Friday, May 5, 2023

Interview with Cem Barut of Sermon by Dave Wolff

Interview with Cem Barut of Sermon by Dave Wolff

Sermon formed in 1997 in Izmir, Turkey. What is the underground/independent music industry in your country like, and how has it grown and remained self-sustaining while you’ve been active?
The music industry in our country has not changed much since the 90s. Even though there are quite good bands emerging recently, the monopolistic view that refuses to accept good music hasn't changed at all. Although many bands go on sticking to the cliché, there are very good bands in the scene as well.
In general, we can't say that we are really glad about the scene here. There is a big number of listeners and metalheads in Turkey, but the scene is mainly monopolized by a few “decision makers”. This is making it hard for some good bands to advance and hold on to the scene. In such a scene, progress is impossible. As long as the organizations and promotion are in the hands of self-centered people, it is not easy to improve. That's why growing bands often try working with foreign people in other countries. During times in the past when we were active, we only tried to focus on our music and to improve our skills to keep going.

What do you mean by bands that stick to clichés and decision makers? In how many different ways are they holding the underground back from progressing?
In our country, if you create something successful, some people don’t want your name to be heard and they try to pull you down. You don’t often receive support or get invited to organizations or festivals. They don’t let you use their opportunities unless you concede to them. There are many talented bands and musicians in Turkey but the people I mentioned decide on who will advance and isolate the bands or people who do not concede to them.

How long has this practice of favoritism on the part of decision makers been in place? Give specific examples of bands who have been overlooked because they refused to meet expectations? What impact does this have on underground music in Turkey?
This has been going on since the beginning. No specific time. I cannot give you the names of bands, but the bands who deserve appreciation are often the bands you rarely come across with their names in the Turkish scene. Because of that, some bands cannot be able to reach listeners since they do not gain a seat in magazines or live shows. And that’s why many bands quit being active and end their careers.

What clichés are Turkish bands expected to adhere to? How do these clichés relate to styles of music more popular than others?
You don’t have to stick to clichés while creating music. Of course there are some clichés in music - especially in metal - but the thing is what you can add on from yourself. If you don’t try to break the mold your music would have no difference than the others and this can be boring for people. If you want your music to be listened and appreciated you have to reflect your skills and creativity. If the original ideas you put on become noticed, your music can become permanent.

Which bands manage to progress on their own terms, and how does Sermon do so? In what countries are you able to contact fans and/or musicians and what sort of relationships do you build with them?
As far as I know there is only “Forgotten” who chooses not to talk much but create and progress on its own terms. We do not have close contact with many bands so I don’t have an idea about how they advance. Many bands go on by conceding to the decision makers and some try to do something in their own.
In order to gain a seat in the world scene, Sermon is somehow working by keeping away from these people and that scene denoted above. If you aim to be in a narrow scene you can’t proceed and can’t make people hear you. We are not making music for a compressed metal scene. As I mentioned before if you are a creative band some people neglect you and try to erase you from the local scene. If you become a passive band and obey them your prize would be some magazines and live gigs. Our target is not the local scene and we aim to be active internationally. We always try to do our best to improve our skills and create good music and make our name much more heard in the world scene.
We are in contact with almost every country in the world. Especially after the release of the album, we had really amazing feedback from zines and listeners and we are really glad about it. Mostly we are in touch with France, Germany, Poland, England, Greece, Belgium, USA, and Latin America. We are in good company and solidarity with musicians throughout the planet, and the fans who like our music are also showing their support by their compliments.

Does Turkey have any organizers or promoters who wish to help the underground move forward, or are most of them self-centered as you described them?
Yes, there are some but they are few in number and the decision makers are usually frustrating them. They avoid selecting some specific bands for their lineup to prevent a possible reaction from their ‘notables’. Or sometimes two different events take place at the same day to cut the audience. In general, they do what they want in their own favor and shape everything like they want. Mostly it is difficult to struggle with them in the scene.

In spite of the decision makers, do social media and streaming sites help Sermon gain listeners outside Turkey? In the countries you mentioned above, has the band received favorable reviews in magazines and fanzines? Are there any opportunities for the band to perform in those countries?
Of course, they are helping. The “decision makers” can try to block you off locally, but they can’t prevent you from making your name heard globally. Social media does not only belong to them. We have an opportunity to reach listeners through social media. We had amazing feedback from the countries we have mentioned above. People really like our music and they are supporting us. We are publishing all the critics we got throughout the world in social media. Anyone can read those reviews. At the moment there is no opportunity for that. We have received some offers but nothing is certain yet. We hope we can have the chance to meet our listeners everywhere. If any promoters are interested they can get in touch with us anytime.

Has the band had to release its material independently in order to establish its reputation? When writing and composing their music, how does the band maintain its creative spirit?
We only released our first demo “Cosmic Prisoner” independently. The second one “Sea of Meanings” was released by a local label. The main thing that maintains our creative spirit is our passion and loyalty for music. We always try to be ourselves when making music and we do not limit ourselves by a single genre. We are trying to reflect different inspiring feelings of each member mutually in our music.

To date, how many copies of your first two demos have been printed and distributed? Does the band continue to print copies of both albums even after your debut full-length has been released?
Our first demo “Cosmic Prisoner” was printed 200 and distributed. The second one “Sea of Meanings” was released by a local label with more than 1000 copies. 500 of them were distributed by us personally. They have never been printed again.

Is your expansion of influences as musicians a natural progression? In different countries, underground scenes develop in different ways. What is the significance of Sermon's music in terms of how Turkish culture relates to each band member? If you were to introduce your band to someone who had never heard of it, how would you describe it?
Of course it is a natural progression. Because a musician shapes his/her music by culture, thoughts & feelings, spirit, inspirations, choices and fields of interest, apart from his/her musical talent. That’s why there are so many bands containing musical wealth. Definitely, there are traces of his/her culture in the music of an artist. This is one of the significant elements to create original music. Based on the place we live, Turkish culture has so much diversity. It is possible to reflect these things to our music but haven’t done it for now. In our music we are reflecting almost everything we feel, and we did not have the need to use cultural and local elements currently. But I can’t know what will happen in the future… I can describe it as a Turkish Doom Death Metal band.

A long hiatus was observed by the band between 2004 and 2022. When you decided to get back together, what were the reasons for that decision?
In the past, because of some negative conditions and separations in the band, my motivation for making music was over. Two of my closest friends (one is Durmus – our guitarist) had an effect on me to activate the band again. Durmus convinced me by waking the passion inside me for making music and we reactivated the band and came back with a new album.

How did you spend time during the band's hiatus? When the band reunited, how easy was it to write and record the new album?
I didn't do anything as a musician at that time, because I wasn't in the psychology of making music. Like everyone else, I continued my classic world life, such as work and home. But while continuing my normal life, I didn't stay away from music and I constantly followed everything related to music. When we re-formed the band, we were just two people and it wasn't easy to make the songs as we had to adapt our musical ideas to today's musical developments. “Till Birth Do Us Part” has become an album that we have put a lot of effort into every second and minute.

Did the band decide it would be a better idea to record the album at a professional studio or with your own recording equipment?
We recorded the album with our own recording equipment in the home studio of our guitarist Durmuş. Because we have all the necessary equipment for a recording in his home studio. For this reason, we did not feel the need to record the album in a professional studio. Only vocal recordings were made in a professional studio.

Since the release of “Till Birth Do Us Part”, which record label or labels have licensed and distributed the album outside Turkey? What has been the general response to this album?
The physical copy was released by Bitume Productions from France and the album is also broadcasted at some digital platforms by them. It is also released digitally on most popular digital platforms by the world-famous Earache Records. We really had and still have so much positive feedback from almost all over the world and we are trying to share these reviews from our social media for people to reach them.

How well-known a label is Bitume Productions? Are you generally satisfied with the way they and Earache Records have treated the band and handled the album?
Bitume Productions is an independent label and I don't know how well they are known by everyone. But they are slowly announcing their name and I am sure that over time they will announce their name to a wider audience. We have very good relations with both labels and we are pleased to work with them. They take care of us in every way, and they do their best to help us.

Is all of your material, including your early demos, available on social media and streaming sites? Where can people hear them if they are available there?
We did not share the previous demos on social media and streaming sites. But soon we will share them on streaming sites and inform them about where to listen from our social media for people to listen.

Is “Till Birth Do Us Part” entirely made up of new material, or were any songs from your early demos re-recorded for it?
“Till Birth Do Us Part” is an album of completely new songs. There are no songs that we have done in the past on this album.

Which of the songs on “Till Birth Do Us Part” most accurately represent where the band is headed musically and lyrically?
Not all, but most of the songs are about the same issue in this album. So it is hard to choose one. Maybe 'Flawless Entropy' or 'Destined to Decline'.

Besides the exposure you received outside of Turkey, has Sermon been offered the opportunity to open for touring bands or perform at metal festivals abroad?
We have never had the chance to give concerts in other countries besides Turkey. There are several offers that have been submitted to us for concerts, but these offers have not yet become serious. We really want to play in other countries besides Turkey and I hope that there will be people who are interested in us and they will give us the chance to play and tour.

When the time comes you start performing outside Turkey, which countries do you want to appear in first? Would you want to play in countries where “Till Birth Do Us Part” received the biggest responses?
We want to play in all countries, especially France, Germany, England, Poland, and Greece. But we would have liked to start from France first, because France is the first of the countries where we have the largest fan base and where we get the most reaction. Then we want to play very much in Germany, Poland, Greece, and all other countries respectively. Of course, it would be great to play in the countries where we get the most fans and reactions because in these countries people know Sermon. I hope one day we will have the chance to meet with everyone who listens to us.

-Dave Wolff

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