Avant-pop/electronic savant SEPHA. is the mysterious moniker of Turkish-Irish wanderer Joey Aybak, a forward-thinking creative now based in London (via Vienna and Berlin). The multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, and producer views his ear-catching and edgy music through his imaginative mind and sonically kaleidoscopic eyes.
The fast-rising artist has made a name for himself on SoundCloud where his tracks have racked up tens of thousands of streams, with several of them hitting 40K to 70K plays each. SEPHA. has been featured in tastemakers like Wonderland and High Snob, as well as the long-running indie music site/mag The Big Takeover, among other enthusiastic press.
SEPHA. has released two EPs over the past few years, and now he drops his 3rd EP, opioid eyes in a cattle farm, today, November 23rd.
The EP is a stylistically hybrid record that lyrically tackles the opioid crisis, social facades, love, and psychological issues. Sonically, it’s a catchy, wild, and genre-bending ride that blurs the borderlines between pop, electronic, hip-hop, and singer-songwriter music.
A moody and vivid SEPHA. is spotlit throughout the wide-ranging EP, as he rises to euphoric, rosy highs, falls into brooding, blue lows, and sometimes merges to the two extreme sentiments into a sepia-tinted, bittersweet longing. He winds through his ambivalent thoughts on each tune, alternately lifting to the skies with a yearning airiness and coming down with a ruminative vocal inflection.
And then there’s that striking collision of noise and melody, because the tracks don’t usually follow a straight-line path with verse, chorus, verse structure, but instead radiate a wayfaring, intriguing atmosphere. Raw and polished, smooth and rough, heavy and light, uppers and downers, rub up against each other on the EP, creating a vague tension and aural diversity.
SEPHA. very generously took time out of his busy schedule to provide deep and relevant detail about each track on his exciting new EP during a long trip by train. SEPHA. is one to watch – to listen to – and to read about below:
monitors off – This first track is about a webcam relationship where the lonely man and girl have adopted identities as anime characters where they fulfill their desired selves through both their love and the platform disguise they have online. The protagonist keeps saying “Tell me that your monitor’s off and we can meet”, but the closing guitar riff ends the lyrics here because this reality will never fulfill the same thing the webcam fantasy gives them.
And the guitar riff I actually originally wrote to be the cattle farm (interlude) soundtrack. The cattle farm is an image I had in my head of monotony and routine, but also functionality in that a cattle farm maybe has a stoic practicality to it that I don’t understand from an emotional perspective which focuses on the mechanical slaughter and also the]\ mundane normality of such a context.
The opening cinematic bit to the track is just the end instrumental part of the song reversed and slowed – with a different reverb underpinned by some distant choir samples and a synth – so the starting and ending of the song are in answer to one another.
the business in you says – This song is inspired by career talks I had at school where the teachers were telling us ways of selling ourselves to look good to employers. I just found the advice funny in context, “Hire a new face for every new crowd” and “Don’t be too eager but don’t be too proud”, and thought it was a good way of exploring also our social media identities and the way we sell ourselves in social spheres, as well as for prospective job interviews. I put this in context of love too in the way that maybe these restrictions prevent people from showing weaknesses when they date, even though they inevitably come out later.
I liked pinning this against a quote from my autistic friend who said he would list all his faults at the start of dates and job interviews so that they could get past that and he could talk in depth about his strengths, but then ultimately he never had success with this method because it was off-putting from the start. Maybe we’re too conditioned to be attracted by strength though; we should more embrace weakness. The lyric “Don’t wanna leave your lights on long” is a quote from the autistic friend (as sad as it is to define this enriching person with that label) when he was talking about his OCD routine with turning lights on and off to not put his college accommodation room in view as a room to rob.
I wanted it to sound like the most club-friendly anthem on the EP ‘cause it kinda amused me hearing these sorta themes in that context, but then I always loved the idea of having heavy metal-style blended into a dance song, so the guitar work are riffs and solos I played in a metal band ages ago.
the cattle farm (interlude) – This interlude introduces the depressive parts of the EP, when I was stayin’ in bed not doing anything or couch-surfing and avoiding reality. To try and seek some help I typed different statements into YouTube like “I’m depressed. How do I learn to be happy again” or “How do I deal with small talk” and pretty much sampled the videos that I found that helped me the most. I put a kind of distortion and pitch shift on the voices to convey the voices in my head as I was reading, because I remember being very self-critical and sarcastic to myself as I tried to cure my deep hole. The sarcasm was about hating myself for not being in a situation without water, friends, or a shelter above my head, yet feeling useless which almost made it worse.
The cattle farm symbolizes the monotonous slaughter I mentioned before, but it’s also about facing the responsibility of being a functioning adult in a system and realising the small pleasures in life and that you’re not as important as your early self thought, and that understanding of your unimportance being key to fulfillment.
The voices and samples are all from parts of YouTube that defined loneliness for me. I sampled a YouTuber’s make-up tutorial in the part where she says “Help”, which was maybe in reference to successfully blended contour lines, but I found it somewhat amusing to be placed next to this depression self-help tutorial voice. The percussion and melodies were all attempts to convey the sound of machinery and somewhat suitably, unlike the other songs, all of this was laptop-produced apart from the reoccurring reversed riff from monitors off.
opioid eyes – One of the ways a lot of people I know have cured depression or anxiety or an inability to cope with life is opioids. Mainly Xanax, which as a Brit I’ve never exactly seen as a legal drug, and I wasn’t aware of it ‘til it came into the party context.
I also started to realise how many parents or middle-aged people also used forms of opioids and it almost embellished the cattle farm idea to a different extent. That there’s this cattle farm in my mind all around me as I walk through the streets and its cogs are turning in part by these medicated, sedate participants who say things like “woke” and “cancelled” while dictators make theatrical political decisions with avant-garde twists and turns.
The song is describing this medicated state and was a play on the constant usage of the term “woke”, which I hate. Sound-wise I remember watching Blade Runner over and over and wanting to create a soundscape alt-pop-type song that sounded a bit industrial and like it could be in a cyberpunk film.
what we wish we’d said – I had quite a lot of funky, upbeat moments on my dystop EP [SEPHA.’s previous record], so I didn’t wanna lose that completely. The song goes back to identity in social media again. It’s inspired by the ‘fronts’ people put on to appear desirable, and so the theme of sexuality and gender was quite influential in this.
darling don’t loosen your grip – I originally wrote this song as a mellow piano ballad; just voice and piano. But then, because of the lyrics and passion I felt, I really wanted this song to sound as raw and sincere as possible. Just wanted to let loose and not give a fuck about anything, like the kinda scene you see in a film where people just start screaming in a forest to release all their pent-up emotions after a bunch of unlucky stuff has happened.
So the lyrics are advice about not creating or designing your own humiliations – in the people you decide to love or bad decisions you make, as that is ultimately a way of perpetuating a negative view you might have of yourself. I wrote the song like I’m giving the advice to someone else, but actually it was advice to myself. It was like I recognised that I didn’t care about myself and so I made decisions which deliberately didn’t care about me. Therefore it was hard to embrace something I already knew, and so the song is kind of this fight in your consciousness where one part is telling you not to love this abusive person or drink loads again for the umpteenth night running, but then the other half doesn’t have enough strength or self-belief to listen to that side.
I wanted the song to sound kind of menacing in parts – but also like a fight. So some of the words I’m literally screaming at the top of my lungs, like in the aforementioned film bit where they scream in the forest for release, and then other bits are more fragile with falsetto registers in my voice. The song sounded quite polished and pitch-perfect before, so I kind of wanted it to be more authentic to how I actually felt in a kind of Tom Waits-releasing-his-inner-demon-type way. In this regard most of the vocals were the first take. The guitar part I played after singing the song is a sort of call-and-answer refrain to the voice. That was all first take, which is why it sounds kinda scatty.
The outro of the song I’m most proud of, but it was a pain trying to mix the layers of organs and Rhodes keyboards on my shitty bedroom laptop setup. I feel like it worked out though. The backing vocals in this end part are contradicting the main vocal’s determined advice – to show the battle I was having with thoughts – of long-term happiness versus a ‘fuck it’, temporary mentality. I remember my friend forgetting two days of his life after drinking and taking Xanax, but the one thing he told me was that he couldn’t stop gripping his bedpost for comfort and reassurance. It was after he told me this that I thought “darling, don’t loosen your grip” was the perfect lyric for the end part and name of the song; that vices and struggles could be depicted in this scene of comfort and reassurance somewhere and trying not to lose grip of it.
motions in my – This song was a rare example of a time when I was writing a love song with the kind of sentimentality the Irish side of my family have with songs, where everything is kinda about romantic longing. “Motions in my static life” is probably the least passionate lyric of the song.
It’s kind of deliberately a tongue-in-cheek chorus really, like the sensibilities of Irish song where in reality the lyrics are talking about this longing of a lovely romantic memory, but then it was just a fairly normal romantic experience which didn’t change much for either party.
Written by: Jen Dan