Başak Ylva (Dream Ocean): “I was bullied by my own agency.”

On 28th August, I had the chance to not only see Cologne-based symphonic metal band Dream Ocean live for the first time, I also had the chance to do an interview with them after their show at Winds And Woods Meet Metal festival. Başak Ylva (vocals), Sebastian Heuckmann (bass), Fred Denuell (guitars), Timo Schneider (fill in drums) and I discussed their upcoming album “The Missing Stone”, which is right around the corner, the troubles and trials of a metal/classical musician, and more. So without further ado, let’s get right into it.

MG: This is not only the first show since the pandemic started, but also the premiere for some of your new material. What are your feelings?

Başak: I think it was better then what we expected, because I didn’t know how my body will react to be on a metal stage again. And I just remembered that rush. And I enjoyed it so much. Especially with our new band members. It felt like we were playing for a very long time. 

Fred: Also for me, it was like 1,5 years of a break. And I didn’t even see a concert during this time. After this time, playing again was amazing. Just amazing.

Timo: It was fantastic to have a show during this pandemic. It was great to finally have a show again. 

MG: I can imagine. Your new album “The Missing Stone is just around the corner. What phase are you in at the moment? Is everything ready for the release? Or are there some things left, that need to be finished yet?

Başak: I think almost everything is ready. Maybe we have to order one or two more things for merchandise. Because today we only have “The Missing Stone” merch with us. And we have to order two more designs and… what else?

Sebastian: We are in the preparation for the release concert itself. It is going to take place on the release date on the 24th of September in Wuppertal. We are also going to stream it live, so it is more than “just” a gig for us. We have never done that before. 

MG: You launched a crowdfunding campaign for this album. I was keeping an eye on it regularly, and I have to say it was dramatic until the last minute. [laughter from the band members]  In the end, your fans pulled it off. Did you have any backup plans in case you didn’t reach the goal?

Sebastian: Technically, we would always have reached something. A flexible goal. So if we would not have made the goal completely, we still would have gotten the money, and we would have worked from there. The backup plan would have been that less things would happen. E.g. we could not have made ALL T-shirt designs, and we would have needed to talk to some people that this or that item they ordered is not possible. But luckily, we did not have to go through this situation. 

MG: Let’s talk about the writing process. You have a new line up. Did this somehow affect the direction of the album?

Sebastian: Good question.

Başak: I would say…. actually, we had Fred involved with the album. But he was not involved with the songwriting because, at that point, he was not in the band. As I said on stage: we planned to release the album in 2020. And at that time, Fred was busy with another band and was not even with us. And when I decided to write this album with Sebastian, we talked about the songs and the concept. Therefore I would say: no. This was because, in 2020, it was already clear what direction we wanted to go. What kind of sound we want to build this time. Because “Lost Symphony” was on the traditional side of Symphonic Metal. But this time, we got a bit more of a modern touch to it. 

Sebastian: I would say the writing process itself was not influenced. The sound? Maybe! It is a different guitarist with a different amp and a different way of playing. Fred gave us a bit more of a Death Metal touch to the guitar play that we would not have had before. Unfortunately, Timo could not have any influence because he is with us for only two months now. But on live shows, he already brings his note in there.

MG: Başak, this is a very personal album for you. How does it feel to open up in front of such a wide audience?

Başak: Actually, it was not easy because, as I told on my social media, I grew up in a very abusive family surrounding, and I still got just a couple of weeks ago a death threat from my own father via voice mail because I uploaded a picture of me kissing my boyfriend. And this opening idea came to me…

It was maybe at the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019 when I was in a lesson with my vocal teacher, and she told me that I have a much bigger voice, but it was like somebody was holding my throat, and why am I not giving it all? And then she literally asked me, “What happened to you in your childhood?” And then I just started to cry. And then I told her, and she asked me, “Why don’t you tell this to anybody?” 

MG: And use this energy?

Başak: Yes. “Why don’t you tell this to people because you appear very isolated and cold and distanced.” Because this is the reason why I let just a few people come into my world and see who I am. And then I decided to make something out of it. And Sebastian knew all about this. 

MG: Next question is for you, guys. As we just said it was a very personal journey for Başak, did you encourage her on this journey or did you prefer to just pay attention to your instruments?

Sebastian: As you said: the opening part came from Başak, but this doesn’t mean we only focused on our instruments. It is not only that the songs are personal. Most of the songs are connected. So on a musical level, we could solve something. You know, it starts with problems. And it goes somewhere. The album gets resolved. Yes, we were focusing on our instruments by…

Fred: By working on the topic.

MG: You’ve also released some videos, the latest one for “Eterna Espera”. A bloody good one indeed! How was the shooting of all those scenes with blood? What did you use for this?

Başak: It was artificial blood; that’s why I couldn’t put it in my mouth. Actually, we were planning to use even more. We wanted to fill that bath tube with water and put all blood into it. Making me really swim in blood. And we wanted to shoot some scenes… We were planning to get a pig heart from a butcher, and I would be biting on it, and the blood would run down my throat, but then we looked up the rules of Youtube. They could block a video for such kind of stuff.

Sebastian: Or label it as an 18+ video. And we don’t want to limit our reach, our audience. 

Başak: Exactly! Actually, there was far less blood then we originally planned. It could really have been like a Black Metal video [laughs]. 

MG: Will there be other videos for the album than just this one?

Fred: Yes, there will be more than just one. One will come on the release day. We shot this video like three weeks ago. It will be a really great one. 

MG: Başak, since you are also a professional opera singer, and I happen to have interviewed other professional opera singers like Emmanuelle Zoldan from Sirenia and Marina La Toracca from Phantom Elite, I would like to ask you this question too. How do your colleagues from opera react when they find out that you are in a metal band?

Başak: I hide it. I use a different name for my metal career. So when they search on Google for me, they don’t come across Dream Ocean. But Google is making it difficult because when they look up for you, Google puts up all the pictures that look like you. I actually try to hide it. Because in the past, I was told that I am dressing too much femme fatale-like, very extravagant. Or that my hair was too red for singing in a church. Or I should not make my hair blond because I am Turkish. Or that I should not wear red lipstick because this was not a job to wear red lipstick. Therefore the classical music branch, especially in Germany, not so much in Sweden or Norway, but in Germany, it is terribly backwards and conservative. And several times, I got severely bullied because of that. Some people even told me, “When do you give up making pop music?” Schlager music, respectively, and such stuff. They do not really have any understanding or respect. So, for this reason, I decided to make two different Facebook accounts with different names. And Sebastian knows the struggle is really real! Once, this was even used as an excuse to not prolong my contract.

MG: This is even worse compared to what I have been told previously. 

Başak: What did they tell you?

MG: For example, Emmanuelle Zoldan told me that many of her classical colleagues have no understanding why she is making such “impure” music. And Marina La Toracca told me that she had similar experience. That she often has to cover up her tattoos.

Başak: Me too.

MG: That oftentimes she keeps it a secret when applying for a new role. Because many times the people doing the auditions are making fun of it.  

Başak: Same for me. I was bullied by my own agency. It is an old German agency. They told me I should not put on much make-up. And no red lipstick at all. They told me to wear something with long sleeves,  and an over-knee skirt, and my neck should be completely closed. And I should colour my hair “a normal colour”. Because when I came to Germany for the first time, I thought I would be much more free than in Turkey. In Turkey, we dress way sexier and more free then here. But of course, in media, you see it the other way around. So I had to change my hair colour. Because they were only bullying me for my red hair! 

MG: Incomprehensible! But let’s move on. You also did a little throw back and resurrected your song “Uyan”/”Daydreamer” after 10 years. How does it feel to get back to your old songs after such a long time? 

Başak: It feels good! Because I wanted to give this song another chance to be on a physical CD. We released it as part of an EP, but only digitally and not as a CD. But the old version has nothing to do with Dream Ocean’s new sound. So I asked Sebastian, “Can you please make this song sound a bit like a creepy Halloween song?” Because this song is about a dead lover. And she is trying to resurrect this dead lover. She thinks he is not dead but rather just sleeping and dreaming. So, Sebastian made it great! 

MG: Are there any other hidden gems that could get some kind of special treatment? 

Başak: We have a lot of songs from the old times, but I just don’t want to focus on them. Because we also have much more great newer material. 

MG: You recently landed a new job as an opera singer and had to move. How was it for you during lockdown as a full time musician? How did it differ for you as a classical singer and metal singer? Was there any difference? 

Başak: In opera, we performed a couple of performances around September and October. But then the next lockdown came, and the theatre decided to not extend the contracts. And when I thought I was just starting my job and was thinking, I landed in a good opera house, and I could slowly build up my career. And now I was jobless! Like from top to zero. Of course, for me, this is another thing. When I don’t have a job, I am at risk to lose my visa. And I am also helping my brother in Turkey. So everything went down. And I got a big depression. I could not go out for 6 months. I did not sing for 6 months. And I just started to have therapy. Because everything was falling apart in my life. I mean, in everybody’s life, in Sebastian’s too. But for me, my visa and everything is depending on my job. I thought something like, “My career has ended. I’m done. They will throw me out of the country.”

MG: Luckily, this did not happen.

Başak: Yes, because in May the auditions started again, and I got seven auditions, and five of them offered me a job. So I chose the one with the longest contract. But I think that, at the moment, I am not where I want to be. That was really terrible. For all of us. But when your income comes from music, it is much more terrible. 

MG: Last question to finish this.  A little game of prediction. What song from your upcoming album will be a fan favourite?

Fred: “As I Die”. It is a great song. A party song, it is great to play. We played it today as our last song, and the crowd liked it. So I’d say “As I Die”. 

MG: Oh yes, a wonderful song. I really liked it. Looking forward for the rest of the album. 

Timo: I agree with Fred. I also say “As I Die”.

Başak: But to our fans: pay attention to “The Missing Stone”, the last song of the album. Pay close attention. Because there we will surprise you a lot. 

MG: Thank you for having me and making this possible!

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