MaNga VOGUE May 2013 Interview
In the air, on the land, under the sea...MaNga all around...
MaNga's third studio album which they made with their current minds is more matured. It is far from adolescent pains like "Nobody likes us!" and it's more optimistic and younger.
We're on the phone with Ferman Akgul, maNga's lead singer, to make an appointment. I'm in Istanbul, they are in Antalya. His voice sounds like a cheerful fish splashed out of water! He says they're cold, but having fun.
They are in Antalya for the photoshoot for Vogue Turkiye and music video shooting of the launch song of their new album which is about to be released in the coming months. They and photographer Charles Richards have been friends for a long time since Sing Your Song Music Contest in 2001 which introduced a band called maNga to Turkey. Charles has been the man behind their album artwork and music videos since Sehr-i Huzun, their second album in which they had their first professional photo shoot. Ferman Akgul says "When we first met him, he was the legendary director who took Two Ways of the Blue Beard and we were some kiddies who just arrived from Ankara. Since then we never broke away".
When he says this, we're at their recording studio in Maslak, Istanbul. It's a hazy and rainy day outside, but the guys are very cheerful! They love their studio, maybe that's why for sure. Ferman Akgul says, "This is our first shelter after our turbulent lives in Ankara and Istanbul. We made the whole album here. We had some radical changes in our lives recently. We're making the songs out of that excitement".
The guitarist of the band, Yagmur Sarigul says that they are trying a different method with their current minds. They started recording simultaneously what they feel like playing. They moved out of the frame; their lives are more spontaneous now and they are letting themselves free.
They tell about how they felt Istanbul-struck when they made Sehr-i Huzun. They felt the magic of the city; started listening classical Turkish music; tried to write some music on the shores of the Bosphorus; felt like tourists in the city...
They long left behind the days where they tried to capture the spirit of the city reading old books or listening to the old LPs and CDs. Now they feel so originated from this city that they easily complain about the city's infamous traffic chaos.
You know that maNga consists of educated boys who have found one another pursuing music in Ankara. After finishing runner-up at the Sing Your Song music contest, which resulted in an album contract, they moved to Istanbul and they have lived in the same house for 2 years. They gained a huge fan base after their self titled debut album maNga and second full album Sehr-i Huzun, and the band was awarded Best Turkish Act from MTV Turkey and Best European Act from MTV Europe Music Awards; they placed second at the Eurovision 2010; they have been recognized globally and they have performed at numerous international festivals.
Bass guitarist of the band, Cem Bahtiyar says "We can't say that we can get to know the cities we go very well. This is our usual tempo on a busy concert schedule: from the hotel to the concert arena, then to a soup restaurant and then back to the hotel...But we know the soup places very well"..
The drummer of the band, Ozgur Can Oney takes the words out of Cem, "The soup places have also quite an idea about us. I remember one time that we went to a soup place with bathrobes on! You know they hang photos on the walls taken with celebrities. When we see a photo with us like that, we're like 'oh, we've been here before!' They have photos with Ibrahim Tatlises beside ours and so on...".
MaNga's first album came out with music videos with an animated character called Spa. Even though it was dominated by nu metal genre and contained gloomy and literary lyrics, maybe that's why they have found acceptance by a fairly "young" people. Yet, Rolling Stones also has 16+ teenagers jumping up and down right in front of the stage during their concerts, though.
Ozgur continues, "Once I had read about a statistics: The 80 % of the fan base who buy albums are young people between 12-18 years of age. This is a fact! It's pointless to deny. But there are slight changes in audience listening to our music. We have a group of 50-100 fans who come wherever we go on every album. This group changes slightly".
Yagmur Sarigul says, "Also, we understand thanks to what we publish on Facebook that which t-shirt Cem wore that day, or if Ozgur got on bike on his way to the studio, or Ferman's interest in old cars and so on attract people more than how we make our music. When we post a picture of Ozgur and his son, we get incredible views, but how Ozgur plays drum attracts less people. The things that people focus on are different. They show more interest in matters we think ordinary.
Cem Bahtiyar thinks that probably by doing so, they consubstantiate themselves more easily. "But we have to do things that we can satisfy ourselves, too. We can't build our careers upon it. An artist can't continue to exist constantly targeting the mainstream and thinking about the target audience. Of course there are market realities, but we're trying to keep up our experimental side.
MaNga is a group that is always demanded and sought after at the festivals. But Ferman Akgul doesn't think that festivals aren't given deserved importance in Turkey. "We can't have fun enough, we can't listen enough". We can say the same thing about criticism. We only make insinuations. Today, at least 10 festivals a year should be held in Istanbul. We can't make cultural activities out of these social gatherings. Everybody's favorite activity is this: The weather is beautiful; come on, let's hop on the car and get the traffic around Ortakoy paralyzed! Nobody thinks about what to do today; about going to a soccer or basketball game, or a concert.
Ozgur Can: We don't know how to pursue music. We'd rather pursue the venue. I think this is valid for a large section of the population. Other than this, there is always a group of people who listen to good music, follow activities and support. For instance, these people are around 40-50.000 and they are the people who make music and make underground music progress and keep going in Turkey. This is also how we view Eurovision: If we win, it's OK; but if we don't win, the neighbor did or didn't vote for us! When we were in Oslo for Eurovision, I noticed that there was an utopia over there. There were 38 participating countries that year: some of them was fighting in war with each other, but nobody cared about that and they supported their teams with flags in hands, hanging out...You can't unify these countries otherwise. No matter how it look from the outside, but there is something peaceful about Eurovision that can't be reached in other times of the year. We can say the same thing about the festivals. We were in Sziget in 2006. We haven't seen one single fight. But this doesn't change the fact that we still miss the chaotic Turkey after all the peace abroad.
We have been dreaming about filming for a long time. A fictional film about the birth and the journey of a rock band...We might act, we might write; or someone else get the leading roles and we appear as guest stars or cameos. A movie is totally something else and very hard to get it realized. But it's something we always dream about. We made some attempts for this. We're told "write a screenplay and get it to us!". We'll see...
Ferman: We were always funny guys, but the most of the songs that we have made so far were pessimistic. But in this album, we're like "Since we're having fun making music, let's reflect this properly". All the bands take music videos in some dark parking lots. One band almost in every lot! Crying figures on a dark background...We'd like to have fun now; we desire to write more positive, more optimistic songs.
Yagmur: We have this more optimistic, more hopeful and enjoyable feeling about life in the new songs. We were like "nobody likes us, we're not happy" during the first album since we were much younger then. Rather than the songs full of revenge on that album, now we're like "OK, there are lots of things that suck, but we have to hold on to good things".
As the years go by, together with their music, they got matured; some of them got married, some got a divorce, some had kids.
Now they're making their third full album, with its English version. They are in contact with some booking and management companies in LA and New York. In the rest of their careers, they will probably live abroad a lot.
Ferman Akgul says, "We're thinking about what we're going to do if we have a foreign contract. Like we left Ankara, will we leave again? We will if we have to, but it's impossible to break away from here. We must come back and tour Anatolia. We have to feed ourselves with Anatolian food and mix it with something else. But the core of it should be from here. Maybe we'll lose the concept of home again, but I feel that we'll experience something experimental".
One of the 10 songs in the new album is a folk song cover as "a gift from the cosmos" as Yagmur Sarigul calls it. The story of "Yaranmaz Aşık" which is a heritage to maNga from Ferman Akgul's great grandfather, is interesting:
"I made a program for TRT like a music magazine called Kulaktan Kulaga. Travelling 13 cities and compiling local songs, I got them together with guest singers on the TV screen. As the village people sing the local song, on the other half of the TV screen for example Goksel accompanied them. On that program, I made my grandmother and her sisters sing for me. My great grandfather, Aziz Ustun, is Asik Veysel's musical companion. But I haven't listened to him until now, I don't know why. I noticed subsequently that he was a prominent figure on Turkish Folk Music. I started listening to my grandfather's songs when I found these out. They are so beautiful. I don't know what to call it, trip hop or what, but we turned one of them into something electronic. We're lucky that my old folks loved that. They said "do whatever you like it. Because you made us cry".
They think that they lived a couple of different lives for 10 years and 2 albums. So what do they think about 10 years later or maybe a longer period of time?
Ferman Akgul: I look at MFO (Mazhar Fuat Ozkan). It's my biggest dream that we perform on stage at that age and make the audience admire us, and maybe do that in different countries...
Yagmur Sarigul thinks a bit differently. He says "The music will always take an important place in my life. Honestly I don't have a dream of being like Rolling Stones. I don't have a passion like being on stage at the age of 70. If I will have a passion, it must be the right conditions so that I can handle it. Because it's hard. But I guess and dream that I would always do something to do with art. Maybe cinema, or photography...I'd also like to try acting very much.
Cem Bahtiyar also wants to be on stage as long as he's capable. He says, "I studied at completely different schools, but I've been playing bass guitar since eight grade. I've lived in Denizli until the university and Denizli is a small town. I got on stage at the municipal square when I was 16 and then my life has changed. I'd like to be on stage as long as I'm able to be. This gives me utterly different energy".
Ozgur Can Oney's future dream is about being on "a bit higher" platform. He says, "I'd like to go to space before I die. I don't care if I'm at 60 or 70; I don't care how much it costs; I'm really curious about the zero gravity environment. I want to have a look at the Earth from the outside of the atmosphere. I wish we could go to Mars and go up the Olympos if it could be possible. Space tourism will come to that point very soon and it's not an impossible dream at all".
Before we leave, we're listening to the demo of "Yaranmaz Asik". It's the trip hop version of a folk song a minstrel who lived 3 generations before, bequeathed to his great grandson. And it's beautiful.
Just wait and see: It's not going to be long before Ozgur Can Oney waves us down from the stratosphere.
Interview by: Ebru Çapa
Photographed by: Charles Emir Richards
Styling by: Kaner Kıvanç