We meet up with mor ve ötesi in the Babajim İstanbul studio to talk about their past 20 years, across from the English Consulate in Galatasaray. Like the rest of Beyoğlu, this section has also changed a lot. Compared to the time when mor ve ötesi was formed around these streets, the people and the places are not the same anymore. You don’t even have to go back 20 years.
My interview with them for Rolling Stone Turkey’s first issue 10 years ago began in front of Emek Sineması, which they’ve built an unfortunate replica of. We had met up with Harun Tekin there. “We didn’t just meet in front of Emek Sineması” begins Harun, “We went in to Emek Sineması. It has great importance in my life for experiencing very special moments for me,” he continues. “If Beyoğlu were to be like this 20 years ago, we wouldn’t be here. Neither would Duman. Neither would Çağan Irmak. Neither would Reha erdem. None of them. It wouldn’t be like this at least. These are not good signs for 20 years from now. This change is not reserved for only these places. Take Fikirtepe. The studio we’ve taken over from Pentagram is waiting it’s turn for urban transformation like lambs to the slaughter.” Burak Güven comments on this: “Change is normal. Buildings that we feel like we belong to were built after destroying other structures and building on top of them. That’s fine. However we are going through something abnormal right now. It’s not just the buildings. Memories are disappearing. The social texture is falling to pieces.”
Obviously, change doesn’t always happen in a destructive and negative way. mor ve ötesi is one of the most important bands that have changed rock music and how it was approached in a positive way in Turkey. They changed over the years as well. Burak Güven, Kerem Kabadayı ve Kerem Özyeğen became fathers. Harun says “Is there a bigger change than this?” While Burak spends most of his life in Fethiye, Kerem Özyeğen lives in Kikinda, Serbia; a town he describes as ”Similar to a South Park town,” smiling. Harun tekin and Kerem Kabadayı are on two different sides of Istanbul. I understand after asking that they’ve never had the chance to visit Kerem Özyeğen as a group. “Hoever last week I watched a documentary about Kikinda. I know about Terra Acustica Festival, Pumpkin Days, and their owls,” explains Burak. They laugh at Kerem’s comment “Well that’s the same as visiting?” mor ve ötesi is a group that grows not just on stage, but during the time they spend off it. The physical distance has never let their hearts or their minds to wonder off from one another. The trust and comfort of their past is reflected in their conversations and their laughter.
We continue talking about their personal lives. Kerem Kabadayı talks about his new book which he translated from German. Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism by Wolfgang Streeck was released by Koç University Publications. He is also working on new technologies about digitalisation in agriculture. Harun Tekin is now a partner in the studio that we’re in, Babajim. I run into another partner of Babajim, Tarkan Gözübüyük as I look around the studio. We begin a short conversation with the musician / producer who has a big part in mor ve ötesi’s career. Tarkan Gözübüyük has been a producer on the bands 3 albums as well as many recordings. This includes Dünya Yalan Söylüyor; an album that has not only been a game changer for mvö, but also holds an important place in Turkish rock music. He is kind, friendly, and interested just like the band members. I am reminded of how mvö is a family who work with names that they care about for years as I see other familiar faces. Another partner of Babajim who is also a musician and arranger who is featured on mvö’s songs Ozan Tügen, and Ali Soner, who has been the art director of the group’s stage visuals for years, are only two more names that belong to that family. Ozan Tügen also has a finger in the intro of Cambaz, a song that has introduced mvö to a whole different crowd.
Photo by Muhsin Akgün
Kerem Özyeğen begins talking when I ask them about moments that make them happy. “There were years when we even had issues with getting our music clips aired on TV. Seeing Cambaz everywhere on TV to me was a reward for all the tough years. The fact that everything grew like a snowball that year (2014) and us getting awards from channels like Kral TV as oppose to other pop songs was really weird. Because what we accomplished was obvious.”
As I sit in a room at the office part of Babjim, I ask; “When you look back, how do you feel about where you are right now? How were these 20 years?” They begin telling me: “Exactly 10 years ago was our interview with you for Rolling Stone Turkey. That was only our 10th year. Time passes by really quickly,” says Harun. “It accelerates gradually. The fact that we’ve reached our 20th year shows that life is transient, and it is more important to leave a warm sound behind in the universe,” he smiles. Kerem Kabadayı starts to talk about how their first album Şehir was sold in a cassette form. “Ada Music used to produce CD’s when an album sold more than 1000 cassettes. Şehir also was a CD. That was like wining an ‘Altın Plak’.” That opens up the conversation of how digital services make it easier to reach music. “What is the value of that thing you acquire for those people,” Harun asks, and responds. “I think that makade a difference. Back then, the labor you go through to reach that thing determined it’s value. We were lucky in that way.There would be 80 people at a concert, and all 80 of them would know our songs. Now it is easier to put something out and get distributed. However how long will it last? How effective will it be? That is the complicated part.”
mor ve ötesi has touched many things. That is how they kept their freshness. Burak takes over: “Not loosing your freshness in your personal life, reflecting value for all the living and non-living things in your life should be a personal goal. The same thing goes for the group. 20 years passed by, however we began early. We’ve been doing music for 20 years but we don’t seem like a group of 20 years. Thankfully this country, mostly with the bad, keeps us prepared and lively for anything.This has an unpleasant excitement. However we’ve never had a problem about producing regarding creativity. We’re still excited about that. We have upcoming songs.”
mor ve ötesi released 7 albums including the most recent one, Güneşi Beklerken. They are re-releasing special versions of these albums as they celebrate their 20 years. First they released a box set that featured their first three albums Şehir, Bırak Zaman Aksın and Gül Kendine. This will be followed by (by the time this article gets published) the following albums and records. What was there motivation as they prepared to produce these albums? “It was important to reflect these 20 years,” says Harun. “We might die any minute. Anything can happen. Especially after Suruç, it was important to leave a mark in this country. Whether that is a message left in a bottle, words on a broken house, or a voice stolen from the past, that I don’t know… Re-recording things and re-releasing them was a strong motivation in a moral way.” They didn’t only stop at old songs. “We ended up doing two new songs,” adds Harun. “Anlatamıyorum and Melekler Ölmez. It is not just a retrospective thing this way.” I asked them if they ever thought about re-recording their first album Şehir. Kerem Özyeğen answered: “We didn’t think about re-recording. Similar examples from other countries aren’t that good either. We’ve listened to everything from Ozzy Osbourne to Scorpions. They don’t have the same vibe as the original. Maybe it means more to me that those recording are live.”
We are going through a weird and tough period. There bombs exploding daily, journalists getting arrested, political figures getting sent to jail, a coup attempt, a refugee crisis that hasn’t been solved, all these deaths and hundreds of other sources of unhappiness… In the song Daha Mutlu Olamam,” A rainy afternoon / The radio is on, I am on the bridge / Then all of a sudden I notice / There is no other life” says the group. Nowadays, the bridge that had a happy reference carries sadness. It’s clear that the creative and productive section are having a hard time in their areas. Kerem Kabadayı achieves making us all laugh when he interrupts and says “Creative people are suffering!” despite everything. I ask them how this process is affecting them. Burak Güven, with his calming tone of voice, begins explaining one by one. “Everything is so out of control. Before, negative things motivated us to write. Now we feel like there is nothing to say. There is death. When there is death, if you don’t talk about that, what is there to talk about? Love’s pain? Longing? It’s not their turn. It’s the same for the audience. They don’t feel like they are up for that either.”
Photo by Muhsin Akgün
I begin a conversation about how production is continuing. There are many new, beautiful, creative names who continue doing music. There are people who create special things in not only music but in other sectors despite all the difficulties. There is both the hope you are hinting at and a path that leads to annihilation.” The topic links to the world’s way itself. We start talking about Brexit, Europe’s nationalist wave and the fact that Donald Trump is elected the new president of the Staes. “Although on a slower pace than us, both Europe and the US are on a rough patch. We are actually not that different from the rest of the world. The world was already in a pickle, now it’s getting worse,” adds Burak. I turn to Kerem Kabadayı. “I remember the 9/11 attack to the World Trade Center” he says. “We were coming back from a photoshoot at a windmill. We had heard the news on the radio. We had felt that anything that was good in the 90’s were about to disappear. There is no one point that could be considered the origin of it all. However with 9/11, the world transformed into something completely different. The after effects still continue.”
Of course they have a lot of things that they can hold on to despite all the uneasiness in the world and around us. Their songs come at the top of that list. When we start speaking about what makes them hopeful, Harun begins explaining: “The things we see are things we can transfer to others. That is what experience is like. Transferring these might make a difference. The way songs touch others might change something in them that we’re not aware of. That’s beautiful.” Burak says nice words about the chemistry of the components of what creates those songs: “I think it is a special thing that we come together. It’s a situation where the cosmos is in action. We had good moments, went through beautiful things. Morally, we were exposed to a lot of praises and love. Generally, we know how much that is worth.”
I ask about the period where they felt the most happy in the last 20 years. Although they all talk about a different thing, their Europe tour in 2009 really affected all of them. “We had gotten over Eurovision’s weight. We were on good terms with both one another and our lives during that tour” says Harun. Kerem Kabadayı adds: “That was one of the best times I have in my mind about the band.” The concert series where they toured Germany was sort of a peak for them. Burak goes back even more. He remembers the recording sessions of their second album Bırak Zaman Aksın. “As we were recording 23, the sun was rising. I was close to the window. The rising of the sun, the extension of the notes… I remember such a nice feeling. ‘Everything is beautiful, we are doing a good thing,’ I had thought.”
They remember experiencing fame like The Beatles, as they put it, around all corners of Anatolia. They begin talking about that time in Datça when the police escorted them to the stage. The peace of having accomplished beautiful things and happiness are reflected in their eyes as they visualise the past. When I ask about their connections with their fans, Burak begins to explain. “We sort of grew up before the eyes of our audience. There is a sincerity in how kind of broken those first albums were. We didn’t design it that way but that is what happened. Someone who is curious can easily see our progress, our tendencies. I guess people enjoy tracing these.”
As we go back to talking about the situation of the country, Burak references two different mor ve ötesi songs to kind of sum everything up. “It’s like a cheap movie / The ending is obvious from the beginning / My insides are crying / Is this us, is that me,” he says, remembering Sonu Belli’s lyrics. “However there are still beautiful friendships” he continues. “There is a beautiful nature. There are beautiful food. There is beautiful music. When we come together, we still can laugh out loud. The shadow of the world and Turkey hone in on that as ‘Ayıp Olmaz Mı?’ It is no longer possible to live those beautiful things as much as you want. I don’t know what this is called. Decency? Something else? There must be a name for it. Tough times,” he says, as he finishes his sentence. Tough times.
I think about these words as Harun sends me off from the stairs of the studio once our conversation is over. As we say goodbye, “What did all those songs make you feel? Write about them as well,” he says. “There are so many things, even if I say them one by one, it will be too much,” I think on the inside. How lucky that they are around during these hard times. Happy 20th anniversary. Happy 20 more years mor ve ötesi.