February 7, 2018 Interview – Demir Demirkan
No matter where you come from, no matter your sociological, political, or religious beliefs, music can always be a common ground of assimilation. Take Demir Demirkan, a Turkish immigrant who migrated to Los Angeles, California to study music. Learning a great deal, Demirkan has developed into a versatile, acclaimed guitarist whose body of work is certainly not limited. Spending time in Mezarkabul (also known as Pentagram in Turkey), Demirkan has also put out 8 solo studio albums, composed for film, and so much more. Now, Demirkan undertakes an exciting new concept project entitled War III. A trilogy of EPs, the first chapter titled Awakening is set for release on February 16th, and there is a deep, compelling story around it all. Recently we caught up with the musician to talk his journey, life in America, the concept behind War III, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – Music has been an intricate part of your life since you were a kid. From your time in Mezarkabul to your solo career, you have accomplished a great deal as a musician. First, tell us, what has your journey in music been like thus far?
Demir Demirkan – It’s been a real adventure, really. At first it was more like swimming into the current for about 5 to 10 years, but everything kind of got into groove after that. Sometimes it felt like I was in a maze winding into its own and sometimes it was an exhilarating roller coaster ride! After all, I am happy and grateful that I pulled through, though.
CrypticRock.com – It is great that it all worked out, a testament to your hard work. Beyond working in a band, as well as a solo artist, you have also done your share of composing for television and film. What has that world been like for you?
Demir Demirkan – For years, I have had a hard time defining what I am as a musician. A guitarist, a songwriter, Rock star, producer or a composer… I like doing all these things, but finally I confessed to myself that I needed to be writing, playing, and singing my guts out about things that I believe and shout out my message to the world. About writing for film and TV, I had to really wait and choose among the projects to find something that I believe in and put myself into completely. I rarely agreed to score a TV or a film because I never thought about film music composing as a career that I had to pursue. All I wanted to do was to make good and meaningful music to a good and meaningful film. Also, it is always great to write music for a classical orchestra or local instruments and mixing them with Rock and Electronic elements. You have a lot of freedom in style, which is very liberating in being creative.
CrypticRock.com – Creative freedom is a wonderful thing. Your style is not limited to Rock and Metal. As a musician, how important is it to you to have the ability to express yourself in various styles?
Demir Demirkan – It is a double-edged sword. While it is an endless freedom of creativity, you run a big risk of being misunderstood by your core audience. There have been times I released a hardcore, raw Metal song with an attitude the size of Manhattan, then I released an acoustic romantic love song with an erotic video. Then I turned around and scored a Documentary about Gallipoli war, with a classical orchestra. It is very confusing to my audience, but it is very meaningful to me. Whenever you release any kind of a work, people think that’s it, now he changed his style forever and he will go this way. You really have to communicate well for each work you’re putting out there.
CrypticRock.com – Understandable. Hopefully there are enough open-minded listeners that understand there are different sides to every musician. You are set to release a chapter of your trilogy, War III. The new EP, Awakening, will be out February 16th. What is the concept behind this collection of music?
Demir Demirkan – War III is a trilogy and Awakening is the first episode. I have the outline and the names of the other episodes, but I’d rather not reveal them yet because you never know with creativity, anything can change – names, titles, number of songs, etc.
The main concept in a sentence is: War III dives into the undeclared, inherent conflict between people and their governing forces, approaching the issue from an individual’s point of view.
How does an individual feel, figuring out that he or she is being manipulated and controlled by means of her or his beliefs, love, convictions, dreams, and hopes? What happens when these are taken away? How can a person continue to live after figuring out how “the world” works? What kind of emotions does he or she go through, torn between conforming and rebellion? Awakening, the first Episode, is the part that our protagonist starts figuring out that he is lured with “standard of life” to give up his freedom and most fundamental human rights.
CrypticRock.com – Very fascinating and thought-provoking, especially in a time where it seems people are more confused than ever. You worked with highly accomplished Producer/Songwriter Phil Galdston for these songs. What was this collaboration like?
Demir Demirkan – Until now, I produced my records. I had tried to work with different producers on my albums before, but being a producer myself, it was very difficult for me to give up the reins, and I never did! Producing your own album is a bitch! You write the songs, arrange, and when it’s time to record and perform you become the judge of the work you’ve been building up for months and start slashing, cutting, shuffling and maybe throwing away bits and pieces of it. It is not a good process, at least for me.
With Phil, we work real smoothly, especially when writing lyrics. When I brought him War III the first time, most of the songs were there just with a guitar and maybe second draft lyrics. I especially wanted to collaborate with him on the lyrics because I knew he’d be interested in the concept and he’s deeply immersed in the political side of things. Sometimes we would sit down to write, but we would talk for hours about what’s going on in the US, the world, or my original country, Turkey. We would talk about differences and similarities in politics, culture, and socio-political events. Then, naturally, we would draw in some of the key ideas into the songs, but let me repeat, my standpoint on these songs are strictly from the individual’s point of view and his emotional and intellectual expression.
The production was easy after we agreed on the stylistic principles and direction. We are both natural producers and the technical side of the process was very easy to manage.
CrypticRock.com – Understood, it is a concept piece, so listeners should certainly take that into account. It will be interesting to see how people react to it all. You have a couple of announced performances in 2018. Can we expect more, and if you could go on tour with any band, who would you love to share the stage with?
Demir Demirkan – I am hosting a launch party concert on February 23rd at Drom, NYC and I have another show at the Knitting Factory, Brooklyn on March 20th. I will go to Turkey for some more shows in April and from May on. Yes, you can definitely expect more shows in and around New York. I want to play as much as I can and as many cities and venues that I can, because you know, that’s what I am in it for! I think the circle is complete only when you perform live and share that experience with listeners. Also, I really want to get to know my US based listeners and I can only do that at the shows. Social media is one thing, but nothing beats meeting in real life.
I would like to share the stage with like-minded musicians and bands. Well, the names I will mention are pretty big but to give you an idea, I would love to share the stage with Tom Morello, Prophets Of Rage, Muse, NIN and the likes. I hope one day.
CrypticRock.com – Very cool, and you are right, nothing beats a live performance. Coming from Turkey and then attending schooling out in Los Angeles, California, you have experienced different worlds. That in mind, what has your experience been like in the USA?
Demir Demirkan – I was 20 and I was flying solo in Los Angeles in 1992! What can be better? Joking aside, I adapted pretty fast. First of all, the school was full of European students. We immediately hit it off with Greek and German students, our cultures being so interleaved. My roommate was a Norwegian student named Carl, who was a shred-head like me. We are still in contact. At that time I had nothing in my mind but being an electric guitar virtuoso, well maybe partying hard and getting laid as much as I could… but those years were a huge leap for me as a musician at his development stages. I learned and played many other styles than Rock/Metal; from Jazz to Latin and African music to Blues and Funk.
My education in Turkey had been in English since I was 9 and I had studied English Literature/Humanities at college. Being a member of the Rock and Metal scene in Turkey, we were following all the American music publications and watching American movies, listening to American and British bands. So, it was a smooth transition.
CrypticRock.com – That is good to hear. Music and film can often be a universal language for us as well. As mentioned earlier, you are a very diverse musician. What are some of your musical influences?
Demir Demirkan – First and foremost, I didn’t start as a Metal, electric guitar player. I was into mostly acoustic singer-songwriter stuff and Blues. My first influences were Paul Simon, J.J. Cale, Eric Clapton, Tom Waits, and a lot of Pink Floyd. My main thing was to write songs and play them to my friends. Then I got into Deep Purple and electric guitar came into my life. I met the bass player of Pentagram (Mezarkabul), Tarkan, at first year of college who introduced me to shredding. I was hooked! After I joined the band I was a certified Metal head, which meant I was to learn the whole genre. I liked it a lot and thought it was a lot of fun to play Metal, and I did play… a lot of it!
CrypticRock.com – Well, the mix of influences certainly shows in your style. Last question. We also cover Horror and Sci-Fi films on CrypticRock. If you are a fan of either or both genres, what are some of your favorites and why?
Demir Demirkan – Horror movies, I like, but can’t watch much because they scare the crap out of me! I am too concentrated when I watch stuff. The sudden music hit and some fucked-up-faced creature jumping out from nowhere is just too stressy! The anticipation building up to it… man, no thanks. I am definitely a Sci-Fi nerd! Let’s see… I’ll try to do this chronologically. Metropolis (1927), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Star Wars (The older ones, mainly), Star Trek (every shoot off and remake), Alien (the whole saga), Blade Runner (1982), I liked the remake as well. Then there is Predator (1987), The Matrix (1999), Avatar (2009), District 9 (2009), Guardians of The Galaxy (2014) and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017), as well as many more! There are mainly three things I like about the Sci-Fi idea, first being the limitless creativity of the genre. Second, the philosophy of “what would the future be like if this is the given present,” and third one is the humor attached to it! There is obviously a spectrum of the whole genre from the realist/political/philosophical to fantasy and to comedy. Take the recent TV series by Seth Macfarlane for example, Orville, I just have to watch it. I think it’s very intelligently made.