Ally caught up with Kit Sebastian, who stormed the alternative music world with their 2019 debut ‘Mantra Moderne’ and have returned with the release of their expansive new record ‘Melodi’. The group talk about their new record, the importance of visual art and how their music has evolved.
Kit Sebastian made a considerable impact with their 2019 debut record, both critically and with their fan base. Made up of Kit Martin and Merve Erdem, the London-based duo have swiftly forged a fascinating sound, one which caught the ears and attention of the revered Mr Bongo Records. “We get called psychedelic a lot which I don't know is completely fair, Kit tells me, “I think psychedelic the word is quite a lazy word for pretty much anything that isn't straight rock or straight jazz.” Although their music certainly does have “psychedelic” elements to it, Kit is correct – it would be grossly unfair to pin the group as just this, as they weave a rich tapestry of musical and cultural influences into their work.
Having released Mantra Moderne in July 2019, Melodi comes a little over two years since their first outing, a time, of course, marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thinking about the time taken to make Melodi, Merve explains “the process has been, I guess, a little more complex than the first album, and it took a little longer than expected”.
It’s often thought that creating the second album is one of the most difficult, perhaps even more so after making such a splash with your debut. With Melodi, the duo wanted to move on from Mantra Moderne, exploring a new realm of instruments and sounds. Reflecting on how COVID-19 impacted Melodi, Merve reveals “I think it just contributed to us spending more time in the studio, writing more songs and having more time to do more meticulous work. Mantra Moderne is quite spontaneous, but, I think, our approach to Melodi was more considered and detailed-based. We really spent so much time on so many different layers, added and subtracted things. Mantra Moderne was just recorded, mixed and done - it was a very, very different process for us”.
Tapping into many different territories and sounds comes naturally to Kit Sebastian. With both members of the duo having grown up and lived across different borders – France, London, Turkey and Rome – they have both been exposed to various cultures and consider treating different music with care. However, they assert that there is no conscious decision in exploring any one geographic sound. “I would say most of the time [our music] flows,” Merve says, “maybe little bits and bobs of songs are used as references, like a more Ethiopian-jazz element in a very broad sense. However, the composition process, I would say, is quite organic. And everything comes out without really having clear references in our minds”. Kit adds, “We listen to something, and it passively filters into our heads”.
One of the singers which Merve turned to for Melodi is the Turkish pop vocalist Sezen Aksu. “I'm not sure how much she's known in Europe, but she's quite an important singer in old Turkish pop music history and she has been quite active for a very long time - she's still active” Merve outlines. Explaining why Merve looked to the music of Sezen Aksu, she recognises that “in my mind, she's quite important in terms of how she mixes so many different a music types like from disco to Ottoman classical music. From very deep and sorrowful love songs to very political and almost sarcastic - more intellectual lyrics. She's a very exemplary character for me in terms of how she really combines emotion with good music the political aspect of life without being still being very subtle in aesthetical”.
Aside from fusing elements of Turkish folk, Anatolian pop-rock and Mugham, Melodi feels a more expansive outing for Kit Sebastian. “We had the groundwork done for Mantra Moderne, with the idea of loose aesthetics, both technical and philosophical, perhaps. And then just took it a bit further, really, both musically, instrumentally, and lyrically” Kit surmises. The restrictions brought on by the COVID pandemic certainly played its part with the formation of Melodi, as Kit explains how his turn to cinema helped form the backbone of the album’s compositions. “During the lockdown, everyone started watching a lot more films”, Kit tells me, “So, I suppose in this album, we set out to be a bit more filmic. And, I think you can tell that it is a bit more cinematic and filmic than Mantra Moderne”. One of the ways this expansive and filmic feel to Melodi is achieved is by developing the texture through the addition of strings and brass with Ellie Wang on viola and Munéyuki Sugiyama on trumpet – a step away from Kit performing all the instruments himself. Wistfully, Kit remarks “I think there's nothing really which sounds like strings, really. So many tracks we listen to have beautiful string arrangements and you know, it can't be faked, and it can't be replaced with anything else. So, it's just something which had to be done.”
Those who follow Kit Sebastian will understand that visual art is integral to the group. “The visual side feeds our music, and the music feeds the visuals” Merve states. “We produce direct, and most of the time edits are own music videos, even our photography is generally self-portraits. Most of the time or like art directed by us. So, we always have an aesthetical idea or a theme in our minds, even right after the song is recorded”. Both visually and musically, Kit Sebastian’s work has sentiments from the 1960s and 1970s spun into it, but reject being pinned down as simply retro. “This how our whole sound is developed” Merve maintains, “so it is how we constructed to hold music and the visuals in a way also our daily lives as well. I think the problem with retro or vintage is that it can easily be fit like become a fetish and be done just for the sake of it.”
Melodi, like Mantra Moderne, has been released via the legendary Mr Bongo Records. Having swiftly signed the group after setting their ears on the demo tapes of Mantra Moderne, the outfit have been conducive in giving Kit Sebastian the space and capacity to explore and artistically free. Discussing their working relationship, Kit describes how “They've been very hands-off really. They've left us to do everything really because I think we have a very, very strong idea of our own aesthetics and sound. Exploring this further, Kit adds “I think some groups don't have an idea of what they want. I think if anybody tried to interfere with our aesthetics or sounds, it would become a completely different thing”.
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