“Instead of the accident, I try to be the sparkly car on the road they tend to look at but not gather around that much.”
Interview and photos: Haifa Mohammed
Nearly two decades since he released his first album “Nefes almak zor” (Hard to breathe), Serhat Bedük is one of the few Turkish artists to release music in English as well as his native language.
While in London, he met with Haifa Mohamed to talk about his career, his artistic philosophy and what is next for him. And he has a message for aspiring artists: “Be yourself because that is what makes you unique”.
It was a rainy day in London (shocker) when I sat down for an interview face-to-face with the artist. It felt like a triumph to conduct an interview not via Zoom and the historic Grove House in West London made the experience much more elevated.
Bedük showed up early and I had to rush to the location an hour before the scheduled time. I envisioned the scenario of a singer being angry because he needed to wait for me for a whole 8 minutes and 20 seconds!
To my surprise, he was just waiting near the location, sheltering from the rain and having a green tea from the nearby coffee shop and no display of attitude at all.
Serhat Bedük has 9 albums in his discography and a number of singles. He wrote and produced most of his work and directed the majority of his video treatments.
His 2013 album “Overload” made it to the preliminary list of nominated albums in 7 categories for the Grammys. He said awards can give a sense of purpose to an artist who is just starting out.
“In your early days you feel it’s the conclusion. You want to earn those things and you want all of those things.” He explained that artists at the beginning of their careers view awards so highly. “When you get them you understand that the accomplishments are in other things that give the full picture, like going on stage and thousands of people singing your songs that you wrote in your small studio.”
I asked him whether he cared about numbers and how much attention his work is receiving.
“Nowadays everything is numbers. Instagram followers and YouTube views, it is like an accident. If you are riding on the road with your mates and see a normal car, you won’t look at it. But if there is an accident suddenly, a lot of people gather around. Instead of the accident, i try to be the sparkly car on the road they tend to look at but not gather around that much.”
Most musicians aspire to be nominated for the Recording Academy Grammy Awards. Referring to his work being considered for such awards, Bedük said that it felt nice to be noticed by professionals, but he didn’t get his hopes high or view the trophy as the apex of his career.
These awards are for the big players in the industry giving each other pushes to their own artists,” Bedük said. “It is like a game they’re playing on their own.”
After controversy surrounding the past year’s Grammys, in which the artist The Weeknd was snubbed despite releasing one of the year’s most critically acclaimed albums, Bedük said that award shows are never fair. He said The Weeknd had produced an amazing album, but he thinks such battles cannot be fought.
“It is an established industry game. You either are in the game or you are not in the game,” Bedük said. Making air quotes, he said: “The man always gets his way.”
What are his biggest career accomplishments?
Bedük said he had done something in a country that had never been done before.
“In Turkey, it is mostly Turkish music by all artists, and I think I was the first to do a whole album in English with an independent attitude.” He said introducing a new genre in his country represented the greatest accomplishment of his career. “Then I did electric dance music live on stage with my band, which was not seen before in Turkey as it was only for DJs.” .
When asked if he planned to relocate to the United States and try to make it there, he said he never planned ahead and he let things run organically.
He also said he’s not too focused on commercial success. “At this point in my career, after all these years, I just want to play my music and go to concerts. I don’t want to play Wembley Stadium or go get Grammys. These things are earthly to me.” He continued: “I just wanna play my music and hopefully get accepted for what I do. I don’t want to change my music for someone else.”
Bedük signed a publishing deal with Universal Music last March. He said the label is a good place to be, given how saturated the market is at the moment. “Everyone is doing music, and everyone is a ‘producer’, and everyone is a musician these days.” He explained the move by saying: “To do my music as uniquely as possible I have to have a reach for the global market. You have to have the networks to back you up where you cannot reach.”
He said it is difficult to stand out unless you do something that will be viral. “It is almost impossible to raise your head above that mud unless you do something flashy or social or you gotta have a lot of luck for that to happen.”
His advice for musicians starting now is to be unique and not try to imitate what is catchy or popular in the market. “Be you. You have not been done before.”
He emphasised the need to not have big expectations and accept how big or how little their work will be received by the fans. “Embrace what happens next,” Bedük said.
As for what comes next, he said he’s been in the studio cooking new music. He has 7 new tracks that are mostly English, but he is planning to do both English and Turkish. He is looking for collaborations currently and he wants to make the next project as a collaborative art piece. He said his new project has a different feel than his previous electric music and it’s more melodic.
In terms of dream collaborations, he had several thoughts. He would love to work with Pharrell. From England, he named Mark Ronson. As a vocalist, he has Anne Marie in mind, and the late Amy Winehouse.
As for Turkish artists, he said that he had already worked with almost everyone he wants to work with. He likes the music scene in the UK and British indie rock is his favorite. He previously covered the band the Subways.
He said that he’s really stoked for his next concert at the Camden Assembly, given that it has been a year and a half since he performed live. He doesn’t want to release a full-length album from now on as the audience doesn’t listen to the complete body of work as they did before, and the attention span is short.
He said he will release a single before the concert and will be performing a couple of songs from the new project. He plans to release a new single each month then put them in one album.
Asked for a taste of the new work, he put on his poker face. He would only say that it is amazing and he can’t share anything because he changes everything in the last week leading to the release.
His writing process is “hell”, he says. He gets this “sparkle”, as he called it, in the last minute before the release and that changes the production of the work completely.
He also demands “bald rights” as most bald actors play the bad guys in films and are never cast as the lead in romantic films. That was his way of changing the topic when I asked him if he will release slow romantic music.
He said bald, 6’4 tall guys aren’t the type of artists who make romantic songs and that he would rather make dance bangers that you dance to when you are crying. “It is raining, you open your hands and you cry, but you also dancing.” That’s romanticism in Bedük’s eyes.
In terms of Aleyna Tilki and Edis signing record deals to release English music. He said it is a great effort for them as artists and for the Turkish music industry but they need to not get discouraged and give excuses. The success will be achievable in the end if they remain consistent.
Lastly, when asked to introduce himself to UK music enthusiasts, Bedük said that he is a 360-degree creative who makes music. He produces, writes and creates – uniquely.