In Conversation with The Away Days

I was introduced to The Away Days by their song “Galaxies” — the sound was so unique. Probably because my friend who recommended the song to me was British, I thought the band was British as well. Not only that, but their style was so different from the indie music I had heard in Turkey, and the lyrics were in English. This further supported my belief that The Away Days were a British indie band.

A few months later, I was at a festival and waiting for The Away Days to take the stage. What I learned that day, while talking to a friend before the show, literally shocked me. It was not the first time that The Away Days would be playing in Istanbul. In fact, there had been several other shows at several other venues. More surprisingly, the band members were all Turkish. I had no idea that this treasure was a product of the Turkish music industry (I know, I’m still ashamed). To top it all off, Istanbul was just one of the many cities they had played in. After I learned that they had performed live at SXSW in 2013, I was even more impressed.

The Away Days was founded four years ago by two of the current members, Oğuzcan Öner and Sezer Koç. These two university friends then met the other members of the band: Haktan İlhan, Orkun Atik and Ulaş Özbiçer. The process was painful at times, according to Oğuzcan. They also met with some difficulties when producing their music in Turkey. I caught them right before their recent gig at Trump Cadde, and we talked about a wide range of topics, from their new album preparations to their Playstation madness, to their SXSW experience and finally, their thoughts on the We Are All Refugees II event on 30 May.

the away days

Let’s start with the name of the band. Why did you name it “The Away Days”?

Sezer Koç: Oğuzcan came up with the name actually. It suits the situation we are in and the work we do. It also sounds elegant. We liked it.

How did it all start? What was the process from the beginning until now?

Sezer: I met Oğuzcan at Yıldız Technical University, and the two of us started the band.

Oğuzcan Özen: Those were very difficult times. It’s been almost four years — that’s actually a long time for a band. It isn’t easy to form a band, to take it to the next level, to a place where you can compose the music you want to make, etc. All these steps take time. This was not just because of us, it was also due to the industry, the country, the audience, musicians. So, it was a long process. However, we are here now, at this level. Although the level we are currently at is nothing, we have come a long way.

Who were your inspirations at the beginning? Were there any people or bands whose sound you wanted to emulate?

Oğuzcan: In terms of musical style, no. In terms of success, there are some American or British bands that we like. Our dream was to play at the same festivals, bars, etc. as they do.

Sezer: For instance, The XX, Beach House, Bombay Bicycle Club, Grizzly Bear, Local Natives, etc.

The sound of your band is totally different from everything else coming out of the Turkish music industry. I assume it’s quite difficult to perform this style of music in Turkey. Do you have any comments about this?

Oğuzcan: We are having some difficulties in Turkey. One of a band’s core objectives is to make their music heard by the audience. But because the audience here is not used to our kind of music, it is more difficult to spread the word. It is hard for people to embrace us. We also hear that most of our fans first thought we were British, and only later realized we are actually Turkish. I thought they were kidding, but apparently this is true. I wish they had realized that we’re Turkish at the beginning, maybe they would be more willing to embrace us.

Sezer: The lyrics are in English. I don’t know where we would be if we wrote more Turkish songs.

Oğuzcan: We were talking about that yesterday, while we were coming back from the UK. We don’t really talk about this usually, but yesterday we thought of what it would be like if we had begun with Turkish songs. I always picked up English quickly. The music I listen to is also in English. What I wanted to do was write English lyrics, and I wanted to improve my skills in this area. I really wonder what would have happened if we had never decided to make music with English lyrics. We might be in a hot tub, having our beers. Yesterday, when we were talking about this, we were extremely tired, and the idea of a hot tub sounded very attractive. But, it’s already too late. Really, though, we were only joking around when chatting about this hypothetical.

the away days
(Source: Umut Erdoğan)

Do you have any plans to write songs in Turkish?

Oğuzcan: No, we don’t.

Do either of you have any experience in writing Turkish songs or poems or anything else?

Oğuzcan: I was writing some texts on my own. I wasn’t showing them to anyone — they never had a certain structure to them, but they were in Turkish.

I’d like to talk about the process of songwriting. Do you have specific roles among the band members when it comes to writing songs?

Oğuzcan: Yes, all of the songs are composed by me and Sezer.

Sezer: Lyrics are all by Oğuzcan.

Oğuzcan: It depends, though. Sometimes I go up to Sezer and say, “I made this song.”

Sezer: I add something to it, Oğuzcan adds something else.

Oğuzcan: We develop it together.

You have EPs and singles; your EP THIS came out recently. Do you have any album plans in the near future?

Oğuzcan: We’ve started to record songs for our album, which will have approximately 10-12 songs on it. It’s hard to say when it will be out. Probably in a few months — around August — the recordings will be completed. The thing that makes the process longer is the label; because there many labels outside of Turkey that we are following or which are following us. Since our goal is to be on the world stage, the labels in Turkey don’t suit us, or the opposite, we don’t suit them. We know the labels here, they know us as well. There is a solidarity. The alternative ones are good people, though I don’t know the others personally. Anyway, the new album will probably be out sometime in 2016. But we will definitely share a single from the album before its released in 2016.

Do you have any plans to change your sound or style in the next 5-10 years?

Oğuzcan: Not even years, we’re thinking more like now. The direction we want to take in our new album might surprise you. It will definitely be more original. It will be more of the “sound of The Away Days” — more than any other song or album. It may also be more popular, more melodic, catchy, rhythmic, but at the same time deeper and stronger.

the away days
(Source: Umut Erdoğan)

You had your first international experience at SXSW in 2013. It was a major success for a new Turkish dream pop band. How did that happen, and how was the overall experience?

Oğuzcan: That’s the biggest showcase in the world, of course.

Sezer: It was madness.

Oğuzcan: It’s something else. It’s not like Rock ’n’ Coke or One Love in Turkey. It takes place in a city, in more than 100 venues. At least 1,000 artists and bands play there. The whole music industry is there. As an experience that widened our horizons, it was a really important event. We don’t see it as just performing live on stage. You make a step, you observe people, the musicians, the audience, the industry. How all these bands that we follow closely made it there and the paths they have followed are very important for us to follow as well, because that’s the way to achieve success. You can’t do it by just grabbing a guitar and claiming that you are making music. Especially in Istanbul. SXSW made us realize that. When we got back, we had clues of how to approach things. Actually, we were extremely scared when we got back, because we also realized that we have a very long way to go, and this road is a very tough one. It’s like seeing an island and walking towards that, but as you walk, you realize the island is actually much further away than you originally thought. That’s the reason behind the dissolution of most bands, because they see how hard it is, and they can’t manage to go the rest of the way. We try to act more professional and see what we can accomplish with this approach.

You have also been on stage at Turkish festivals. What are the differences between the festivals in Turkey and the ones abroad?

Oğuzcan: I think it’s a supply and demand thing. If we think about the demand for the festivals in Turkey, there are questions of what do these people want, what do they listen to, why do they come along. I don’t blame the organizers. I can blame the audience, though; they could search more, listen more. But still, you can’t blame anyone for what they listen to. It’s more about the culture, I think. Our culture is not that inquisitive.

What steps are you taking to expand overseas?

Oğuzcan: First of all, we need to find a suitable label for our album. There are many options, but once we find a good one, things will be clearer. We’re also planning to move out of Turkey in a year or so. We think that it’s time. This plan to move will probably force us to speed things up a bit. London seems like the best option when it comes to moving, but it totally depends on the label we end up working with.

the away days
(Source: Umut Erdoğan)

Most people think that you’re not from Turkey when they first listen to your songs. Do you have any funny memories or remarkable conversations on this subject?

Oğuzcan: I can’t really recall, but we follow all comments closely. It’s very important for us to know what people think about us and our music. Every single comment matters.

Sezer: I remember the newspaper headline in Eskişehir.

Oğuzcan: When we played in Eskişehir, there was this newspaper headline saying that “British band The Away Days has passed through Eskişehir” with the Turkish translation of the band’s name.

Are there any artists or bands that you feel have a similar style or story?

Oğuzcan: I don’t think there are any bands that have the same goals as we do, or the exact same style. We have many friends in the industry that we are very close with. When it comes to objectives, The Ringo Jets are very close to us. There is Görkem, Görkem Han Jr. I’m sure there are a lot more.

Sezer: But the band that we like the most is Sakin, in terms of music.

Who would you like to play together with on stage?

Sezer: I would love to play with Tame Impala.

Oğuzcan: Of course, Tame Impala would be amazing. Mac DeMarco would also be good. There are so many, actually, I can’t count them all.

Individually, what have you been listening to lately?

Sezer: We really liked the band that we listened to in Brighton a few days ago. We stayed in the same flat as them, actually. They’re called Garden City Movement.

Oğuzcan: Garden City Movement is an Israeli band. They were really good. We’ve been listening to a lot of our own songs lately. When you’re making an album, you do this more.

Sezer: You continuously listen to new ideas at home, from your iPod etc. The last few months have been like that.

the away days
(Source: Umut Erdoğan)

Besides doing music together, how do you spend the rest of your time?

Oğuzcan: We were playing a crazy amount of Playstation, and in the end we had to sell it because of that. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to record anything. We are both FIFA fans. One day I woke up and Sezer was still playing, having started the night before. I said “What are we doing? We have a million things to do!” The next day we sold it.

Sezer (to Oğuzcan): Do you think we’ll buy a new one after the album release?

Oğuzcan: If we sign with the label we want, why not?

Sezer: We used to spend all our money at Playstation cafes; we even used to rent it and bring it home from time to time.

On May 30th, you’ll perform at a benefit concert for a totally different audience — a large portion of the attendees will be expats. What are your final remarks on that?

Oğuzcan: I think it will be a really nice concert. If we can develop a chemistry with our audience, it will be much better for sure. We’ve played at several other charity events, and we encourage other bands to do so as well. We are very glad to be a part of it all this year.

You can catch The Away Days at the We Are All Refugees II benefit concert on 30 May at Tunnel Sahne!

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Nilce Bıçakcıoğlu
Nilce has been living in Istanbul for 7 years, experiencing different neighbourhoods and enjoying getting to know unique sides of each and every one of them. Besides working on articles and a thesis on media & communications as a graduate student, Nilce is a radio enthusiast who took part in different radio stations and running her own radio show/podcast series called Globetrotter (and Mixcloud). Nilce is constantly dreaming of traveling the world, while at the same time discovering new reasons to embrace the city and diverse culture of Istanbul.

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