Two Days to Record, Twenty Years to Release – 2/20 by Swoan

Swoan was the first serious rock-band I played in as a late teenager. We were active from the mid 90s to almost the end of that century.
I was extremely lucky to be in a band where I could make good sounding music, with best friend quality band-mates.
During the existence of the band, we were mostly active within the independent local scene of the french speaking part of Switzerland.

For the five or so years we were together, we released one album, one seven-inch, and a three song demo-tape… (yesss, a K7!!!). We were extremely lucky to open for acts like Mogwai, Royal Trux, Drugstore, The Godfathers, dEUS, and more. We were supposed to open for Arab Strap, but someone from the band broke an arm or a leg during the tour, and our show with them got canceled. It was a huge disappointment of course. I still happen to think about it once in a while, since for the past 20 years, I’ve never stopped listening to Arab Strap.

In September 1998, thank to our indie record label “Noise Product”, we had the opportunity to book some studio time with the recording engineer David Weber at the “Studio des Forces Motrices”. The actual studio was and still is located in the “L’Usine” building. If you are not familiar with Geneva, “L’Usine” is a self managed alternative place, where all kinds of creative and social projects are taking place. The actual building used to be an old gold roughing factory, located in the very heart of the city.

I was a bit too young to go to “L’Usine” during the 80s. That said, I may have attended my first show over there in 89. From what I could witness, the 90s were a sort of a golden age period for “L’Usine”, and probably for the entire alternative scene in Geneva as well. There was a lot going on in the city and in that big ass building. Just to give you an idea: There were two separate concerts rooms, a record store, a record label, a recording studio, a movie theater, a real theater, a booking agency for indie bands, a restaurant, a hair dresser, and many more alternative associations, and businesses calling “L’Usine” home, and cohabiting together under the same roof.

It took us about a couple days to record two songs: “City” and “Mondragón”. The studio sounded great, David Weber knew what he was doing, and we had a great view on the Rhône river from the studio’s windows. I have some vague, and less vague memories of the recording session. I remember David Weber being a bit pissed at us at times, because we were talking too much inside the control room, while he was trying to mix our songs. I remember our first day of recording being the day after, flight 111 of Swissair accidentally crashed in Canada. I have vivid mental images of a couple Big Muff, and SansAmp guitar pedals laying on the studio floor. I also remember being super exited to record some new material with the band, and being at “L’Usine” to produce some music. At one point during the session, I realized that our record label, our booking agency, and now the recording studio, were all sharing the same building, and interacting with one an other to promote us as a young Swiss band. We would also play shows, buy records, and hang out at “L’Usine” quite often. On top of the potential of our music being maybe marketable outside of Switzerland, having this incredible support behind us, reinforced the idea in my head, that the band may actually have some sort of a future.

Well, I was dead wrong.

A few months following the recording session, we abruptly disbanded. Since Swoan wasn’t anymore, there was no point in releasing the two songs. I had my copy of the single-album burnt on a gold color Kodak CD-R, that I kept in a box with all the physical releases I had played on.

Despite us parting ways, and pursuing our individual rock n roll adventures separately, we’ve always maintained our strong friendship. Even during the entire time I was living in San Diego, we’ve always kept in touch. A couple years ago, we got digital distribution for “In Love” (our only officially released physical album). Not long ago, we decided to release the two songs for the first time. Now the single-album is out, and can be streamed or downloaded from all the major digital platforms.

What makes this release even more spacial; as a guest star we had my very best childhood friend and blood-brother Atsushi, who did the vocals in Japanese on “Mondragón”. He happened to be in Geneva around that period. He even performed “Mondragón” on stage with us, during a live show at “L’Usine”. I remember his performance being the highlight of the show. He had gone under brain surgery several weeks earlier. He had about 25 visible stitches on his skull, forming a “L” shape flipped on the side, going from the back of his neck to his temple, sort of semi-circling his right ear. He was wearing a dark green military jacket, similar to the ones worn by some US veterans. When it was time to play Mondragón, Atsushi stepped on stage and walked to the mic stand, and started to perform his vocals.

The combination of the music, the lights, and the mesmerized crowd, with the presence of our guest-star, made the show gain in intensity. With Atsushi joining the band on stage, my imagination started to interpret the actual happening as a post-apocalyptic scene from a sci-fi book. As if, Atsushi was the last survivor of a town decimated by aliens, and telling the crowd the story of what had happened. Or maybe, telling us what the aliens wanted us to hear, thank to the micro-chip they had placed into his brain.

Mediocre personal sci-fi perceptions of reality aside, I truly think that something unique was taking place in that room from the moment when Atsushi joined Swoan, for a mere 5 minutes and 34 seconds. I had to focus on playing my bass, but sharing the stage with Atsushi was an emotionally strong moment for me. When we were kids, before I started to rock for real, I would play a lot of air-guitar at home on my parents’ couch, serving as a fictional stage. My imaginary band was made of my best childhood friends. Atsushi was always a member of that imaginary band.

I still have my gold color Kodak CD-R with “City” and “Mondragón” on it. I am glad to not have to insert it into any antique CD player anymore, nor having to click on dull .wav files to play the songs. Now that the album has a digital covert art, and is available online. I’ve been enjoying streaming 2/20 from the various platforms already.

Two days to record, twenty years to release. It will take you about 11 minutes to listen to 2/20 by Swoan of Geneva Switzerland. Thank you if you’ve made it  this far in reading the story, and thank you for giving a listen to the single-album. Enjoy the sound of 90s! I think analog sounds great, and David Weber rules!

Ali

swoan - 2/20 cover art
swoan – 2/20 cover art

 

swoan - reels
swoan – reels from 1998
swoan practice session
swoan – reels from a practice session – 1998

 

A 2/20 Playlist in Spotify

Album Link on Spotify

2/20 on Amazon

2/20 on KKBox

“Biten Dün” Sent for Digital Distribution

I was able to finalize the first Black Sea Storm song made in Argentina called “Biten Dün”. I sent it for digital distribution yesterday. For now, the single album is only available for digital download on CD Baby. I’m hoping that the actual song will be available on all major streaming platforms in less than a week. I did a test purchase from CD Baby. They offer three different formats: mp3, mp3-320, and FLAC. I was amazed by the quality of the FLAC and the mp3-320 formats. They also allow you to download the cover art as a JPEG.

I’ve been consuming most of my music through Spotify for the past seven years or so. Doing that little test, reminded me how purchasing digital copies of music is still a fun experience. The sound quality is much higher than most streaming platforms, and I still get some pleasure out of owning my own digital copies of the songs I like. I know for a fact that artists usually get more financial support from their listeners buying digital copies, than streaming their music. Those are the major reasons for me to not give up completely on purchasing digital copies of  music.

There is also the possibility that a solar storm hits the Earth. The world as we know it, with abundant electricity and access to internet, could also cease to exist for different reasons. If one of those catastrophic scenarios occurs.  All the people who happened to own physical or digital copies of their music, will be glad that they did not rely on streaming only. I just hope for my own collection of digital albums, that at least disconnected hard-drives will make it through a major solar storm. This entire paragraph is of course a joke, but things like these could happen one day. Who knows?

There are many artists who refuse to be on streaming platforms, and only sell their music through sites like bandcamp or CD Baby. This gives me an exciting idea for my next blog post: “10 Great Artists You Won’t Find on Spotify”. What is your list of 10 great artists who can’t be found on Spotify?

– Ali

“Biten Dün” available on CD Baby

The entire Black Sea Storm discography on CD Baby

Black Sea Storm on Spotify

Biten Dün Cover Art
Biten Dün – Cover Art

Artist Bio on Spotify

In addition to the “Artist’s pick” and photo upload, Spotify now allows artists to upload their bio onto the platform. Even small projects like Black Sea Storm can take control of their Spotify page. I think it’s a fantastic thing to allow artists to have such control over their identity on the platform.

On a purely technical level things don’t seem to be 100% ready yet. As a matter of fact, the formatting of text does not translate the same way across different UIs of Spotify. In addition to that, I personally was only able to upload one photo so far. I have no way of uploading a photo for the “about” section. Finally, the “Artist’s pick” browser based dynamic search box, does not display all existing playlists or artists. It used to work way better when everything could be done from the Spotify desktop app.

I think it’s just a matter of time until the uber-geek squad at Spotify fixes those little glitches, and do some further cross platform development. What surprises me, is that the “about” sections of some other artists are very well formatted, and seem to have access to way more features than I do with Black Sea Storm. It’s either there’s some sort of hierarchy between artists based on number of followers, or Spotify is taking a feed from somewhere else. A third possibility could be that I don’t know how to fully use the artist control panel yet.

Here’s my first attempt for an artist bio on Spotify:

Black Sea Storm has been my solo recording adventure since the year 2002. Being able record songs at the moment of writing them, has brought me tremendous amount of joy and pleasure since the very beginning. There’s always something special about the very first takes. This project is all about capturing parts on the spot, and eventually forgetting how to play them right afterwards. The Black Sea Storm project started in San Diego, California. In the early days, I was only producing multi-layered bass loops, using a Line 6 DL4 Delay Stompbox Modeling Pedal. As the sole recording tool, I had an all public Sony DVC video camera. Later on, I started to put together, home studio type of recording environments in band practice-rooms. My main instrument is the bass guitar. My real name is Ali Ozkan.

I’ve been active in rock bands as a bass player since the early 90s. I started playing rock as a teenager in Geneva Switzerland. My first serious band in this country was called Swoan. David Mamie, Alex Müller, and Bernard Widmer were the other band members. We were active as a band from 1994 to 1999. Aside from Swoan, I also had a solo project called Deniz’s Home while living in Switzerland, but I never released anything under that name.

In September 1999, after the split of my Swiss band, I decided to move to San Diego, California. In 2001, I joined an existing band called Bosom of the Urgent West, with the founding lineup including Brian Landis, Chris Conner, and Jeff Thomasson (also know as Quality Joe). After an unexpected disband of BOTUW, the drummer Chris Conner and I, met the guitar player Kenny Schulte, and started a three piece band called Channing Cope. We were active for about six years straight. Between the years 2002 to 2008, we were able to to release three albums, and do some touring all over the United States.

From 2010 to 2011, I had the opportunity to be a part of Kenseth Thibideau’s solo project as a bass player for live shows. This allowed me to play with amazing musicians such as Tim Soete (The Fu**ing Champs), John Baez (Rumah Sakit), Nathan Hubbard (Skeleton Key Orchestra, Rafter) Chris Fulford-Brown (Pinback), and of course Kenseth Thibideau (Tarentel, Sleeping People, Pinback, and more).

When I first started Black Sea Storm, the singing was in English. In 2010, I switched to writing lyrics in Turkish. The transition occurred on its own, in a very natural way. It wasn’t in my initial plans to sing in Turkish. The fact that it’s my native language, may have helped the language emerge in songs without me taking a conscious decision to use it. Since the first song written in Turkish, I have been only using this beautiful language for my lyrics.

At the moment I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’m pursuing the Black Sea Storm project from here. I have no plans at the moment to sing in Spanish. I had this exceptional privilege to live in various cities around the world, on four different continents. If you want to know more about Black Sea Storm and my rock journey, please visit the website named after it + .com. On the Strory section of the website, you’ll find the entire history of the project. Over 10,000 words narrating, how it all started, and how things have evolved until today.

All the bands I have cited except for Bosom of the Urgent West are present on Spotify. Thank you for reading this, and thank you for streaming our music.

First Song – Made in Argentina

The past three weeks or so have been quite productive for Black Sea Storm. I was able to write the first Black Sea Storm song made in Argentina. Just finished laying down all the tracks today.
Until yesterday there was no vocals, because I did not have a microphone here in Buenos Aires. Yesterday I went to Oddity Music on Sarmiento, between Avenida Callao and Montevideo. I bought an audio-technica AT2050 condenser microphone. Between yesterday and today I laid down all the vocals, I even have all the lyrics ready. What I don’t have though, are monitors to mix. I’ve been doing everything with my beyerdynamic DT770 headphones so far, but for mixing I need speakers. If you’ve done some music recordings on your own, you probably know all the bad things that will happen to your mix, when you only mix with headphones.

I have to admit that buying music gear in Argentina has a heavy impact on my budget. Pretty much everything in terms of gear is way more expensive than in the United States. Since my gear purchases are made according to the progress of the first song, it makes me feel a bit better about the expenses. I’m trying to spend money on needs that are going to push the project forward, rather than nice to have wants. I purchased the microphone when it was time to lay down the vocals, and I’ll be getting the monitors when it will be time for mixing. When I think that two months ago I was still playing my electric bass acoustically, just so I could stay in shape. Now I have a complete song recorded with all instruments. I am so grateful for being able put together complete songs again. It’s been a long time since I had the logistics together, to produce music. It feels extremely good to be able to express myself through this beautiful medium again.

Here’s my “Lean” plan to put an album together: I am going to do a digital release of one single song. That way, I would of completed the whole song production process here in Argentina. I’ll most likely learn some new and valuable things along the way. If it works well for me, I’ll keep producing more. If things don’t sound good enough to my ears, I’ll keep writing songs, but maybe not releasing them until I have the proper setup.

I’ve also been working on the “Story” page of the website. I’m attempting put the Black Sea Storm story in writing. I have near five thousand words so far. Revisiting my memories through the history of Black Sea Storm has been a fun and at times a bit emotional experience for me. I realized how much friends, band-mates, bosses, and even acquaintances helped me along the journey, and made this project possible. I am extremely grateful that I’ve crossed paths with all them in life, and I will always be thankful for their support.

If you want to know more about the history of Black Sea Storm, you’ll find the writings on the “Story” page of this site. It’s not complete yet, but I’ve been not too lazy at adding new parts to the story on a regular basis lately.
Enjoy!

Black Sea Storm, Buenos Aires

In a new country, being able to record again
I’ve been now living in Buenos Aires for the past six months. As far as music gear goes, I came here pretty much just with my bass guitar and bunch of cables. I’ve been playing my electric Fender Jazz Bass acoustically until I decided to purchase an audio interface. I got the Scarlett Solo by Focusrite. It was extremely refreshing to hear some amplified bass sound again. I messed around for several weeks with GarageBand. I suddenly realized that I could produce some Black Sea Storm songs without heavy gear. I decided to get a copy of Logic Pro X, and an electric guitar.

Ten days ago I was able to get a hold of a US made Fender Startocaster. Owning a US made Fender seem to be a big luxury here. Entering foreign goods to Argentina can be complicated, and music gear tend to be outrageously expensive. I’ve always tried to welcome and embrace limitations with Black Sea Storm. I see constrains as creativity boosters. With my Fender Jazz Bass, the Stratocaster, and my laptop, I should be able go back to production. I’ve already started recording ideas with Logic Pro X for the past 10 days. I’m amazed how good the virtual amps are sounding on there. I don’t have monitors yet, so I’m making this judgment only based on listening to the sound through my Beyerdynamics DT 770 headphones. Some of the amps with the initial presets sound so good, that I started questioning my abilities to set up real guitar amp properly. We’ll see if I’ll still be as excited as I am now when I start recording songs for real.

I am also highly impressed how easy it is to get started with Logic Pro X, in comparison to ProTools. Obviously Apple engineers have the talent to make things to be easy and accessible. In more advanced stages of the recording process, I might miss Pro Tools, but for now the honeymoon is still going on with Logic.
My favorite DAW to this day still remains the Sony Vegas. It was extremely easy to use. To me, it almost felt like recording with a tape recorder.

Enough of gear talk. I don’t think the main challenge to pursue the Black Sea Storm adventure here in Argentina is going be accessing gear. The main challenge is going to be to find moments of deep focus, and be able to record on a regular basis. I am really exited to be in Buenos Aires, and really exited to be able to make music again.