For centuries, music has been used to tell stories. Some of the greatest legends, myths and histories of humanity are written in song. Yet in the present day, it could be argued that the art of storytelling through music is something many have left behind.
This is not the case for Gazel, the British-Turkish artist and producer whose masterfully woven, exquisitely textured music has already drawn comparisons to the likes of Björk, Kate Bush and Bat for Lashes.
Her upcoming debut album, Gazel’s Book Of Souls, is a thoughtful, philosophical work featuring old-world influences imbued masterfully into modern pop and electronic sensibilities. These eclectic soundscapes provide the medium for the tale of a young girl who leaves her village after a devastating fire and sets out on a journey to clear her grandfather’s name – encountering a number of intriguing characters along the way.
“The fire started in her grandfather’s study and he was blamed, but my character doesn’t believe it was him, so she starts investigating for herself,” Gazel explains. “Her grandfather kept his diaries in a coded language, which you can see in my artwork and live visuals. She begins to understand what the language means, and starts on her journey through the desert meeting the characters that dwell in her town’s collective psyche”.
Across the album, the sheer detail, care and love for storytelling is staggering, and steeped in esoteric significance. The characters within the album are inspired by Jungian archetypes, with each track referencing a different ‘Soul’, representative of Jung’s interpretation of universal, archaic patterns of instinct. Personifying these characters within a narrative sketched from the lectures of British-American philosophical entertainer Alan Watts, the tracks quite literally take on a life of their own; a capsule of life and character exploring the deeper elements of illusion, individualism and the human mind.
The level of detail and immersive nature present in the album’s concept is even more apparent when you learn that Gazel is writing a booklet based on the characters from the record, to be released with the album. “It gave me a plan,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do an album with a story, and for it to have lots of different characters. And because all these things are happening in the unconscious realm, you can explore deeper within the psyche through each song.”
The instrumentation, too, is as complex and absorbing as the album’s concept. Gazel crafts bewitching landscapes with low-pulsing synth beats, flurries of static, complex violin solos and her own mesmerising voice. So varied are the influences on the album that it proves hard to place it in any preconceived genre. Rather, it creates its own – a captivating blend of diverse elements that form a beautifully idiosyncratic entity where sweeping electronica meets ethereal mysticism, and pop embraces unique elements of world and folk.
This intoxicating mix is evident on the swelling ‘Rain Is Coming’, where a flowing synth underpins traditional instrumentation which gradually builds through diaphanous melodies into an electrifying crescendo of layered vocals and driving polyrhythms. The infectious ‘Walk On Land’ draws upon this too, with arresting vocal hooks complemented by an equally catchy and dance-inducing steel drum: the result is a completely distinctive pop-driven track, punctuated by spacious, synth-led breakdowns which reaffirm the track’s spellbinding vocal melodies.
A gifted violinist, Gazel studied as a junior for seven years at the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in London before deciding to carve out a career as a solo artist. After teaching herself how to produce music with software gifted by her mother, this remarkably unique artist began on the path that has led to her debut album.
An eclectic and multi-talented group of musicians were assembled, including Gazel herself, who plays violin, viola, piano, synths, accordion, Alaskan flute and the Hammond organ, as well as working on programming and production. She was joined by production partner and drummer Roy Pfeffer, and together they recruited a group of twenty musicians playing instruments from around the globe, including sitars, marimbas, steel pans and congas, to name a few. Sessions were recorded between Hackney Road Studios and Snap in London, and engineered by the award-winning Shuta Shinoda (Ghost Poet, Hot Chip, Savages’ Jehnny Beth) and renowned engineer Haydn Bendall (Kate Bush, Paul McCartney).
Unlike many artists who cite their parent’s love of music as a major influence, Gazel only remembers a few CDs that were kept in her mother’s car, including one by Sezen Aksu – nicknamed the ‘queen of Turkish pop’ – that reminded her of being back in Turkey. She admires fellow multi-instrumentalists such as Andrew Bird (“I aspire to be as natural on the violin as he is”) and also Grimes, whom she admires for the emphasis placed on the visual aspects of her art.
But besides its musical roots, one of the album’s most striking and unique facets is its depth of philosophical context, an element Gazel credits to the influence of Alan Watts, who popularised Zen and Buddhist teachings to a western audience: “He presents these ideas from the far East and various religions in a format of entertainment, so you hear the ideas but you don’t feel like you’re being preached to,” she says. “These philosophies have a kind of therapeutic structure to them, where everything you see in the universe is a reflection of yourself.”
She takes a similar approach to her work, which is bound to draw fans seeking adventure and new ideas presented in music that is at once immersive, melodic and moving. “There are things that I subscribe to in my own life but I don’t hold onto them too strongly,“ Gazel says. “I’m committed to self-exploration and questioning everything.” And perhaps, within this journey of exploration, we might learn something about ourselves within Gazel’s Book Of Souls.