Bastian Baker cooking up warmup set for Shania Twain

Beaver County Times
By Scott Tady
June 30, 2018

PITTSBURGH — Bastian Baker played pro hockey in Switzerland, foxtrotted on France’s “Dancing With The Stars” and coached contestants on Belgium’s “The Voice.”

Though U.S. audiences just now are discovering the 27-year-old Swiss singer as he opens shows for country superstar Shania Twain. Their tour visits PPG Paints Arena on July 17.

“Think Shawn Mendes meets Thomas Rhett meets Ryan Tedder” the Tampa Bay Times said in describing Baker, whom women have been lining up to meet at his merch table as soon as he finishes his nightly duties as Twain’s warmup act.

Baker also comes out during Twain’s set to sing a duet on “Party For Two” and play guitar on her “Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed.”

“I get to feel like a rock star,” Baker said in perfect English, one of the five languages he speaks.

Having already forged brand partnerships with Hugo Boss and Harley Davidson, Baker (birth name Bastian Kaltenbacher) followed in his father’s skates, and became a pro hockey player in Switzerland, but quit at age 19 to focus on a singing career.

“I still follow hockey. The first thing I do once I wake up is check the hockey recap on my NHL app,” Baker said. “This tour with Shania Twain is playing hockey arenas so I get to see the locker rooms and walk around the buildings; that takes an already great tour and makes it even better.”

He’s excited his first trip to Pittsburgh will give him a behind-the-scenes look at where the Penguins play, as someone who’s been following Sidney Crosby’s career since playing hockey in a pee wee league championship in the same building where Crosby played later that night in a junior championship.

“The whole stadium was packed because everyone wanted to see him,” Baker said. “They said he’s the guy who’s going to break all Wayne Gretzky’s records.”

“Sid (Crosby) is in Switzerland right now practicing with a Swiss team,” Bastian said in a June phone interview (the Penguins’ captain was working out with HC Davos at their home rink in Switzerland). “I’ve got a good friend from Zurich who texted me from a club and said, ‘Dude, I just saw Sidney Crosby.’ Pittsburgh is definitely a great hockey club with those back-to-back Stanley Cups. I love to watch them play.”

He watched Crosby hoist the Stanley Cup in person at Game 6 of the 2017 finals, though Baker was there rooting for the home team, the Nashville Predators. He ended up moving to Nashville at the insistence of his friend, Swiss hockey star-turned-Predators captain Roman Josi.

“Roman Josi reached out to me and said ‘I’m playing in Nashville now. It’s Music City. You should come check it out.’ It was Josi who booked my first gig there at Douglas Corner Cafe, a live music venue. I fell in love with the city and started making a lot of connections with songwriters and pretty soon had 60 songs written.”

Baker always loved music, and got his first big break — the one that convinced him to put away his skates — back home in Switzerland as a teenager playing a small bar in the mountains.

“That was a crazy night. I was 19 years old and just playing for free food and free drinks over three nights. I had finished my set but someone said you might want to sing some more songs because Claude Nobs just walked in.”

Nobs, the founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival — the “funky Claude” referenced in Deep Purple’s rock classic “Smoke on The Water” — had a lot of influence in the music industry.

“So I went back on to play a few more songs, and Claude came to the stage with a harmonica and we jammed for a bit,” Baker said. “He told the crowd, ‘I don’t know who this young guy is, but he’s gonna play the Montreux Jazz Festival this summer.’”

Nobs lived up to his word, and Baker played Montreux. By 20, he had a hit, “I’d Sing For You,” climbing the Swiss and Belgium charts.

Meanwhile, Twain and her husband saw him perform at Montreux, and later reached out to invite him to lunch.

“I knew her from a couple of her songs but that was it, so I didn’t freak out,” Baker said.

They became friends and stayed in touch as Baker’s career continued to flourish overseas, including more charting songs and TV appearances.

When Twain needed an opening act for her 2018 tour, she picked Baker, and has been telling her audiences if they were in Switzerland, “I’d be opening for him.”

Baker hopes this spotlight time on the Twain tour will boost his current single “All Around Us,” produced by 30-time Grammy nominee Jacquire King (Niall Horan, Kings of Leon).

A few of Baker’s songs on Spotify have a One Republic-ish feel.

“I’m a big Ryan Tedder fan so that sounds like a compliment to me,” Baker said.

“I never know how to describe my music. I don’t think of genres when I write a song,” Baker said. “I just try to write good melodies, then put some good words to them so everyone can sing along. That’s what’s good about touring with Shania. She’s not country, she’s not pop, she’s not rock, she’s all of it. We’re the same that way.”

Baker’s been working on a new album in Nashville that may be out by year’s end.

“I don’t see this as my fourth record. It’s more like my first album for the second time, if that makes sense. It’s like a whole new experience with so many different sounds.”

He’s stripped down his sound on this tour.

“My performance is literally me and a guitar for a half hour. Six songs and one cover. I talk to the crowd. It’s very relaxed and easygoing. The more the crowd gives me, probably the more I give back.”

If the Pittsburgh crowd demands it, he could bust out a dance move he learned on France’s “Dancing With The Stars.”

“That almost feels like a different life,” Baker said. “That was probably the most scared I’ve ever been. Here I am at 20, and I’ve got to dance a tango in front of 6 million French people. I was freaking out.”

He’s more chill at his merch table, where Pittsburgh concertgoers will find him immediately after his set. Usually a few hundred people are lined up.

“They buy my CDs and T-shirts and posters. I make sure we take pictures.”

If time starts running out, “I have them put their phones in selfie mode and I run through the line and make sure to at least take a picture with everyone.”

Because trust him, you don’t want to miss any of Twain’s set.

“I watch her show every night and see the crowd go nuts on every song. She does everything so good, from the stage production to how she interacts with the crowd.”

This will only be Twain’s fourth time playing the Pittsburgh area since she became the best-selling female country artist of all time.

“Make sure you come out early,” Baker said.