When I see someone who loves to dream as much as I do, the world stops spinning. I want to beam into their mind. The year 2020 began for me with “steady dreams” and I did everything I could to keep it going, so finishing this year within the gravitational field of Gaye Su Akyol has an emotional aspect to it. To be yourself, to be strong, to be different, to return to self and to speak perfect Turkish… As Gaye Su Akyol creates her own galaxy in a republic that knows no boundaries, her words float boundlessly with her song “İsyan Manifesto”… Getting to know Gaye Su Akyol closely is a unique opportunity because she can remain uncensored despite the system that does not create equal opportunities. Despite the people who doubt every success, who vanish behind the self-made boundaries and the people who tread on everyone’s toes. So, join us!
How was your childhood home like?
I thought it was all a bed of roses but with the therapies and all, I realized it was not actually the case. I was happy, we were happy, but in order to ensure that happiness, there was also a game that had to be played to keep it that way. My dad’s a painter, a “rockstar” in his own way, and he had lived like that, and he still lives like a rockstar. In one house, my mom and my brother, and in the next door, my grandma and grandpa, and also my uncle, who had a big impact on my life. So I spent my childhood in these two houses. The nuclear family was these people. My father would grace our home with his presence every few days, like some kind of a nobleman or like Atatürk whom I looked at his pictures on the wall. I actually noticed that a few years ago. I grew up in a family of idiosyncratic individuals, each of whom could easily be a movie character. My mom’s and grandma’s never-ending sense of love and trust, their love of classical Turkish music, my uncle’s rock ‘n’ roll classics, his fondness of jazz, his album collections, his collection of Agatha Christie novels, the native instruments he brought from his business trips as a journalist, my introduction to Nirvana thanks to my brother are what comes to my mind when I think about my childhood. I remember my father listening to folk music classics such as Ruhi Su and Aşık Veysel, as well as classical Western music. All the music and the discoveries that were new to me at that time, such as Anatolian Pop, the 60s-70s music, psychedelic rock, punk, started to shape the music I made today.
“As someone who was born and raised and is living in Turkey, it is very obvious that I’m not western. I have never felt like a westerner. I am not exactly an easterner either. I think Turkey and I are very familiar in that sense, neither fully eastern nor western, culturally not able to fit into any boundaries or a definition. “
How has your relationship with musical genres changed over time?
As a kid reciting Tut-i Mucize Guyem at the age of five, I can say that I started the story backward. I started memorizing Classical Turkish Music and Turkish Folk Music works as a child. My introduction to Nirvana in 4th grade was a milestone for me. I remember feeling deep down in my bones that it was the one, the one that I have been searching for. After that day, I fell into a huge sea of canons and still, discovery continues. Discovering grunge, punk, sometimes metal, and Anatolian psych around the same time in middle school and then discovering classics like Selda Bağcan, Erkin Koray, Moğollar, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, and many others in high school. I listened to genres that seemed extremely irrelevant to each other during the same periods. At the time, it was kind of taboo. I mean, you can’t listen to a genre if you identify with the other unless you’re doing it in secret… I didn’t have those kinds of binary oppositions. I guess the fact that I don’t feel obliged to stick to a single genre, and my courage to create the music in my mind comes from that.
What do you think of those who attribute your global success to your orientalist attitude?
Let’s first look at the meaning of the word “orientalist”; “In art history, literature, and cultural studies, orientalism is an imitation or depiction of aspects of the Eastern world. These depictions are often made by writers, designers, and artists from the West.”
From the axis of colonialism, while the kingdoms were collapsing, let’s add the effort of the West to see the East as “different, exotic, strange places to bring civilization” and show it from this perspective.
Now according to this mini summary; As someone who was born and raised and is living in Turkey, it is very obvious that I’m not western. I have never felt like a westerner. I am not exactly an easterner either. I think Turkey and I are very familiar in that sense, neither fully eastern nor western, culturally not able to fit into any boundaries or a definition. A country that is stuck at times, experiencing both the wealth and the pain of multiculturalism. In this environment, there are a number of fake identities imposed on us. I intend to explore and create myself, the country I live in, the world, and my own world by questioning those identities. Studying anthropology was also very beneficial to this process. That’s exactly where the manifestation of my existence and what I produce is hidden. I am not glorifying one culture or insulting another. Just like my music, it is possible to find traces of everything I have experienced, seen, lived, suffered, and enjoyed in my music. I detain today’s history through my music; if you study it well, you’ll see that there are a lot of political, economic, social, and anthropological documents. I’m not afraid to put any instrument, attitude, texture, a philosophy that seems to belong to the East or the West -if it touches in one way or another- into my music. I’m in favor of adding whatever sound, genre, or attitude that has a place in my feelings and in the story I tell. I don’t have boxes labeled “cool” or “not cool”. Throughout my childhood, we would go to Trabzon, my father’s hometown, every year and stay for at least a month. I know what Anatolian villages are like. By comparison, my first trip abroad was at the age of 18. Therefore, I know the sociology and anthropology of this country much better than anyone else. As someone born and raised in Turkey, I have experienced and am still experiencing the west’s view of us, the economic and political realities. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, however, thinking there is something fishy in every success, labeling and lynching them, especially if it’s a woman, a person who doesn’t submit to anyone is a political product of the last 20 years. I am greatly disgusted by this, also it doesn’t even favor anyone. You’ll sink into your own swamp.
What kind of dilemma does it create for you to be attacked with the discourse “Geography is destiny.” while you are in a creative process which is solely on traditions and geography?
Ibn Khaldun said “Geography is destiny”, in the 14th century. 600 years have passed, the year is 2020. The conditions are different, the scales are different. Some things are not easy, yes, but who said it would be easy? There has never been an equal opportunity, but I cannot bring myself to say to millions of young people who are pursuing life, looking for a light, trying to discover a path, and have even given up dreaming like, “You’re right honey. Geography is destiny, this country will not amount to anything, do not try in vain.” Thousands of talented people give up before they even try because they don’t believe in themselves, why? Because we have learned desperation, we have complexes. There are millions of people who practice self-censorship and drown in a sea of despair before they even try to swim. Those who are afraid to chase their dreams, those who gave up or were discouraged in the past, also do not want to be around brave people. Like, “Even we couldn’t do it, what makes you think you can.” “Him? She is either privileged or very rich, or she made it with promo, so there is definitely a trick.” Someone can’t be genuine just because they’re doing something good… Yeah man, if geography is destiny, then it is only destiny, because of you. Because you’re the geography in this case!
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, however, thinking there is something fishy in every success, labeling and lynching them, especially if it’s a woman, a person who doesn’t submit to anyone is a product of the last 20 years. I am greatly disgusted by this, also it doesn’t even favor anyone. You’ll sink into your own swamp.”
Is only making the music you believe in, want, and also sharing those feelings with a large audience a relief or pressure?
It feels free. It’s like being alive and fighting a never-ending battle for something. Whose dreams are you going to fight for? For your own dreams or for someone else’s?
It is a great feeling to live as I am, to produce, and to be accepted for who I am. It’s one of the greatest beauties that can happen to a person. I can’t imagine what it would be like any other way. I guess I wouldn’t be myself.
How does the situation we are in effect your dreams about the future?
I don’t need reality to dream, the more space I put between the unbearable boredom of reality and dreams, the better. Therefore, dreams continue to be masters of themselves, creating completely new possibilities even at the darkest moments. I’m not one to worry about things I can’t change. And when you said future, I remembered a song I wrote; “Everything happens at the same time, time is relative, the reason is not enough…”
“There has never been an equal opportunity, but I cannot bring myself to say to millions of young people who are pursuing life, looking for a light, trying to discover a path, and have even given up dreaming like, “You’re right honey. Geography is destiny, this country will not amount to anything, do not try in vain.”
“Because we have learned desperation, we have complexes. There are millions of people who practice self-censorship and drown in a sea of despair before they even try to swim.“
What does freedom mean to you?
Living, thinking, feeling without letting government, auto censorship, family, and neighborhood pressures consume you.
“State of being”; the state of being yourself, of being an individual, of being one, of self-creation, of living. Kurt Cobain has a great saying: “I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not.” Sometimes you have to pay a big price to be free. Everyone tries to force their own truth down your throat. In that case, you have to decide whether to be unhappy because you live other people’s lives or take responsibility for your own choices. Meanwhile, don’t forget to whistle and dance.
In this period when concerts are postponed and digitalized, how do you preserve and protect the motivation you seek for your music while the stage and the audience are minimized?
The sun rises every day, flowers bloom, birds fly, rain falls, and I make music because it is the nature of things, the nature of my existence.
What phase does your music go through, where does it evolve?
It comes and goes, from deserts to glaciers, like a geography lesson.
I took over the entire production of “Yort Savul: İSYAN MANİFESTOSU!”, which was released in late October. Musically, a whole new era has opened up. I’ve worked as a co-producer on all previous albums, so producing is old for me, but creating the entire album from scratch is new. My next plan is to produce music and musicians I love. In terms of my music, we can say that the beats are more intense, I produce many works in different genres, such as drum n bass, hip hop, jazz.
“I don’t need reality to dream, the more space I put between the unbearable boredom of reality and dreams, the better. Therefore, dreams continue to become masters of themselves, creating completely new possibilities even at the darkest moments. I’m not one to worry about things I can’t change.“
Rock and Roll, Punk, Classical Turkish Music…You define the phase of your music, which reveals a mixture of all these sounds that you’re influenced by, which is still “new” according to some, as a kind of “test”. How much do you care about the criticism?
No matter what, someone will always dislike you and what you do, so if you save the world today, the next day someone will come up and say, “You didn’t save it good enough”, so that’s the way it is. You can’t please everyone, you shouldn’t, if you accept it from the beginning, you’ll be at ease. I learned that at a very young age. What I should and shouldn’t care, how to claim my freedom, how not to be shaped by someone’s liking… This is the key to be authentic, free, original, and unique.
You claim that the essence of production is conveying your emotions, with which artists do you have a high “emotional conveyance” these days?
Well put, but I have bad news; the emotions don’t go anywhere!
Lately, I have a “transition of emotion”, a low-level relationship, a passionate conflict with the movies of Agnes Varda, Nick Cave’s The Complete Lyrics, and Karen Dalton’s songs.
“No matter what, someone will always dislike you and what you do, so if you save the world today, tomorrow someone will come up and say, “You didn’t save it good enough”, that’s the way it is. “
How does the development of streaming platforms affect the production of musicians?
You can publish the music you produce without having to go through a thousand filters, without getting hung up on the fuss and censorship of a bunch of unnecessary guys. It’s a great thing for avant-garde music to be born, to survive. We started our own record company 4 years ago, we produce whatever we want. The freedom it provides is awesome. However, the policy of distributing the money collected by streaming platforms to musicians is questionable and problematic, the numbers are extremely low, and they even talk about reducing the numbers even further. It’s nonsense… The monopoly they built sucks. It’s a big problem, and it has to be solved.
Today, it is very easy to discover new sounds, and thanks to the software systems used by streaming platforms, we are all going through a time when our tastes and searches are extremely dominated. How do you create your own musical filter?
There are musicians, songs I keep coming back to, we make love, and it seems like we will be together for a lifetime. They’re within my reach at all times, as records, cassettes, playlists. Other than that, I spend a few hours a week listening to new music. Spotify radios of the songs I listen are very useful, I follow some radio programs through a number of stations such as BBC6, the new works of the musicians I love and the music they listen to also helps, and interestingly there are incredible things I’ve discovered thanks to the app called “radioooooo”.
“That means, I felt I had to be strong to survive. And that’s what I see in retrospect. In a patriarchal, boring, oppressive world where men make all the rules, I had to do it to be respected, to be free, to be taken seriously. “
The most commonly used adjective for you is “strong”; how do you describe yourself, how does it feel for everyone to tell you that you are strong?
I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. That means, I felt I had to be strong to survive. And that’s what I see in retrospect. In a patriarchal, boring, oppressive world where men make all the rules, I had to do it to be respected, to be free, to be taken seriously. Who knows how many million women, queer in history have experienced the same thing and are still experiencing it. As a petite girl, I have sought, instinctively, or by observation, ways to make people listen to me, and over the years I have worn a suit of armor. After a while, you really turn into it. I used to climb on the couch and scream, “By the power of Grayskull… I have the power!” like He-man and then later I got obsessed with the show Xena and she became my idol. When I look at myself now, I can say that I’m strong because I don’t have indebtedness, I don’t bow to anyone. I am very sick and tired of the boundaries, the rules that some men have set to protect women from other men. Yes, I am very strong because I discovered and keep on discovering my weaknesses, my fragility, my intelligence, that I can live my life in the way I want to. I know very well that I don’t need to be afraid of my sexuality, my body, my existence, my humane emotions, or hide them in closed doors to keep them away from danger. The despotism of dividing the world and sexual identities into men and women has finally come to an end. Together with the acceptance of different sexual identities, we will create a much more equal and just world.
Anything is possible, what would you wish for?
If there is, I’d like to talk to the creator of all this about something important.
Can you give us a playlist that goes well with raki?
“Bize Bi Barbunya İki De Rakı” is waiting for you on Spotify, cheers.