Altin Gun: Virtual Session


Altin Gun joins Maddie for a virtual session with The Current. (MPR)

Altin Gun's Jasper Verhulst talks to Maddie of The Current about crate digging for traditional Turkish folk songs, exploring a poppier sound on their new record, and what the band looks forward to when live shows return.


Edited for clarity and length.

MADDIE: Hi, I'm Maddie. Welcome to another of The Current's virtual sessions. Today we are sitting down with Jasper of the Turkish psychedelic folk band Altin Gun. Jasper--thank you so much for being here with us today.

JASPER VERHULST: Thanks for having me.

Yeah, where are you currently located right now?


Yeah. How's it been in Amsterdam? What's been keeping you busy?

Well, yeah, we made a new record. We made a new album last year. I'm working on some new music already. Yeah, we've been home a lot. Listening to music, trying to come up with new ideas. We haven't been touring much. Still did shows last year, which is quite a lot for these times.

Yeah, one thing that I think has been kind of interesting about the past year is that doing this conversation where we're an ocean apart is kind of the same format as if someone was in the same city as I am right now. Just because everything's been virtual. Have you gotten to meet or work with any new people because of those kind of circumstances over the past year?

No, not really. Not yet. But we're working on some collaborations. Yeah, you can easily make music too--online, you know? Yeah, we're definitely looking into that. It's a time of new--new insights, and your--new ideas and ways of working together, definitely.

You have an album coming out at the end of February next month, how was the recording process of that album compared to your past ones?

Well, normally, we come together in a rehearsal space, and we start jamming on like these Turkish traditional songs and try to make them our own. But this time, the first three months of the pandemic, we were just at home, we didn't see each other, and we just send each other--send each other ideas. We had this Dropbox folder, and we just put ideas in there. And then we all tried to contribute to those. And a lot of those demos and ideas ended up on the album. We recorded a couple of songs together, but not as much as we did with the first two albums. But it was a really refreshing way of making music together I think. And because of this way of working, it definitely sounds different than the first two albums. And I guess that can be a good thing.

One of the things I've loved about Altin Gun's music is that you guys settle into these grooves that feel so collaborative. Do you feel like the album was still able to like get into those kind of grooves while you were working remotely? Or is it kind of more distinct--everyone working on their own things, and then coming together at the end?

Yeah, well, there's a couple of songs on the new album also that we recorded, almost live. They're more like a traditional approach. So I guess those groups are still there but it's also interesting to see what you can do with electronic grooves and to see how you can still make them your own, and still make them organic. It's an interesting combination with these traditional Turkish songs, I think. We made them even more poppy than they were than with the first two albums, I think, in a way. And I think it's very interesting to take pop music seriously, in a way like, like making a folk song more poppy can be really refreshing. And it's also a form of experiment. It's not--it's not that we want to sell more records or something by making music more approachable, more poppy. It's just that we like pop music. I don't know, it's hard to explain. But yeah, I don't know. We kind of went with what we had and what was doable, and this is what came out.

Yeah, so you kind of mentioned this, but Altin Gun works with a lot of traditional Turkish folk songs and within kind of that genre of music, it sounds like there's a lot of Turkish bands in the 70s that had kind of been reimagining folk songs as well. How did you get introduced to that genre of music and decide you wanted to start working within it?

Yeah, as a non Turkish person, that music--I didn't grow up with it. It was the first music I heard in this genre, like the Anatolian folk rock was the album by Selda Bagcan, which was reissued by the British Finders Keepers label 10 years ago or something I guess. And I just saw that in a record shop, and the cover looked interesting. So I bought it and I really liked it. And then I went to Istanbul with my previous band and bought more records there and kind of started collecting those songs. And then after a while, I thought like, it's a shame that not a lot of bands seem to play these songs live and there's not a lot of like interesting folk bands anymore that at least for the--for those Turkish songs. B ut I'm not Turkish so I thought I can only do this if I find like the right people who understand the songs and who can sing them. But yeah I was very lucky to find Merve and Erdinc who really liked the idea and were perfect for the band. But we never expected it to kind of take off like this. It was just--it just came out of my passion for record collecting and looking for those rare Turkish folk rock. But yeah, it's very nice to travel the world with it now. Well, not now, but we do.

Yeah. How does your process of sort of like finding new Turkish folk songs to reimagine go? Do other members of the band sort of already have some in their back pockets that they bring up? Or are you doing more crate digging to find new folk songs to work with? What does that look like?

Yeah, both, yeah. Like it's--but it's always either me or one of the two Turkish members who come up with the material. Which in a way makes sense, I guess. Yeah. The other ones, they, they don't listen to Turkish music that much but they really like it though. But they're not like digging for more, or they didn't grow up with it. For instance, for this record, Merve, the girl a female singer in the band, she already had her mind set on, like a couple of songs that she really wanted to do for this album. And yeah, Erdinc also had some ideas. I had some ideas, so it's kind of--yeah, so it's just us three. Sometimes I suggest something but then they're like, nah, this is a really lame, like wedding song or something, you know, bands play at weddings or whatever, I don't understand the lyrics. I always need them to approve, before we start working on. Or sometimes they just, they don't like the song, you know, they have different associations, because they grew up with this music and for me it's mostly the melody and just--I don't know, that appeals to me or not, but yeah. And also the sound of the words, you know, it's also important, even though I don't speak Turkish, some of them have like, a nice rhythm or, you know, certain flow or something that, like, music is a universal language that, you know, the lyrics are not, but the rest of it is.

Absolutely, yeah, it's really interesting as a non-Turkish listener approaching your music--I don't think the first few times I had heard your songs I had any idea that they were derivatives of folk music, Turkish folk music, because it was something unfamiliar to me. For people who haven't grown up with these songs, and maybe aren't familiar with them, how much of the original folk song do you feel like you retain in your reimagining? Is it just the melody the rhythms, or what do you add?

Well, kind of depends. It's different with every song. Sometimes it's only the lyrics, almost like we change the melody a lot too sometimes. There's also some songs that we also use, kind of like the, the theme, like the saz thing, and the saz is the Turkish string instrument that we use. We use that and the lyrics and the vocal melody. But most of the songs are very old and written only on saz and with with vocals. And sometimes there isn't even like an original version, it's just like hundreds of years old. So there's like all these different interpretations and versions. But I don't know, as long as it feels good. You know, like, sometimes we're closer to a version that already exists. And sometimes it's like something completely different. As long as it feels right to play to us.

Yeah, it's interesting to hear you say that, because I feel like the whole history of folk music is the songs being reimagined time and time again. And it's almost like we're in this moment where there's, at least in American music, not as much of these reimagining of old songs. So it's really cool to see you guys doing that and finding ways to incorporate things like the Turkish instrument the saz that you were talking about. Really cool stuff. I had read an interview with XOXO mag, but you kind of felt like you guys were really a band that was able to gain traction and success because of your live shows. How do you feel like that's changed within the past year?

Well, I guess we were forced to change that. There weren't many weren't many live shows. I don't know. I don't really know how people are gonna, if people are gonna like this album or not, or there's gonna be a lot of people that are like, no, I like the more psych rock approach and this is too poppy or too electronic for me or whatever. But yeah, it's true. We started as a live band, as a project that was just playing live. When we started this band, we never intended to make an album or to do recordings or whatever, it was just to play this music live. The first album, we recorded ourselves in a rehearsal space, and we didn't expect anything of it. But yeah, kinda took off after that and--it isn't huge, but it's much bigger than we expected it ever to become. But yeah, I am not sure how this--this yeah it's interesting times for musicians and artists. I think a lot of people are reinventing themselves. Yeah, I'm not sure.

Is there any element of this new record that you're particularly excited to play when live shows eventually return?

Yeah, definitely. I think it's going to be a very nice combination also with the songs of the first two albums, especially the more mellow songs of this new album. I'm very excited to play live, because they might be less in your face than a lot of our artwork, but it can be very intense. There's-- in a way there's more space. And there's more subtle things, you know? That maybe you don't hear when you hear it the first time, but I don't know, I think it's, yeah, I think the live shows are really going to improve with these new songs.

Thank you so much to Jasper for sitting down and chatting with us today.

Thank you.

Songs Played

14:30 Kolbasti
17:54 Yuce Dag Basinda
21:58 Ordunun Dereleri


Host - Maddie
Technical Director - Peter Ecklund
Digital Producer - Jesse Wiza
Broadcast Producer - Derrick Stevens

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