How did the two of you meet and what led to your decision to play music together?
Rachel: We met at a jam session at Quarterly Arts Soiree 2015 hosted by Atesh at Webster Hall. I got on stage to sing a few songs with the band, we met for coffee a few days later, and the next week we started rehearsing and writing together.
You both have vast and eclectic musical backgrounds. Rachel, you grew up in Colorado and Atesh, you grew up in Turkey. What led you both to move to NYC? When did your love for music begin and how did your different cultures and experiences growing up shape you as musicians? What kinds of influences did you each bring to the band?
Rachel: I grew up doing musical theatre in Colorado. Very long story short, I actually went to school for musical theatre in NYC right after college, and noticed rather quickly that I didn’t have the focus, structure, or patience for a classroom setting, even though I was studying my passion. After college, I toured throughout the country with a jazz a capella group, performed on cruise ships for a few years, moved to Seattle where I sang with a rock band and an electro-pop band, then decided it was finally time to come back to NYC. I think Dirty Heretics is the first vehicle that I’ve been a part of where I can truly mesh all of these “personalities” into one place.
Atesh: Ever since I was a kid, music has been very special for me. Growing up in Turkey was musically so rich, especially after I started playing guitar when I was around 11 years old. On one hand I had the western music (both western and Turkish made), and on the other I had the Turkish music. I was more interested in the former, but microtonal music is a part of everyday life in Turkey so I was naturally exposed to it. In time, those microtonal and folk elements started finding their way in my work and helped build my sound. My sound was becoming more “international” for lack of a better word, and I thought it would be a good idea to come see how it worked in New York. Two years after that, we founded Dirty Heretics, and we just poured all the inspiration in.
Your sound is a blend of many different genres, including breakbeat, dark funk, electronica, punk, industrial and thrash. Who would you count as musical influences growing up and who are some artists you are currently listening to?
Rachel: I grew up on a lot of classics. First and foremost, I was a theatre kid listening to a lot of Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Stephen Schwartz. My mom got me hooked on Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt. It wasn’t until my twenties and even thirties that I really dove in to “harder” stuff. My husband toured with 3 Inches of Blood and Goatwhore which really opened my mind to the art of metal music, and I’ve been educating myself more on that genre, as well as continuing to explore 70’s punk bands like The Ramones, New York Dolls, and Blondie. Other inspirations for me are Kurt Elling (especially his newest record, The Questions), Hop Along, Carina Round, Childish Gambino, and Amy Winehouse. Sometimes Atesh and I have listening parties where we show each other music we may have never heard before. I think that’s a vital part of the way we create together.
Atesh: I have to answer this in two parts. First of all as a guitarist, Dimebag Darrell, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Page, Robin Finck, Josh Homme, Troy Van Leuween, Alain Johannes, Mike Einziger, Tom Morello, two amazing Turkish musicians, Yavuz Cetin, Erkan Ogur, and lately Aaron Marshall, Nick Johnston, another Turkish guitarist Ilter Kurcala have been great inspirations to me. As a composer and a music producer, which I think goes hand in hand, I have inspiration from many different types of music such as Nine Inch Nails (anything with Trent Reznor in it), Deftones, Mr. Bungle (and Faith No More, Tomahawk, Fantomas, pretty much anything with Mike Patton in it), Queens of the Stone Age, Pink Floyd, the Prodigy, Propagandhi, Cynic, David Maxim Micic, all the grunge bands, video game music of the late 90s, and classical music, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Ravel, and many more. Currently listening to BARK from NYC, a dark wave act with industrial sprinkles on it. Check out “Cold and Silent”.
You released your self-titled debut EP this past spring. I read that you carefully curated the 4 tracks for the EP as a way to introduce people to your sound. What can you tell me about the inspiration behind the songs and what kind of message were you hoping they would convey about your sound?
Atesh: I think the most important element in our sound is that it is a hybrid of punk, rock, and electronic music. It is digital, yet it has the human element in it. These four tracks in the EP are all in different sub genres. “Bathroom Stall” for example has a disco beat, “Black and Blue” is essentially breakbeat, “Fight” is drum and bass, and thrash, “Big Black Gun” is rockstep. Each song told their own stories, and that to us was the perfect representation of the main idea behind Dirty Heretics, almost like a portfolio. It didn’t need more or less.
You released your debut video for “Black and Blue” in April which deals with the subject of opioid addiction. Rachel-the video was based on the death of your best friend’s brother to opioid addiction at the age of 27. Having the video based on such personal subject matter, did you find it especially hard to film? Did you both have an idea of how you wanted the video to look going into the filming? How did you meet and come to work with the director, Alexo Wandael and assistant director and graphic designer Ivana Vasic?
Rachel: The video was very difficult to film. My best friend was actually on set the day of the shoot and was able to give us a very intimate perspective that I know I couldn’t reach if she wasn’t there. I wanted it to be not only an homage to him, but also a sort of memorium to so many other people who have suffered from addiction. Making it as real and human as possible was vital to successfully translating the message.
Atesh: I met Ivana relatively soon after I came to NY, and she has been involved with designing for Dirty Heretics since the band got together. She is actually the one who introduced us to Alexo Wandael, a brilliant photographer and director, and we were truly honored to be able work with him on the video. We had bits and pieces of ideas of how we wanted the video to look going into the project, but it was largely Alexo’s vision that glued everything together.
You recently released the single “Hey Kevin”. What can you tell me about the idea behind the song and what made you decide to release the song as a single after the release of the EP, rather then have it be a part of the EP?
Atesh: To me, if the EP songs were sledgehammers, “Hey Kevin” was a kick in the face. If the EP was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, “Hey Kevin” was Mary Jane Watson. EP songs were dark & stormy cocktails, and “Hey Kevin” was a shot of Jameson…You get the idea. It needed its own space.
Rachel: I wrote the lyrics to “Hey Kevin” right after I quit my job waiting tables. It was one final middle finger to “the man” and helps me remember to stay true to myself. To not let anyone tell me how to wear my hair or change my appearance/demeanor just so they can be more comfortable.
You have both been professional musicians for over 20 years? How did your careers in music begin? You both teach music, as well. What do you love about teaching music and what have some of your most memorable teaching moments been?
Rachel: As I said, I grew up doing musical theatre. I got cast in my first professional show when I was 8 years old, and have been working ever since. The thing I love the most about teaching is that I learn something new about myself,the way I communicate, or the art every single time. I know it sounds trite, but the most memorable experiences are when a student reaches their goal… books that audition you’ve been working toward for months, or is able to hit a note consistently that they couldn’t before.
Atesh: The first gig I ever played was for a friend in 6th grade. After that gig I met a couple of musicians my age and we immediately formed a band. We essentially became a Metallica cover band and ended up playing a couple of cool festivals in several cities in Turkey. Then in high school, I was a part of the school pop-rock band which performed public open air shows in Ankara, Turkey. The circle of musicians I was in kept expanding and I played in so many bands that I can’t even remember all of them now. My main band, Ink and the Zoo, won music competitions and toured around Turkey.
I started teaching pretty early on, and I absolutely love it. Being a self taught musician, I always thought there should be an easier way to explain things, especially on guitar, and that’s what I’m trying to do for my students. My favorite student moment was when I saw my student perform at a festival after she had only been playing bass guitar for about 4 months.
Rachel- I read that when you moved to NYC, that you were jumping around and working side gigs and worked as a server in a restaurant. You had promised yourself years before that you would continue to be a full-time musician and broke that promise to yourself. What led you to put a full-time pursuit of music on the back-burner and what re-ignited your passion to pursue a full-time career in music?
Rachel: Yeah, it was a real bummer for me when I looked around at my life and saw that I just had no time for music because I was hustling to make money to simply survive (not an uncommon thing in this city). I’ve always been an all or nothing kind of girl, and I’ve learned that finding balance is something that is very difficult for me to understand. I broke that cycle by simply auditioning again. I got into an acapella musical a few years ago with NYMF (New York Musical Theatre Festival). The schedule was demanding, so I quit my waiting job and said to myself, “Well… you asked for it. You can’t go back now, this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.” So I did the show, set up my home studio so I could record for a living, sought out voice students, and I think I met Atesh that fall. And, as I said, this experience inspired our latest single “Hey Kevin”.
Rachel- You also just released a solo EP called Living Room. What can you tell me about the songs and the writing and recording of the EP?
Rachel: Oh man…. That EP is my soul. I had been performing those songs with just me on piano and vocals for years, and had the opportunity to gig with a full band here in NYC over the past few years. I did a crowdfunding campaign to be able to record the EP at the Cutting Room studios, and just fell in love with the end result. It was the first time I had ever heard my own songs so fleshed out.
Atesh- You are a composer and multi-instrumentalist. What led to your interest in composing and learning various instruments? Do you have a favorite instrument? What do you love about making unconventional music?
Atesh: The first instrument I owned was a kid sized Casio keyboard. I was around 8 years old at the time. I would spend hours playing on top of whatever was playing on the stereo or the TV (Kudos to my mom who bought me some classical music, and my older sister who was into Guns N Roses and Bon Jovi). Soon after I was introduced to guitar and that was a much better fit for me. In high school, I spent a lot of alone time in the band room practicing bass guitar and drums as well as any other instruments lying around. Different sounds always fascinate me and I am still, to this day, happy to explore new instruments. After high school, I got a scholarship to study Composition and Music Theory at a conservatory in Ankara, and that added a ton to my musical skill and knowledge-as I mentioned before, prior to this I was completely self-taught. I focused mostly on composition, but as a composer, you need to be at a certain degree of proficiency in Piano, so that was another instrument I added to my list. But I guess I will always be an electric guitarist in my core. I think I could be the most “me” when playing electric guitar. Which leads to the last part of the question, making unconventional music. I think making unconventional music is a way to being unique. I feel better if I sound different than millions of guitarists, composers, producers out there. And I don’t see the point in doing something that has already been done before.
Atesh- What can you tell me about your solo project and your upcoming instrumental release? As a musician who loves gear, what is your ideal set up? What is some of your favorite gear?
Atesh: I started playing instruments early on, but didn’t start producing music really until I came to NYC 5 years ago. Before that I would record things to be as a “note” to myself or for my band, but they were never to be released. I didn’t really know much about engineering music, just the bits and pieces I got from the recording sessions in the professional recording studios in Turkey while I was recording with my band Ink and the Zoo. After I came to NYC, I spent a lot of time learning music production and engineering, and started recording my instrumental compositions where I try to create a world with sound. Following release(s) will be examples from that project. It has elements from 90s video game music, Turkish microtonal music, and a lot of guitars. Nowadays, I mostly rely on my laptop for most of my setup because I can have the same sound in the production stage, rehearsal, and during the performance. And my 2006 Fender Telecaster Highway One – always been a huge fan of Fender guitars.
Halloween is coming up soon! I imagine Halloween in NYC is a lot of fun! Will you both be dressing up? Do you have any fun plans? Favorite Halloween candy?
Rachel: Ok, I gotta be honest. Halloween is fantastic, but it gets a little crazy here… too many crowds for my liking. Atesh, what do you think of having a private Halloween party in my apartment with Milly (my dog) and Kasha (my cat)? You bring the whiskey, I’ll bring the pumpkins. And chocolate.
Atesh: Yeah, that sounds fantastic. Plus, this is NYC, you don’t need to wait around for a specific day of the year to put on some weird clothes and make-up lol
What’s next for Dirty Heretics?
We are constantly writing, rehearsing, and booking shows. I think we will be releasing our first full album in the next year or so. Our next gig is at Bowery Electric on Nov 5th opening up for Heavenview.