“Flowers Of Doubt”, the first DIY album, published last October, from Rain To Rust, the one-man-project masterminded by the experienced Istanbul-based musician and composer Mert Yıldız, was one of the most solid and poignant releases of the past year, with its clear and captivating references to the classic dark post-punk sound of the ’80s, peppered with lyrics inspired by a certain cinema and literature, both, perhaps due to our age proximity, so dear to us. Accordingly, our pleasant chat couldn’t have been more interesting…
Thanks so much for the interview. Let’s trace back to your personal roots, where did you grow up and how did you get into music? Who were your musical inspirations growing up?
I grew up in the small industrial town of İzmit and got into music through my older brother. I have been picking up on what he was listening to; firstly the New Wave bands, then ‘80s Metal bands. The early ’90s coincided with my teenage years so I’ve listened to anything and everything. From Grindcore to Post-Punk, Slowcore to Britpop, Grunge to Underground Czechoslovakian Doom/Death Metal. You name it. My musical influences are many.
Why and how is born your attraction for the cold, dark, noisy, uneasy and gloomy sound?
Depression and anxiety run in the family and also I believe it has to do with the place I grew up. My childhood memories of hometown are mostly grey & damp weather & bushes & trees & factories rusting away. Kind of like that New Model Army song “Green And Grey”. That’s why I chose the name “Rain To Rust”.
Could you talk about your pre-Rain To Rust activity (Rhythm 0, Black front and Dead Man’s Dream)?
Actually, my first release was a demo with my high-school band Vassago. Black Front was an Industrial Metal project I’ve done with the singer of cult Turkish bands Asafated & UCK Grind, we’ve recorded 2 albums & a couple of EPs together. Rhythm 0 was my lo-fi acoustic folk project. Post-Punk influences were always prevalent in these bands’ outputs. In fact, with Black Front, we’d done a cover version of The Cure’s “Cold” with Volkan from She Past Away and that was in 2015. These lead to the formation of Dead Man’s Dream in 2017, which was a Post-Punk / Goth-Rock band and then I decided to continue on my own as Rain To Rust. Which brings us to this day.
What were the trigger factors that lead to forming Rain To Rust? Did you have already an idea of what the sound would have been? What is the difference both lyrically and musically with your other solo project Rhythm 0?
Good question. I think Rain To Rust is the culmination of all my previous experiences as a musician. By 2017 I’ve had Rhythm 0, my lo-fi singer-songwriter project and Dead Man’s Dream, a Post-Punk duo that I was very happy with musically. I like being “only” the guitar player and/or producer rather than the singer, so in Dead Man’s Dream I was pretty happy… in the beginning. When this project failed, I immediately took my own songs with me and started to look for another singer. In the end, I found it exhausting to deal with frontman ego and as I was on the verge of giving up, 2 of my musician friends advised me to combine my vocals in Rhythm 0 with the sound of Dead Man’s Dream. So I took the honest lyrical approach from Rhythm 0 and combined it with the style of Dead Man’s Dream and Rain To Rust was born.
Tell us about the music scene of your hometown Istanbul and then Turkey in general and if in some way have influenced your music… What’s your view on its development over the years? Do you have any band to recommend?
The Turkish music scene is full of local prima donnas and poor man’s pyramid schemes run by idiots as if they exist in the Los Angeles scene circa 1987. The biggest difference is that despite the cockiness there is nothing to gain including money and/or career unless you accept to create music for the dumb masses.
Basically, there are two ways to “make it” in the Turkish music scene: 1. By fucking the right people (preferably some music journo or record company executive), 2. Being successful OUTSIDE of Turkey. If you make it outside of Turkey then they will gather around you like cavemen around a campfire. Thus, it is pretty useless and irrelevant to speak about artistic innovation or integrity, etc… The only influence the Turkish music scene and society has on Rain To Rust is the isolation it forces upon you unless you have a lubricous personality and within this isolation, you don’t have much of an option other than to create something for yourself. Luckily, I am able to write tunes, so…
Some of my favourite Turkish bands are Nekropsi, She Past Away, Dahakara / Groupie & Star / Supereich (projects by the same artist), Asafated… I can’t think of many as I am usually busy trying to create something on my own but these are my friends and I assure you they are all excellent artists.
Have you ever thought about the possibility of moving abroad?
I did and I still do.
How do you approach the creative process? Do you like to always keep trying different ways to record and write or have you found your definitive own one?
I tend to think in album terms instead of song terms. If I have a larger canvas to paint and if I know where I want it to go and how I want it to feel, then I can easily come up with smaller fragments (songs) to fill it up. Maybe it is because I grew up listening to albums and actually “lived” within them for long periods of time. Most of the time, the only way for me to obtain albums when I was young was through cassette copies. No covers, only the tracklists, so my mind would make up its own cover design and band photos. I believe a massive part of my creativity comes from this process of “having to create” out of necessity. Today, I do all the work on my albums, from cover photography to producing, mixing, etc… It feels completely natural. I try to create albums that I would love to find in a record shop when I was 14 years old.
The album is born out a moment of deep personal struggle, you dealt with a variety of negative and painful emotions channeling them creatively, even if for interposed persons, in a sort of ‘make or break’ way. Was it like to embrace the darker side of life to show some glimpse of light on the other side, using your music as a sort of cathartic outlet?
In the end, it was cathartic, I think, but when I was writing and recording it definitely didn’t feel so. I approach any recording process as if it will be the last thing I will ever put my stamp on, my final statement because after all, death is only one accident away for us all. “Flowers Of Doubt” was special because I was also on the verge of losing my studio and I was going through a rather difficult period so I had to force myself and put everything together very quickly. In the end, I believe I managed to capture a moment and that’s the whole deal. It was a small voyage through darkness and although I made it to the light, I never thought I would and that’s reflected on the album.
You seem to confirm the idea that great art comes from suffering and difficulties…
I will take this as a great compliment.
- Could you about the all-encompassing tread that ties all the songs? How is born the structural unfolding of the lyrics related to the music?
Although not a traditional concept album with a storyline, “Flowers Of Doubt” is conceptual in the sense that songs are all thematically connected. The songs on this album are about little dependencies (I try to avoid using the word “addiction”) we develop out of various fears, how these dependencies breed fear and how we end up spending our lives in desperate loops. I believe this theme is best reflected in the song “Time And Time Again”. In the end, it turned into a rather dark album so I wanted to finish it on a bittersweet note with “For When It Hurts”, which is about friendship. Real friendship is above fears and very hard to come by.
With what intention was born the contributions of fellow artists Özüm Özgülgen (Dahakara) and Tuğba Selin Ülker (Basic Human)?
I’ve worked with Tuğba in 2 of my previous projects, she has a great voice and is a great artist. I was hearing female backing vocals in my head when I was listening to “Time And Time Again”, so I invited her to participate and she did a great job. Not only she did the backing vocals but she also brought in the improvised vocal bits which ended up as the song’s intro & outro. Özüm and I go way back, I’m a big fan of his work and we share a lot of musical influences. I wanted him to add some piano parts to the song “Time And Time Again” and I wanted Mike Garson vibe from David Bowie’s “Outside” album. And as for his vocals on “For When It Hurts”, I think he did a brilliant job, he really put his heart into it and transcended the song.
Osamu Dazai inspired both the lyrics of ‘A Farewell With Regret’ and ‘No Longer Human’, it seems that his autobiographical novels struck a chord on you… In ‘Burnt The Light.’ İnstead Yukio Mishima and Georges Bataille combine with Elias Merhige’s horror masterpiece “Shadow Of The Vampire …
“No Longer Human” is my favourite novel. To me, that song is the centerpiece of the album because the character has an extreme amount of fear and an extreme amount of dependence.
As for “Burnt To Light”, the actual inspiration was the Scott Walker song “Lullaby”, which is about assisted suicide. One thing led to another and I started to think about Yukio Mishima’s “Kyoko’s House”, where a character signs a slavery contract with a woman and they end up in sadomasochistic ritual sex/torture/suicide/murder. “Reaching purity in death” is a common Mishima theme (he died committing seppuku) and that made me think of “Shadow Of The Vampire”: The vampire’s desire is to witness sunlight but sunlight also brings his death. In the end, I started to think of this person who wants to disintegrate during sex, reaching ultimate ecstasy while disappearing and that made me remember the section about Ling Chi in the Georges Bataille book “Tears Of Eros”. Basically, Ling Chi was a method of punishment in China up until one hundred years ago where they publicly sliced the person into pieces alive. In one such (documented) case, the victim was given opium-based brew so he didn’t feel physical pain and had a smile of ecstasy on his face. So the song is about a person who wants to be given opium by his partner and have sex while getting butchered to death. And no, that person is definitely not me.
On the remaining tracks instead, the inspirations come from Mika Kaurismaki, David Lynch and a couple of news stories
“Time And Time Again” is the Twin Peaks song. The inspiration for “Drinking The Ghosts” came from another favourite of mine, Mike Kaurismaki’s “Zombie And The Ghost Train”. It is a beautiful movie about a musician who silently rots inside and does a final journey of loss from Helsinki to İstanbul.
In a recent interview, you said the album has ‘its body in the past, but the spirit is firmly in the present’…
As far as musical stylistics go, it is definitely rooted in the past. I use the guitar, bass and drum sounds of the ’80s and it comes naturally because these sounds were in the air when I was a kid. On the other hand, the lyrical matter is much less escapist than the ’80s and confrontational, that’s why I think its spirit is in the present.
- Do you already have a cold perspective about the LP? Have you any favorite songs that would you pick out from the LP, if you had to, and why? Any hints of your possible sound development?
Hard for me to pick a favorite from the album but I have a soft spot for “For When It Hurts” because it is a duet with a good friend. I am actually writing the second album at the moment. So far the songs sound darker and more monotonous. Kind of like “Faith” after “Seventeen Seconds”.
As a great lover of cinema and photography, you have decided to paired every song of the album with its own video clip, the first one has just come out, you are expecting seven more, apparently, the titanic exploits don’t scare you … How is your way of working in this case?
I usually pick a friend and a camera and a small idea to start with then see where it goes. For the first video, the idea was “one playing card and one girl” and although the card is never seen in the video, that’s what it leads to. There is a story arc that I am after and when it is all done, hopefully, it will make sense.
How do you deal with the live dimension? What are your highlights and lowlights so far? Do you remember your first gig?
Actually, Rain To Rust has never performed live, at least not so far. But there will be gigs in 2020 and we will be playing as a duo with Erhan Sazli from Dead Man’s Dream on bass and me on vocals and guitar. I like playing on the stage but everything that surrounds the live performance itself, the actual gig, before and after, I despise. I just want to disappear. Weirdly enough, I don’t have any recollection of my first gig.
Which were those pivotal concerts, records, songs… that gave you that overwhelming sense of excitement and wonder that has marked forever your musical sensibility and life?
The biggest musical breaking point was when I first saw Pink Floyd’s “Live At Pompeii” footage on TV when I was around 9 years old. That felt like being exposed to a new world. I have an enormous amount of favourite songs and artists and bands, but “Pompeii” was definitely the moment for me.
I’ve always been fond of marginal bands, often even more than the lead ones. I did like Nasmak, Ludus, Prag Vec, Pink industry… Can you mention any influential bands that actually meant something to you, but they’ve never been too popular and why?
My favourite band is a group of Austrians called Cadaverous Condition. They had romantic folk songs with death metal grunts and heartbroken lyrics. Completely unique and if you are open-minded enough, it may be well worth the ride. They even released an album on Julian Cope’s label “Fuck Off And Di”. I’m, like, their only fan besides Julian Cope and that’s a shame.
How do you weigh music-wise the pro and cons of the internet era? Are you comfortable with social media and platforms like Spotify, Bandcamp, etc. as tools to promote your music?
I like the fact that it is easier and cheaper to record music nowadays. Back when I started making music, it was unthinkable having a home studio. Unfortunately, the album format is dead since people’s attention spans shortened down to 3 seconds with the constant overflooding of information. When I was younger I only wanted to be an underground musician and that’s what I am now. I come from duplicating my own tapes and making my own flyers and spreading them around the world, today I am still duplicating my own tapes but I use the internet instead of flyers, that’s all. As low-key as this sounds, I am happy where I am.
The album has been released in perfect full DIY spirit through your creative control over everything. Is the DIY ethos still relevant and essential like before in the current period as a savior of artistic integrity?
As I said, I know not much else. I’ve recorded my first demo in 1999 when I was still a kid and released it on my own as a cassette tape. Later on, I’ve done CDs and vinyls with my other projects on record labels but for “Flowers Of Doubt” I’m back to cassette tapes again. Coming full circle. To me, DIY ethos is relevant and will always be.
It has been a long time since a charismatic band breaks into the mainstream and like Simon Reynolds said, ‘sending shockwaves through an entire society’, probably the last was Nirvana… Do you think the cultural importance, the threat and the power of music have been lost forever in these quick, liquid and superficial days?
Great question. I love Nirvana but even they were pushed into the youth culture by record company executives who were only in it for the money. Nirvana didn’t take over some record company’s office and force them into pushing their music and “message” onto the masses or anything. Their music was yet another “product”. Cobain didn’t even have much say on the final mix of “Nevermind”, it was the A&R people from Geffen who told Andy Wallace to give it a crisp mix. In fact, he HATED the sound on “Nevermind” but he couldn’t prevent it. And it is THE sound that made them big, not “Bleach” or “In Utero”. Heroes bring money. There’s no way to avoid money if you are thinking about popular culture terms. Look what happened to Cobain in the end: vultures attacked him to suck on his future fortunes.
To me, David Bowie was THE example of an artist that has made a massive impact on society, firstly using shock tactics, then through being a great visionary AND a pop star/businessman. He was an individualist and his life became his art and he left behind a body of work that will keep on influencing people.
So I don’t think a “cultural hammer” like Nirvana will come again but maybe we don’t need something like that anyway. Maybe what we need is the kind of person who will calmly tell us that it’s much cooler to be a creative individual instead of a destructive one because it is much easier to create nowadays whereas back then it wasn’t. Today everybody has easy access to the tools of creativity. Technology is cheap and information is out there.
Which bands would you love to make a cover version of?
There’s too many… But my dream is to record an album full of Thin Lizzy covers.
- Do you remember the first record you bought?
That should be Iron Maiden’s “Somewhere In Time”.
What kind of music and who are you personally listening to at the moment?
Two bands I’ve been listening to recently are This Mortal Coil and Mayhem. They are both old favourites but I’ve not been listening to Mayhem for quite some time. I’m about to finish one book on them, which will be published hopefully next February.
Could you name one of your favourite albums, movies and books and why?
One album: Cadaverous Condition – “Songs For The Crooked Path”: Because it has the saddest and most beautiful lyrics and a unique musical style.
One movie: “The Secret Face” by Ömer Kavur: Because it is the movie that made me fall in love with movies.
One book: “Sundog” by Scott Walker: Because it has the final lyrics ever written by Scott Walker.
What are your plans for the future?
Finish shooting videos for “Flowers Of Doubt” and record the second album next spring for a fall 2020 release. Hopefully.
- Is there anything you’d like to add?
Thanks for this excellent interview full of great questions! Love your website & I really admire your dedication to the scene. To all the people who managed to come this far in the interview: come visit the Rain To Rust Bandcamp page and become a friend of the friendless.
Keep up with Rain To Rust: