?

My boss called you the “Swiss Justin Bieber”. Do you get that a lot?

That was always coming into my ears at the very beginning, for the one and only reason that I was very young – 19 – when we started. It’s not a problem for me. It’s very easy to criticise someone like Justin Bieber – he’s a great musician and songwriter, and it’s really hard at such a young age to be so exposed. I would probably have been a thousand times worse than what he was. Like, throwing eggs on his neighbour’s house? I probably would have burnt it down.

• Bastian Baker performs at Madinat Theatre, Souk Madinat, Dubai, on Saturday at 8.30pm. Tickets, Dh190, from www.visitdubai.com

rgarratt@thenational.ae

Updated: January 25, 2017 04:00 AM

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