Swiss Superstar Bastian Baker Talks Career And Touring With Shania Twain
By Chris Malone
January 18, 2019
Year after year, Switzerland ranks among the happiest countries in the world in the annual World Happiness Report and Global Peace Index, along with surveys conducted by entities like U.S. News & World Report and The New York Times. Why? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the tiny European nation hasn't engaged in any conflict — global or regional — in over 200 years; or that healthcare and quality of life are top national priorities; or maybe it's just a natural result of being idyllically nestled in the heart of the Alps. Along with Canadians, the Swiss are regarded as some of the most genial people on the planet, so it's no wonder why one of the Great White North's most accomplished performers permanently relocated to this small mountainous country two decades ago. It was here, in the land of Helvetia, that Shania Twain first met Bastian Baker.
Born and raised along the banks of Lake Geneva in Lausanne, Bastien Kaltenbacher was a soon-to-be professional hockey player with a knack for the guitar. Since the age of 7, Bastien embraced music as his creative outlet, performing his original songs for his classmates every Friday and honing his craft as he grew through adolescence. Though he always knew he was a talented musician, he never considered making it his career until a party in his late teens — a date he remembers to this day: May 29th, 2010.
It was his friend's birthday party, and after playing a few songs around 2 in the morning, a partygoer approached him and asked if he had a producer, or any plans to do anything with his songs. What he expected to be a boring party that he wasn't excited to go to (and almost skipped) ended up leading to the creative epiphany of his young adult life: "In that moment I realized that there were people who were actually excited to work on musical projects with me, and that’s what changed my mind about where I was in terms of music," he tells Forbes. "I just never thought it could actually be something."
What came next was a string of events that led to one fateful balmy summer day in the Swiss countryside.
"I was really in for the ride, you know? I was already blessed and grateful, and it all happened so fast." At the age of 19, he was whisked away to a studio in Paris to record a song, and three months later he almost crashed his car after hearing it on the radio for the first time. He looks back on the sprouting of his career not with a sense of nostalgia, but with a fondness for his innocence. "The beginning is a moment you can never recreate," he reminisces.
That following summer in 2011, with a newly anglicized name, Baker was playing at the iconic Montreaux Jazz Festival and gearing up for the release of his debut album when his entirely acoustic performance caught the attention of an incognita Shania Twain. After his set, he hosted a small unofficial show at the festival founder's home, where the founder told him he wanted to introduce him to a Canadian singer. "I love Canadians! Let's meet the Canadian!" Baker thought. From the first time he met Shania Twain, Baker says they clicked; in the years since, as his career grew with an impressive discography, they saw each other more and more, and have become what Baker calls "a little family": he had plans to play tennis with Twain's husband after speaking with Forbes, and often plays with son Eja. "They’re awesome people," he remarks. "It’s awesome to have some people that stay grounded even though they’re as successful as they are, and that support you and help you and your journey."
Through he and Shania's years of friendship, he picked up pieces of advice that she often bestowed upon him. One that stays with him, though, is to always stay true to himself:"There's a lot of people out there trying to be like everybody else, but you just got to stay yourself, know who you are, and good things will happen." He followed that wisdom as he wrote and released four albums over the span of a decade, eventually landing him in a spot similar to the one who gave him that advice. "I’m in a position now [where] no one can actually tell what I do," he says, often explaining his straddling of pop and country to others as "a bit of Shania Twain." "The fact that I’ve worked for her definitely is a strong encouragement for me to not try to just try to fit in a box.
When Shania was gearing up to kick off her worldwide Now Tour in the spring of last year, she knew exactly who she wanted to take on the road as her opening act. Baker performed with nothing more than his voice and guitar to crowds numbering as high as 100,000 as the show crisscrossed the globe. Every night on the nearly 80-city tour, he joined Shania onstage for a rendition of her beloved "Party For Two" duet; despite being a certified crowd-pleaser, he noted that they have no plans of recording a new version. "To record a duet just to record a duet doesn’t make sense; I feel like there has to be a creative point, it has to match, it has to be the right timing, it has to be the right song... And I don’t think neither her nor I are only focused on the commercial aspect of the music industry, like recording something together just because we’ve been on tour together." He doesn't, however, rule out the possibility of collaboration in the future: "The good thing is I live 10 minutes away from her in Switzerland, so we've got plenty of opportunities to do something together in the future."
After an already unforgettable tour, Baker recalls three moments that he knows he'll never forget for the rest of his life. Singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" in his home town of Montréal—in the Bell Centre, where Baker once dreamt about playing hockey—was an overwhelming moment for him. "After I sang the first couple of notes, the sound that came from the crowd was just insane. It gave me goosebumps all over." More pressure than singing a Leonard Cohen classic in Cohen's hometown, though, was performing to a sold-out crowd in Nashville. Though Baker was worried about facing judgment from thousands of aspiring artists in Music City, he instead remembers it as his favorite show of the whole tour. In addition to the crowd's warm reception, he had to pinch himself after playing in the Bridgestone Arena, the same venue that hosts the Nashville Predators hockey team, of which his good friend Roman Josi is the captain. His most memorable moment, however, came in Barretos, Brazil, where he performed in front of a crowd of over 100,000. He laughs thinking about the basic Portuguese that he learned to communicate with the audience, and calls it a "beautiful moment, realizing that wherever you are in the world, music brings people together."
Fresh off a well-deserved week of rest, Baker is currently spending his time gearing up for a tour of his own this year. He's spending the spring and summer playing around Europe, and in the fall, he plans to expand the tour around the globe (again), stopping everywhere that the Now Tour had the most success. "Nothing like going on vacation or going on a break on my mind right now," he says, noting that he learned from the best.
As he looks towards making the next big steps in his career, Baker still acknowledges the ever-present hand of fate that got him to where he is now. "It’s a matter of being at the right place at the right time," he muses. How else can someone go from meeting their first producer at a party they almost blew off to touring the world with one of country music's biggest superstars? "It's a bit of karma, it's a bit of luck, and it's a bit of 'meant to be.'"