From Bulgaria to L.A.: The Incredible Journey of Kan Wakan's Gueorgui Linev

Kan Wakan's Gueorgui I. Linev
Kan Wakan's Gueorgui I. Linev
Photo by Ricky Tompkins

[Editor's note: L.A. Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column appears here every Wednesday. Follow him on twitter and also check out his archives.]

Before music subsumed Gueorgui I. Linev, there was only soccer and bread lines. The Bulgarian-born musician’s first memories involve Soviet communism in a small, television-less apartment that reeked of rakia (grape brandy) and turpentine.

“Soccer was really the only thing we could do for fun. There were limited choices of everything,” says the mastermind of the cinematic orchestral band Kan Wakan. The name translates to “interstellar” in Tagalog and “sun dance” in the Native American language Lakota.

“We were on food stamps, so we had canned food for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” continues the Glassell Park resident, who also goes by the production alias Crooked Waters. “We’d go to the grocery store and there’d be bread lines at 6 a.m. If you didn’t get there on time, you wouldn’t get bread that day.”

His parents met at the Sofia Art Academy and divorced nearly 30 years ago, when Linev was a year old. Raised by his mother, an icon conservationist and restorationist, music was woven into his consciousness via smuggled cassettes of The Beatles and Eric Clapton from the downtown black market and grandparents who conscripted him into intense, old world–style piano lessons.

Things changed only so much after he and his mother moved to America. Settling in Sun Valley, Idaho, a ski resort, Linev awkwardly adjusted to a rural culture unwelcoming to Bulgarian immigrants who spoke no English.

“It was a massive culture shock,” says Linev, bearded and accentless, wearing a beanie and a dotted button-up. “I didn’t know anything about anything and wasn’t into any of it.”

The local teen music scene revolved around pop-punk bands whose ultimate goal was joining the Warped Tour. So he threw himself into sports, earning selection to the prestigious U.S. Soccer Development Academy, until a rare form of cancer sidelined his soccer dreams.

While underdoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Linev began playing guitar in earnest. Obsessed with the blues, he watched videos of Stevie Ray Vaughan, shredding as convalescent therapy. After high school graduation and six months of pre-med courses, he dropped out to pursue music in California.

“I had to do something else, and all that made me happy was music,” he says. “I couldn’t do it in school, and nothing’s going on in Idaho, so I moved to California at 18. But not before my water pump broke and my car got stolen from the auto body repair shop with all my stuff in it.”

The car eventually was recovered, and Linev settled in San Luis Obispo. He stayed a year before decamping to Hollywood at the nadir of its nauseous Wilmer Valderrama epoch. That hastened resettlement in England, where Linev remained until the beginning of this decade.

Kan Wakan formed in 2010 and began putting out songs two years later. Those noirish, entrancing early tracks quickly earned them KCRW rotation, a publisher, management and a contract with Universal-owned Verve Music Group.

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But the label’s 18-month delay in releasing the finished product perhaps dulled some momentum. Last year’s soulful Moving On flew largely under the radar among blogs and the music press — save for Morning Becomes Eclectic airplay and the top spot on BuzzBands.LA’s “Best L.A. Albums” list.

Striking a smooth, sinister balance between crepuscular trip-hop and experimental minimalism, Kan Wakan’s debut artfully recalls Air and Portishead, Mazzy Star and the Cinematic Orchestra.

Major assists came from vocalist Kristianne Bautista, drummer Joey Waronker (Beck, Atoms for Peace) and guitarist/producer Peter Potyondy (aside from Linev, the band’s only other full-time member), as well as a 14-piece orchestra conducted by Linev’s uncle, a noted Bulgarian composer.

A formal follow-up isn’t planned yet, but Linev intends to release a series of singles throughout the year, starting in May.

“I want to make other people cry at my music,” Linev says, laughing broadly at his own ambitions spoken out loud. “It’s very dramatic.”


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