SIRMA is hardly your average pop star. The Turkish singer, songwriter, and producer has trained at Berklee College of Music, collaborated on an Olympic theme song, and calls Björk her biggest influence.
With music school behind her, and making a home in Brooklyn, SIRMA is finally releasing music of her own. Her latest EP, “To Love,” explores the stages of falling in love. Sonically, it’s ethereal pop music with complex production and heavy vocal layering. It’s music that’s meant to touch on base human emotions and tap into themes anyone can relate to.
Inspirer caught up with SIRMA after the EP’s release to talk about her Turkish roots, her writing process, and what inspired her latest project. Here’s what she had to say:
You’ve been involved in music for nearly your entire life. Can you give us a little background on your musical journey?
It was one of those things where my parents spoke with my music teachers when I was in elementary school, and they were like “she has a great ear and talent, and you should definitely consider getting her some piano lessons.” I started playing piano at the age of 8 or 9. I was actually headed that way; I was going to be a classically trained piano player.
In high school, I became more interested in singing as my voice matured. I started taking singing lessons, mainly focusing on jazz singing. I got offered a scholarship by the American Turkish Society and Berklee College of Music in 2007. I went [to Berklee] for a 5-week summer program as a singer, and realized once I was there that I wanted to pursue music. I applied to Berklee for full-time, and studied arranging and production.
I did a bunch of different things, musically. But I eventually ended up in more electronic-based music, because I was interested in production, in general. It was what I was studying. I still do commercial singing and I still work as a jingle singer. This project (“To Love”) is me finding and defining my sound, and finally being my own musician self.
You moved to the United States from Istanbul several years ago, and you’re now located in Brooklyn. How has living in New York shaped you as an artist?
I moved to the States in 2009 for Berklee, and I lived in Boston for four years. Right after graduation, I moved to New York. I have all of these friends who also moved to New York City, which is the biggest benefit you get from going to Berklee, in my opinion. All of my collaborators and friends live in New York. In fact, some of them are within walking distance now. I love living here. We have a good community here. I love that it’s an urban life. I love how I can go out and make music with friends whenever I want to. That’s the appeal of it to me.
Does your Turkish background influence your music?
I definitely was exposed to Turkish music, and grew up listening to a lot of it. There was a time when I was interested in studying Turkish music before I ended up at Berklee. There’s definitely room for bringing it more into my music in the future, which I have in past demos. But it definitely influences me as a singer, even without me realizing it, which is the most interesting part! It’s not just my accent; there are certain notes and certain microtonal tendencies when I sing that I’m not even aware of sometimes. Or certain embellishments that I do while I’m singing. My American friends hear them and they’re like, “I can’t do that! How do you do that?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, that’s just how I sing I guess!” It’s the kind of thing that’s just cemented. I can’t get rid of it, and I love that. It’s the biggest sign of me being a Turkish individual in this music industry. It’s not even in my control.
Tell me about your new EP, “To Love.” How did it come together and what are the themes?
I was waiting for my U.S. artist’s visa results back in Turkey and I played a show there with a few American friends of mine. They went back to the U.S. and I remained in Turkey for a while. And I realized that I never did anything just for me; just for the sake of my music. This visa would finally be a chance for me to explore that ground.
At Berklee, it was all about building a career and a resume. I did a jazz competition and placed third. Then, in 2010, I was invited to represent Turkey for the World Cup theme song with Akon and Keri Hilson. Then I was in a rock band, and toured with them. I also did a lot of commercial projects and internships. I realized I was doing all of these projects, but none of it was really for me. I finally had a chance to just breathe. I realized, “ok, I have to sit down and write a bunch of songs and see who I am after all of this.”
I started thinking about my past relationships at that time because I was going through a period of solitude. I was definitely more introverted than ever. I kind of closed myself off to most things; I wasn’t very social. I started analyzing all kinds of romantic relationships, from something as small as being attracted to a stranger to being really in love. There’s a whole spectrum there. That’s how I picked four of the songs that made the most sense to me as chapters.
What’s your favorite track off the EP and why?
Strangely, I’m attracted to “Free Fall,” mostly because it’s a new sound for me. The songs before “Free Fall” belong very much together. They’re more electronica-based, and they’re all in a minor key, which is familiar ground for me. But “Free Fall” was an experiment because I’d never finished a song in a major key before. And it was a challenge, but that’s the way it was coming to me.
The song is about innocence and your first love. It’s the first hopeful and happy song that I’ve finished. So that one’s special. Also, I really enjoyed doing the vocal arrangement of the song. You can hear all four octaves of my voice, which kind of makes me feel like you can hear all of me.
You studied songwriting, arranging and production at Berklee. Do you take on every aspect of songwriting and production in your music? Was this a solo effort, or were you collaborating at all?
I definitely didn’t do the production all by myself. I wrote all the songs by myself, and I recorded and engineered all of the vocal sessions myself. But I collaborated with a bunch of different musicians at different stages of production.
I was involved from the beginning, and I finished the production. Plus, I did some sound design at the end and polished it before handing it over to a mixing engineer.
So you’re very much the creative director of your music?
What is your writing process like?
It’s very isolated, although I’m trying to open myself up to the idea of co-writing. But writing is very personal to me. For this EP, I did all the writing by myself. How it goes for me is, I think of lines every day. They come to me, not in full song form, but I just think of something and then I record it on my phone. And I write lyrics here and there; I have a lyric notebook. If something sticks with me and I can’t get it out of my head for days, then I know it has to become a song. And I sit down and make that happen. But it’s just an impulsive decision. Sometimes it can come when you least expect it.
You don’t have any music videos to date. Is that intentional? Can we expect some in the future?
It’s definitely going to come in the future. Right now it’s a concern about the budget, because I want to spend it on the right things. So I’m doing live performance videos. I released one for “Eclipse.” I’m going to release one for “Love in the Dark” and “Free Fall.” There are some visuals involved, and some projection design, so it’s not just a plain video. But to me, that is more essential right now because I want to play more shows and I want people to hear what I sound like as a performing artist.
I also wanted to do a different version for the recorded songs. There are many layers in the recordings. The live versions are a bit more stripped down and raw. There aren’t tons of vocal tracks, it’s just me singing the lead. To me, that was a priority over shooting a music video. I definitely want to shoot a music video for my next project. I am working on new music right now.
Who would you collaborate with if you could pick any artist or producer?
I would love to spend a day with Björk in a studio. Björk is my idol and always has been. Although the idea of being in a studio with her sounds incredibly intimidating. I would have to experience that if I had the choice.
Other than her, I am very intrigued by Flume. I think he’s a very forward-thinking producer. His music is so appealing to me, but it’s definitely not the way I approach music. So that would be really interesting. I’m also really into Odesza as well. I think realistically that would be a great collaboration. I think we could have a great track together for sure because the sounds would complement each other.
What’s next for you? Will you be going on tour?
I am waiting for my next visa before I can book more shows. I definitely want to tour sometime next year. I don’t have the dates or locations yet. I’m sure it won’t be a giant tour or anything. But I definitely want to do a few different locations and cities, and hopefully maybe even my hometown of Istanbul.
I am definitely focusing on the new EP right now. That’s the next thing on my list. It’s probably going to be a three-track EP this time. I have the songs shaping up in my head, and I have to get it out of my system. We’ll see what happens after that.