Performing under her new moniker ESYA, Ayşe Hassan (Savages, Kite Bass, 180dbm) has been busy crafting electronic sounds designed to delve in to the obscure and absurd nature of life. Having recently self-released her second EP titled Absurdity of ATCG (I), her trademark thunderous basslines are now fused with urgent synths and brooding vocals which captivate by their marked urgency to tell the truth.
Propelled by her desire to always be creating, her new (and older) projects are as eclectic as her influences; ranging from Gazelle Twin to Hannah Peel. We caught up with Ayşe before her headline gig at Hackney venue The Glove That Fits to talk about her new EP, her plans for the year, and what first inspired her to venture in to electronic music…
Hello Ayşe, what are your anticipations for tonight’s ESYA gig at The Glove That Fits?
With this project, it’s brand new because it’s electronic and I’m singing, so I have slightly different concerns compared to if I was just playing bass. I just want to make sure that everything sits correctly in the mix, which is hard as I’m behind the speakers so I have to trust the sound engineer. I’m excited. I really enjoy doing something that scares me. I feel scared again – in the good way – in the fluttery way when you play in front of people and you’re nervous.
You released your first EP Absurdity Of Being last year. How does your new EP – Absurdity of Atcg, Pt. 1 – differ? What have you learned in the interim between the two releases?
The whole idea of the EPs is that they’re going to be a trio. The first one focused on the construction of the voice, which is my voice and the fact I’ve never really sang live before. This must be the fifteenth time I’ve sang live. The second EP focuses more on electronics which is also quite new to me, as I’ve had to go through this learning curve of learning how to use the equipment I have and how to make it sound good in multiple venues and spaces. The third EP is going to focus more on sounds and bass, so it’ll be a record led by bass and electronics, which I’m writing now. I write a bit every day, I’m constantly writing. The difference between the first and the second EP is that with the second one I was more focused writing the electronics. So on the vinyl I decided to put out, I didn’t want the first few tracks to have a split, I wanted a continual 16 minute song, because that’s how it was originally written.
That sounds really cohesive. The title of your new EP references ATCG – the building blocks in human DNA – how did this influence the sound of your music? It’s quite a unique concept.
I think it’s just me focusing on what I’ve been going through in the past 6-8 years. Life is kind of insane, and it’s kind of absurd and I feel like the whole concept of it and the experiences we go through have a humour in them, but also a beauty that we’re all here on this planet and it’s all a bit mind-blowing. On a more microscopic level – or not [laughs] – being in a band like Savages and playing to thousands of people, and then basically going back to starting something [like ESYA] from scratch is kind of absurd. I find it funny in a strange way because you should never be too comfortable, life has a funny was of messing around with you.
I think the ATCG title is fitting because everything that I sing about on the two records is a reference to the life that I lead, so I feel like it encapsulates every kind experience. There’s so many angles that I was looking at that title from, and I really liked that it could mean so many things to so many different people. Depending on your own experiences, it’s quite ambiguous. I felt that was also relevant to what I was going through and I wanted to express that all of this is absurd so just enjoy life.
Sounds great. What kind of reaction have you had from fans and critics so far?
I self-released both records, so I’ve had a limited budget and I’ve been working in order to earn the money to put out my EPs. I’ve only got 50 vinyl left of the new EP, and I’ve sold out of the first one which is amazing, and most importantly people are responding well to the music. It’s different to what I’ve done before, you’re hearing my voice and everything is recorded by me. I’ve done everything, which has been a challenge in itself. I’m not a Producer, I’ve never really recorded myself other than to write demos, so it’s been a huge learning curve which I’ve found quite empowering.
One thing that used to frustrate me in the past with other records, is that I felt like I didn’t have as much control as I would’ve liked. There’s so much beauty in imperfection, so [the recording] doesn’t have to be perfect. The vocals on both EPs were recorded with just a handheld microphone, so it’s pretty lo-fi if you compare it to a studio record. The bass is recorded in a similar way as well, and I love that. I feel like we’re bombarded with over-produced stuff at the moment and I wanted it to be honest. I’ve worked a job that I don’t particularly like in order to put this record out there, and it’s really amazing that people have purchased it. I really appreciate that.
Having been on a label before, it’s really interesting to see the differences and learn how to navigate an environment without the help of a label. PR was a big thing, when you’re doing it yourself you have to think of everything. How to be creative with getting the word out. I come from a very particular world where I started playing punk bass and have always done things myself, and then being in a band where we were lucky enough to have the support of a big label, and then going back to doing it all myself – I have a lot of respect for musicians who don’t have that kind of support. Because it’s hard, really hard.
Being in different bands sounds like it’s taught you a lot then. From Savages, Kite Base, 180db, and now your new solo project – can you talk me through how each has led to the other? What’s different between what you’ve released before, and the music you’re writing now?
I absolutely love playing live, so me creating this new project was born out of the frustration of being on other people’s schedules. I can’t control when other people need to rest and I do respect that, but also for myself I need to keep playing live, it’s in my blood. Even when I was a teenager I used to put on shows in my house at house parties and get friends bands to come over and play – my neighbours hated it! I was originally thinking with this new project that I was just going to do living room shows, nothing at a venue. So I can go back to really being up close to people and doing the things I’ve missed doing for so many years. It’s that intensity when you’re close to people who really love music, and it’s just you and them, so close to each other.
With Savages I was a bass player, but we all came together to write. I knew at some point because we’d been touring so intensely people would need to take a rest, so midway through that time I started Kite Base, because I wanted to have another option of being able to tour and play. Also, when you’re with three other people who are as passionate about the music you make it can be complicated, it can be amazing but it can be dysfunctional.
With Kite Base it was easier because we were a duo, two halves make a whole! We achieved some really cool things, we put out a record that I love, and we supported Nine Inch Nails [on their American tour] last year which was incredible. That was just the most ultimate of dreams. To actually be able to achieve that in a slightly different way was really special to me. Kite Base was self-funded and we went through stages of having managers and not having managers, so it was another short sharp lesson of how to use what I’d learned through Savages and put it in to practice, which I think is a really great thing to do. We sorted everything for ourselves so it was quite intense. The cost to get out there, and bearing in mind we were self-funding everything, we knew there was no way we weren’t going to say yes to the tour – but the logistics were quite stressful at points. If my visa got turned down, I would’ve cried!
Alongside that, me and Faye [Savages’ drummer] decided to write together. I love working with Faye, I really connect with her so we thought we’d do collaborations. We’re working on a record at the moment and it will feature lots of guest singers, people who we admire, and we’re really happy with the people we’ve worked with so far. My first shows [as EYSA] were just in living rooms performing to friends in America after the Nine Inch Nails tour, just to try out whether I could sing live. I knew I was going to put out an EP because I had so much material and I didn’t want to waste it.
That’s interesting, with the singing, did you always know you could sing? Or was it a confidence issue? Or something that you picked up along the way?
I always wanted to focus solely on one thing. I didn’t want to sing while I was playing bass because I wanted to focus my whole attention on playing one instrument and to lose myself, which I did. I remember many years ago Jehnny [Savages lead singer] joked about me having a mic and I remember thinking “I do not want to sing”. I don’t feel like I’m a natural in front of a mic. Maybe it was because I’d never tried it, but it got to a point where I was so frustrated because there were no shows coming up and I didn’t know when I’d be performing live again, that I thought I’d just try it. How scary could it be? Turns out, it was quite scary!
I think the way I sing has an honesty to it, and I’m talking about things that mean a lot to me so it wouldn’t have worked if someone else was singing it other than me. I remember saying to Jehnny not that long ago that my respect for people who front and sing lead vocals in a band has gone up so much, because having to go through that process is so hard. Even just thinking of the things you say in the spaces between songs! I had a different idea of what that would be before I did it, and it takes a lot of balls. To do it well and master the techniques with the mic and your environment. I’ve gone from playing my bass with my eyes closed not giving a shit about anything other than performing and playing as well as I can, not worrying about my environment and just losing myself. Also, for practical reasons – I can just get in a car with my synth and my drum machine and that’s it. I can be there, and I can sing.
That sounds great too. Who inspired you to first pick up a bass? And who or what got you in to using FM & Analog synths?
With the bass, it was the frustration of wanting to play an instrument but feeling like I couldn’t. At the time I was listening to a lot of David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails and I feel like with the bass, it wasn’t really one person or one thing that inspired me to play, it was a series of things and influenced by what I was listening to. I remember getting really in to Nirvana and thinking “I just wanna play something”. Then I happened to meet someone who needed a bass player, but I couldn’t play bass at the time. They were like “you don’t have to know how to play bass!” which in the context of the band I didn’t really, and I loved that. So I got in to loads of bands who at the time who were just loads of dudes and I was always just the female bass player. Then I got in to a band with Gemma [Savages guitarist] and we had a great lead singer and things were going well, and then when he left Gemma & I wanted to keep going – but I was working full-time and we wanted to play at least three times a week – but then we found Jehnny and then we found Faye, so it all came together. What’s really important is that I’ve always trusted my instincts. I’ve always known that I love making music, even just for myself. I lose myself in what I’m creating.
What advice would you give to anyone who’s trying to learn either of these instruments?
Just do it. Even if you feel like you can’t play, there’s nothing that’s stopping you. You can always learn. With the electronics, you don’t have to have super expensive gear. I use a keyboard Yamaha DX reface which is £200, and that’s quite cheap compared to other equipment. You can make music from sound recordings, I’ve done that in the past. Do what feels true to you, you don’t have to learn to play an instrument in a particular way, go with what feels right for you. That’s what I did with bass, my style has come from not really learning how to play. I play really low, which is terrible for the back, but I always wanted to be able to play like crazy and to be really solid at keeping the rhythm and lose myself in it and enjoy that moment. Over the years, I’ve been thinking more about tone and stuff, but I think you should do what scares you. If you’re scared to play a particular instrument – just do it. Once you’ve done it, you can just create.
If you’d told me that I’d be singing and playing electronics when I was 16, I’d be like “No way…” so you don’t have to stick to one thing. If you connect with an instrument, just go for it. The more you play, the better you get.
That’s great advice. What are your plans for the rest of the year?
I’m thinking about playing some more shows that are in record stores and are really intimate, because that terrifies me! Technique-wise, I think that’s a really good learning process to go through, and to connect with people. If I can play somewhere where people literally love the records on the shelves around them, that’s really sweet.
The third ESYA EP and the record with 180db will probably be coming out later this year too.
Who are you listening to? Recommendations?
Hyperstition duo who are playing with me tonight, they are two members from a Sheffield-based band called Blood Sport who I love.
I also love Gazelle Twin. I went to see her at Red Gallery – it might not be called that anymore, but it’s a venue near Old Street – and after she came off stage I was like “CAN YOU SIGN MY VINYL?!” and she was like “are you kidding me?” [laughs]. She’s been an inspiration to me actually, because it’s just her and her partner live, and she’s a Mother as well. I really respect how hard she works and how she juggles all of those things. She’s amazing. Her second album Unflesh, that was the soundtrack to my nightmares and I remember telling her that! It comes from a dark place, but it’s so powerful. The honesty in it, that’s why I was so attached to it.
Hannah Peel, slightly different vibe, but she is incredible too. It’s not the typical thing I’d listen to, but the way she plays violin is amazing. I did a tour with her as Kite Base, she played and so did I Speak Machine and after watching them I thought they were both amazing. Tara [of I Speak Machine] is a genius with electronics. These women are pioneers when it comes to electronic music.
Thanks so much to Ayse for answering our questions! Buy your copy of ESYA’s EP Absurdity of ATCG (I) here.
Photo Credit: Chiara Ceccaioni