Love, Hippies & Gangsters is a project that does its name justice: it wears both the rose-tinted glasses of the hippies and the sharp suits of tough 20th-century gangsters. There’s rich orchestration, African rhythms, groovy Middle Eastern melodies, a mellow psychedelia akin to Spiritualized and many other references that are obviously entirely instinctive…. Like a traditional musician, Yiğit Bülbül writes songs that are inspired by specific moments and sensations. What’s more, he stands up to the challenges of the music industry as a solo artist. We caught up with the Turkish-born musician following the release of his new EP Dazzled / Old Days on Bandcamp.
There’s a great deal more orchestration in your new tracks, there’s also a great harmony of elements. How did you do the arrangements?
“Playing with unfamiliar instruments is what I love the most, so whatever I can afford or whatever I stumble upon, I take it home and start fiddling with it right away. It’s not so much that I do ‘arrangements’ – I just set up the microphone in my room and try whatever instruments I have lying around. If I like the sound, I keep it, and if I don’t, I just delete it. I don’t really have much space left in my room now, but I plan on continuing to expand my collection when I have the opportunity.”
There are a lot of different ideas and approaches in the tracks “Old Days” and “Dazzled.” What is it that brings it all together for you? What type of songs do you want to write?
“I want to write songs that intrigue and excite me. They can also challenge me a bit, but they have to be honest songs. I don’t think about them too much, either – it’s more meaningful to record things as quickly as possible and get them over with. If you need to, you can always do better on the next one.”
“Nostalgia is a dangerous state of mind; I try not to get caught in that trap”
You’ve been living in London for a long time. How did leaving Turkey affect your relationship with non-Western music?
“In a very good way. It’s quite refreshing to tear down the walls erected in our minds by big Western record companies with substantial PR budgets – in fact, I’d recommend it. In that sense, London is one of the most inspiring cities in the world: you can hear and watch things from all over the world. I finally have a clearer view of Turkish music, too. There’s also the influence of people you meet on the street who come from wholly different cultures, both in terms of music and life in general. Ultimately ours is a vast planet, and there’s no excuse for not being curious in this day and age. Music isn’t just about those bands with huge PR budgets who are featured in this or that ‘cool’ magazine. Just about every album recorded on this planet is somewhere on the internet, which is a huge asset, so you have to be curious.”
What’s the local scene like for independent musicians? If you were to compare it to your Post Dial days in Turkey, what are some differences?
“I’ve been trying to put together my ideal band for sometime, but I haven’t managed to do it yet, since it requires a lot of time. Maybe I’ll give up and start performing with a minimal crew and a different sound – that’s more likely to happen, given the circumstances. I currently perform onstage with improvised groups, or I try to DJ with records I find here and there. In terms of the music scene, it’s not all that different – everything’s a bit more professional, but not that much more. The level of quality is higher on average, so if you’re a talentless cheat who’s just pretending, you don’t stand much of a chance – there’s at least five bands like you on your street alone. But aside from these, everything’s similar: people try to forget their worldly problems by going out, listening to music and drinking until they can’t drink any more.”
The African continent has inspired a great number of musicians from Brian Eno to Peter Gabriel, and it’s also one of your sources of inspiration. What draws you to African music, as broad as that term might be?
“Africa is a beautiful continent; I’d love to visit and maybe even live there someday. As you said, it’s a huge geography: on the west coast you have a world of different rhythms, some of them inspiring samba, some rumba and some, funk. Then in the middle of the continent you see fascinating styles of traditional guitar playing. The east coast also has a wealth of different influences, while the northern part is relatively similar to Turkish music. What I love the most about African music is that it’s pure and untainted. I also love that it’s unhurried and repetitive – it’s quite heady. The recordings are also incredible, particularly those from the ’70s where the drums are bursting from the speakers.”
Neil Young famously said he divides all rock bands into two camps: Beatles or Stones. Which do you think you’re closer to?
“I understand what Neil Young meant, but I think it’s a little problematic to have a one-dimensional perspective. I like certain eras of both bands. The Stones creates a more rhythm and groove-based music than The Beatles, but Ringo isn’t a bad drummer at all, so in a way he evens things out. The Beatles is in the lead when it comes to experimentation and boldness. The Stones, on the other hand, imitated their contemporaries and did a few experimental things in the latter half of the ’60s, but even they couldn’t figure out what it was they were doing, and before long they went back to what they – incidentally, that experimental period with Brian Jones is my favorite era in their music.”
You named your project Love, Hippies & Gangsters, but quite a bit of time has passed since the days of hippies and gangsters… Do you think there’s a nostalgic aspect to your music?
“The terms don’t have any deeply personal meaning or message. Nostalgia is a dangerous state of mind; I try not to get caught in that trap ’cause it’s no use to anybody in any way. On the other hand, I can’t say that I’m wholly at peace with the standard pop or rock music of our day. I prefer to listen to more experimental artists who try things that haven’t been tried before.”
Isn’t “experimental” a vague concept, as well? I mean, most of the genres we talk about today were experimental when they emerged, but after a little while they became the norm. How would you define “experimentalism” and the musicians who produce such work?
“You’re right, it’s a rather vague term. Perhaps I should describe it as something other than ‘things that haven’t been tried before.’ But I should also add that norms don’t really happen in a linear way; not every experimental work becomes the norm within 10 to 15 years. If that were the case, we would be constantly moving forward, and we’d regard Stockhausen as the pop music of 30 years ago, but that’s not the case. Still, we possibly do see the influences of Stockhausen on the pop music of 30 years ago, even if it’s just in recordings. What I’m trying to say is that I’m interested in those brave artists who blend experimental approaches from different eras with different combinations, ones who create music that’s non-formulaic – doesn’t matter whether it’s categorized as pop or space music.”
Dazzled / Old Daysis your third EP, and you seem to be changing things up with each one. Do you have plans for a full album?
“It’s good to change things up; I’d grow really bored of myself if I stuck to the same sound or genre. I’d like to record a proper album, of course, but you need time and money to do that. I’d have to lock myself in my room and just write and record quickly without concerning myself with anything else; otherwise, if I were to try to make a living by working stupid jobs 50 hours a week and then record a full-length album when I’m home at night, it would take two years. The two versions of me at the beginning and end of those two years would be in completely different places, and that album would go straight in the trash, as it would no longer feel honest and believable to me.”
You could also make the case that the album is no longer as important a form as it used to be, due entirely to technology and the market. What do you think is the right path to follow for a musician who doesn’t bow down to anyone but who wants to earn a living through his or her art?
“Is there such a thing as earning a living through art anymore? It’s very rare for an artist these days to make the kind of music he wants, say whatever he wants in interviews, and earn a lot of money… That’s why I’d recommend to those artists who don’t bow down to anyone that they find a craft they can enjoy doing while earning money, one that doesn’t rot their souls. It could be landscaping, agriculture, livestock, carpentry, or starting a puppet workshop for kids. And if they do earn money from their art, they could buy expensive lingerie or go on vacation to strange places.”