The Away Days: We told the story of a gay couple

Source: Selin Girit, “The Away Days: Eşcinsel bir çiftin hikayesini anlattık”, (“The Away Days: We told the story of a gay couple”), BBC Türkçe, 10 July 2015, http://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler/2015/07/150710_the_away_days

The camera moves slowly in a dark flat. A Pedro Almodovar movie poster in the corner. The camera climbing the stairs. Now a hand holding a knife. The tip of the knife bloodied. And a man lying on the floor. In blood.

This is how the video for The Away Days’ “Calm Your Eyes” begins.

When the group shared the video for the first time on their Facebook page two weeks ago, they wrote:

“We dream of a Turkey in which all LGBTI individuals enjoy the freedom to live openly and safely. We dedicate our new music video, “Calm Your Eyes”, to diversity and individuality.”

Because the video tells the story of a gay love… So straightforward, without lying. And in this way, it’s a first for Turkey.

“No explanation”

We meet the members of the band at Moda Stage before their concert in the Istanbul Jazz Festival.

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The Away Days’ guitarist and vocalist Oğuz Can Özen says, “Yes, there have been videos with gay visibility [in the past]. But we openly told the story of a gay couple’s relationship. There has never been [a video] that tells this story so frankly. And the fact that there hasn’t is incredibly surprising.”

The video was released during Pride Week. They say that they hadn’t really planned it that way.

But when the shoots continued and there were only two weeks left to Pride Week, they thought “Let’s wait and release it then.” They thought it would be more meaningful.

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So what did they think about the violence during Pride Week?

“A person can’t think,” says guitarist Haktan İlhan: “When I look at the culture I grew up in, these are things that my brain can’t even register. And there still isn’t any explanation. Is there anyone out there who has been able to register what happened?”

The video was first released on clashmusic.com. It is the website of the London-based Clash magazine, which is regarded as the most prestigious in its field.

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But the members of The Away Days are pessimistic about the video airing on Turkey’s music channels. Obviously because of its content. They did not even submit it to music channels.

Oğuz Can Özen explains why: “If they get back to us with negative feedback because the video contains homosexuality, they’ll hit a major nerve. It’s better if they don’t run it.”

What’s this ‘shoegaze’?

You know how we said that the Calm Your Eyes video is “a first for Turkey”; in fact many of the things The Away Days has done is a first for Turkey.

For example, they are the first band from Turkey to play in South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Texas.

They are premiering their videos on world-renowned music websites. Their songs play on BBC Radio 6, Amazing Radio, XFM, Absolute Radio…

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The UK’s Guardian newspaper, for instance, says: “Turkish shoegaze might not be a major phenomenon, but given the breadth of their [The Away Days] talent, it soon could be.”

But what is this ‘shoegaze’ anyway?

The Away Days actually found out that it’s a subgroup of alternative rock, from the 80s in the UK, where vocals are used as an instrument, after they were likened to it.

Oğuz Can Özen, “I know it as a type of music where reverbs are often used and the music is rougher. Like Slowdive, Ride, My Bloody Valentine. But really, we didn’t know about these bands I just mentioned until they called us ‘shoegaze’. And I say that with embarrassment.”

Bassist Sezer Koç cuts in and says, “I can’t really call our music shoegaze.” He agrees more with a comment about them on Ekşi Sözlük:

“The comment was that The Away Days takes the dynamism of Foals or Tame Impala, digests it, and puts it out in a melancholic, minor way. I really liked that. We are inspired by those groups, that music and it exactly comes out of us like that.”

To not belong anywhere

The Away Days, so clear in its name, is a band that lives the feeling of not belonging anywhere… When they live that way, their songs also end up like that.

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Sezer Koç says, “We don’t know where we belong. We don’t know where we want to be. All we know is that we are very far from the place we need to be right now.”

“Frankly, we aren’t very happy here,” adds Oğuz Can Özen. “There is neither the right platform to share our music with, nor the correct ways to disseminate it, or anyone to buy it. Or anyone who makes it.” He laughs after and asks, “So what are we doing here?”

They’ve set their eyes on England. Maybe we’ll go to London, or Brighton, or Manchester. They think that they need to play to many more people to develop their music and for that, to move.

They liked the reactions from the audience in the UK tour. They think the audience is more curious, more inquisitive, more active.

Oğuz Can Özen says, “Of course, for them, what’s most striking about us is that we are coming from Turkey, from Istanbul.” He adds, laughing:

“Imagine a guy called James, he comes to Istanbul with the saz [Anatolian reed] and sings folk songs at [Istanbul venue] Babylon. It’s actually a bit weird when you think about it…”

A bizarre adventure

So do they worry that if they leave Istanbul, their music would change and lose its dark yet hopeful tone?

“That, you never know, a very bizarre adventure,” says Sezer Koç.

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Oğuz Can Özen cuts in and says, “This is one of the things we are most curious about. Will we be able to go? If we do, will we be able to live there? If we can, will be able to produce there? When we do, how will that music be? How will we feel? I can say that we live to see that.”

They are also living to see one more thing: to play at the Glastonbury Music Festival….

Sezer Koç says, “Five years ago, this was something we talked about the first night I met Oğuz Can.”

Haktan İlhan asks “Can we also add Jools Holland?” referring to the BBC 2 music program, which has been running for years.

Oğuz Can Özen jokes and says, “Can we shout out to Jools Holland from here?” He asks, “Mr. Jools Holland, can you make room for us in your program?”

I have a feeling that if he hears it, he will.

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