Interview: Gaye Su Akyol – Knockin’ on Middle-East’s Door (November 2016)

In a year where world politics has seen neighbouring countries close their curtains and shut their doors, music is an increasingly important platform for cross-cultural celebration. Gaye Su Akyol is an artist originating from the Black Sea Coast, who unwittingly seems to be achieving just that. Through fusing her own influences of psychedelic Western rock and classical Turkish music, she is engaging her listeners into her depths of Anatolian culture. Her music is bold and unafraid, with snarling guitar hooks and hypnotic, charming Middle-Eastern melodies. It is almost impossible to not be drawn in by this seductive and yet slightly confusing combination. Her newly released album for Glitterbeat, Hologram Ĭmparatorluğu (Hologram Empire), will be her first offering on British shores.

Infused with a cold but shouldering high spirits, Gaye called us to talk about her latest project (which we reviewed a few weeks ago). She shared with us how culture has influenced her artistry and which local musicians have made the greatest impact on her. To start with, we asked her to describe what her latest album is all about.

“I generally don’t like to talk too much about my album with words. I prefer people to feel what they feel when they listen to it. However, this album is a reflection of my subconscious and my cultural background. I called it Hologram Ĭmparatorluğu, which means Hologram Empire. I chose this to metaphorically describe how we may be living in a hologram world. We may not be ourselves, but instead holograms of ourselves.

“Growing up I started to think of music that really satisfies my inner thoughts and my inner-most desires. So, when people listen to my music they cannot describe it quickly because it’s a mixture of genres. The most important thing for me is to make something real and unique from my own feelings. For example, when I listen to Japanese music, I don’t want to hear the Beatles or Rolling Stones, I want to hear what they listen to and what their culture is. This is the point of my art. I am digging my own culture and I am trying to find my own music.”

Gaye is a contemplative artist who believes personal art is a reflection of the here and now, a snapshot of an artist’s own society through their eyes. Her pride in Middle Eastern culture is apparent as we continue talking on the phone. As newbies to this, we asked her how it differs from other cultures and what makes it special.

“Every culture is unique in both its structure and its music, and you can get deep inside the culture if you dig into the music. On the surface of a country’s art, everything becomes Westernised and all the same, but on the inside of a culture is where you find the real music, the real art. Turkish music is very deep and rich. It’s important to me to respect that culture. And, of course, there are technical differences as well, for one example, the drum parts are typically in 7 or 9! But many more differences, too.

“Unfortunately, in Turkey it’s becoming harder for people to come together. Places are being closed because of an excess of alcohol, and the government tries to stop these cool places where people hang out together to make music and art. They may not say it directly but they hate these kinds of places and make sure we feel it.

“The government have their own way of thinking and they decide whether something is art or not. They don’t really like people making their own art. They are very insidious about this, like a bug. However, we try to come together and be strong for our own beliefs and cultures. So we are trying to fight about this kind of thing with the things that we do.”

Not one to shy away from speaking her mind, Gaye reveals her rebellious side as she tells us of the struggle between young artists and the government. She clearly has a lot to say through the medium of her music. Throughout the album, she stays true to her mother-tongue, performing and singing in Turkish. We asked her if she thought the language difference would be a barrier for some listeners from connecting with the music.

“I listen to music in different languages. If your music is universal enough, or if you make something unique, then the lyrics are not as important. I believe people can really connect with the spirit of the song.”

Gaye has been heavily influenced by the music she discovered growing up. She describes the progression from youth to adulthood as an enlightening time for her.

“My family was into music and they are great listeners, especially my mother who was always listening to old Turkish songs when I was a child. So I grew up listening to these old school songs. Then when I first heard Nirvana it was mind-blowing. I couldn’t explain or understand what was going on, but I really liked that kind of music. I realised that I was growing as a person through listening to rock and roll. Then I discovered a genre of music called psychedelic rock, and it just blew another crack in my mind. So all of these genres that differ from each other combined and deepened my passion. The most magnificent music era for me was the 60s and 70s. This has the most beautiful Anatolian rock.”

You can feel the heat of excitement from Gaye as she talks about some of her favourite Turkish artists, Müzeyyen Senar and Zeki Müren, both heralded within their country. Zeki Müren was nicknamed the ‘Sun of Classical Music’, and was also a poet known for his ability to produce poignant and precisely articulated lyrics. She also shares her obsession with Turkish rock from the 60s and 70s, as she introduces us to Selda Bağcan, Barış Manço and Moğollar.  Selda is a musician who may already be familiar to some as one of Turkey’s most famous exports. She has experimented with psychedelia and rock, but her music remains rooted in traditional folk. Throughout the years, she has used her songs to be politically active and was subsequently imprisoned three times. Selda represents a strong female voice that Gaye has grown to admire and respect.

Discovering her favourite artists, and looking back on what has shaped her writing, really defines the backbone of Gaye’s music. We asked her the most important question, what is in store for her and the band in the future, and what can we look forward to?

“We will be touring in Europe. We are planning to play in the biggest festivals. And we want to make some projects with musicians we love, as group collectives. We have plans to come to Britain soon and we really can’t wait!”

Gaye Su Akyol is an artist who aims to connect with any audience wearing open ears. A night at her gig will be a night spent making new friends and exploring new cultures, and it may just remind us what musical delights could be waiting behind our many neighbours’ doors.

photo ©: Barbaros Kayan