Shania Twain opener Bastian Baker calls her a mentor, readies for show at The Q
The Plain Dealer
By Chuck Yarborough
June 11, 2018
CLEVELAND, Ohio - Bastian Baker doesn't mean to name-drop, but it's just a byproduct of his reality.
The guy who essentially discovered him was Claude Nobs, the late founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival. Yeah, THAT one, in Baker's native Switzerland, the one that Deep Purple referenced in "Smoke on the Water.''
Then through Nobs, he met Shania Twain, who lives in Switzerland with her current husband. And now, Baker is touring the United States as the opening act for Twain's comeback after a 15-year hiatus. The tour stops at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday, June 16.
"I met Shania at an event at the festival,'' said Baker, calling from a tour stop in Florida. Nobs, who died in 2013, was already a fan and reached out.
"Dude called me and said, 'I'm going to throw this event before the festival. Come and play, just you and your guitar. It can only be good for you,' '' Baker remembered.
It was a morning performance and afterwards, Nobs came up to him and said this "singer from Canada'' liked his music and wanted him to join her table for lunch.
"That was six years ago,'' said Baker, who just turned 27. "We had lunch and talked about live music.
"The funny thing was that I knew Shania from 'Man, I Feel Like a Woman,' but I didn't know about the 100 million records sold or the five Grammys,'' he said. "She's such an adorable, grounded person you would never think she was that legend.''
The friendship they began that day has linked them not just for this tour, but for everything leading up to it.
"They (Twain and her Swiss-born husband) began coming to my shows,'' he said. "She really is my mentor in terms of music. She's been advising me a lot on my music and connecting me with a bunch of people, and she thinks the new songs are ready for this market.''
Though Twain is marketed as a country act, she's really more of a pop singer with country leanings . . . and Baker is neither, which caused him some concern.
"I was a little nervous for the first show,'' said Baker, who speaks five languages and writes and sings in English rather than his native French. "I wondered if I'm country enough or pop enough to have people liking my music.''
But audiences here have been receptive to his sound, which is sort of a smooth pop, with some undertones of Michael Stipe. And for good reason.
"The first song I knew by heart was REM, 'Losing My Religion,' '' he said. "My dad had a sports bar in Switzerland - his father and brother were professional hockey players, and Baker himself was a center on the Swiss national team before deciding to devote himself to music. "I would be singing that song for the clients.
"I was recreating the sounds I'd heard, but I had no idea what I was talking about,'' Baker said, laughing. "It's funny human ear is able to recreate these sounds.''
The key isn't so much the melody or the lyric, he said, but the emotion. If he can impart that to the song no matter the language, he chalks it up as a win.
This tour has had an added bonus, as well.
"The biggest difference and the reason it's amazing for me to tour the U.S. is I sing in English and write my songs in English,'' said Baker, whose real name is Bastien Kaltenbacher. "When I tour Europe, people may not be getting it. One thing I'm sure about here, everybody gets the lyrics.''
Baker confessed he used that language barrier to his advantage when he was starting out.
"At 15, I started writing songs in English, and the first reason why was because it sounded better to me,'' he said, and then laughed. "The second reason was it was very convenient. I could talk about personal stuff and not everybody would understand when I was talking about really [fouled] up stuff.''
Audiences here do understand the words, and they've been giving him a warm reception as he continues to build his career. Perhaps not surprisingly, hockey still plays a part in his music world, too.
"I always remember my dad telling me, referring to Wayne Gretzy: 'Always do better.' ''
Gretzky, eh? Name-dropper.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, June 16.
Headliner: Shania Twain.
Where: Quicken Loans Arena.
Tickets: $29.95 to $149.95, plus fees, at the box office, Discount Drug Mart locations, online at theqarena.com or by phone at 1-888-894-9424.