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Altin Gun's New Album 'Yol' Reimagines Old Turkish Folk Songs

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The story of the band Altin Gun begins with an old record from the '70s.

JASPER VERHULST: Seven or eight years ago or something, I just started collecting music from basically all around the world.

CHANG: Jasper Verhulst is a musician from Amsterdam.

VERHULST: And I came across an album by an artist called Selda Bagcan.

(SOUNDBITE OF SELDA BAGCAN SONG, "YAYLALAR")

CHANG: Bagcan was a Turkish singer who took traditional folk songs and turned them into grungy, psychedelic rock.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YAYLALAR")

SELDA BAGCAN: (Singing in Turkish).

CHANG: Verhulst wanted to bring back that sound, but there was just one problem. He's Dutch and doesn't speak a word of Turkish.

VERHULST: I thought, why not try to find Turkish musicians and do this kind of music live?

CHANG: So he put out the call on Facebook.

MERVE DASDEMIR: I mean, I was amazed. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

CHANG: Merve Dasdemir is a Turkish singer. She was born and raised in Istanbul and now lives in the Netherlands.

DASDEMIR: I thought it was a very cool initiation, and I really badly wanted to be a part of it.

CHANG: Was there a part of you thinking, what does this Dutch guy even know about Turkish music?

DASDEMIR: No, actually. I didn't think like that at all. I mean, you know, I listen to a lot of Spanish music or Portuguese, like, language music. I don't understand anything. You know, it just still touches me and moves me. So I didn't really think like that.

CHANG: So Dasdemir joined Verhulst and a few other musicians to round out a Dutch Turkish sextet. And they settled on a name - Altin Gun, golden day in Turkish.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TATLI DILE GULER YUZE")

ALTIN GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

CHANG: Now they're out with their third album. It's called "Yol." The songs are all covers of Turkish classics. They're songs Merve Dasdemir grew up with.

DASDEMIR: These are really encarved (ph) in my memory, all these songs. Willingly or unwillingly, it just - when I hear a groove, sort of - you just dive in that pool and bring one traditional out (laughter).

CHANG: Is there a particular song that felt especially close to your heart based on childhood memories?

DASDEMIR: I think that would be the second single, "Yuce Dag Basinda."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YUCE DAG BASINDA")

ALTIN GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

DASDEMIR: That came from a very specific memory of this movie called (unintelligible) that one of my favorite actresses, (unintelligible) had this balcony scene where she was singing this song. So I just always wanted to do, like, a tribute to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YUCE DAG BASINDA")

ALTIN GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

CHANG: I want to talk about the songwriting process. All of your lyrics are in Turkish, but only two members of this band actually speak Turkish. So does that language barrier make arranging and practicing difficult?

VERHULST: Not really because the people that speak Turkish, they are also the people that sing the songs. I kind of like not understanding a word.

CHANG: Oh, really?

VERHULST: Yeah, I really enjoy listening to music in languages that I don't speak because - I don't know - it gives the music more depth. It makes it easier just to feel the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YUCE DAG BASINDA")

ALTIN GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

CHANG: There's another song I want to ask about. This one's called "Kara Toprak," which means black soil.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALTIN GUN SONG, "KARA TOPRAK")

CHANG: And I understand this one has a bit of a darker meaning behind it, right?

DASDEMIR: Well, I mean, it's about really just, like, us getting everything we need from Mother Nature, and then in end, we go back to it. And, yeah, it's about death. I mean, that gives you a strange peace of mind. You realize how insignificant your worries or your problems are.

CHANG: Yeah.

DASDEMIR: So it's a pretty special song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KARA TOPRAK")

ALTIN GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

CHANG: Jasper, you said recently that this album - when you compare it with the last two albums, this album is, quote, "less traditional" and less Turkish and, in a way, more Altin Gun. Do you feel like your band is turning a corner?

VERHULST: I don't know. I guess we kind of had to because we were - just when we wanted to start working on this album, the whole pandemic thing started. And, like, the first three months, we couldn't really get together in a rehearsal space, so we started working from home.

CHANG: And rehearsing remotely with each other.

VERHULST: No, not really rehearsing - just sending each other demos, I guess.

CHANG: What was that like?

VERHULST: Well, you can hear the results on the album, I guess.

CHANG: (Laughter) Yes.

VERHULST: But it was...

CHANG: Was it challenging?

VERHULST: Well, that's the funny thing. And that's why I think it's maybe - this album is a bit more Altin Gun than the other ones, maybe - that it kind of forced us to take a less traditional approach because when you're six people in a rehearsal space, you kind of have to do it fast. And I think with this album, we just had more time and more space in our heads just to try something new. For instance, the last song on the album - that's really something we would have never made before. I made some drum loops, and I sent them to Merve. And she just started singing this traditional and added some chords.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESMERIM GUZELIM")

ALTIN GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

VERHULST: And then she sent it back to me and then rearranged it that way, whereas if we would have been six people in a rehearsal space, everyone sticks to their own instrument, and you're going to try to make something that you would play live. On this album, we kind of made a combination of the two. We also did some stuff in the rehearsal space together. But you can still hear those home demos, too, on the album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESMERIM GUZELIM")

ALTIN GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

CHANG: So I'm getting the sense that your band still wants to keep doing not original music, but you want to keep reimagining these older folk songs. Tell me why.

DASDEMIR: I mean, I think that's the reason we got together in the first place - to reimagine these folk traditionals. So Altin Gun actually never set out to rewrite traditional sort of music because I don't think we necessarily have the vocabulary or - these songs are really old, you know? If I would try to write something, I communicate very differently. So we might have some surprise songs - originals coming. And I can't say much now. But...

CHANG: OK.

DASDEMIR: ...You know, we - Altin Gun is, in this sense, I think, really specific. This is sort of what we do.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALTIN GUN SONG, "BULUNUR MU")

CHANG: Merve Dasdemir and Jasper Verhulst of the band Altin Gun. Their new album is called "Yol." Thank you so much for speaking with us.

DASDEMIR: Thank you so much for having us.

VERHULST: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BULUNUR MU")

ALTIN GUN: (Singing in Turkish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.