January 30, 2017 by Daniel John Johnsson

Kerim Arhan

QANDA met with Kerim Arhan for a conversation about finding music through the Beatles, not wanting to be called a musician and finally getting to release the album "Poetry in Broken English".

There has been some laps around this album. It was on hold for many years and I even think I've read something about a release two-three years ago? Last year I heard January, but now it's February?
- I started writing this album in the spring of 2008, during a long stay in Istanbul. Later that year, I decided to quite the project as well as music overall. The same day, I was given a scholarship as an originator from the Stim foundation. It gave me some fresh air and I isolated myself on southern Öland in the winter of 2009 to continue writing and start recording. My first son was then born in the summer of 2009 and the recordings took place during early mornings in my father's Oriental carpet shop.

The recording process and the planning around it with everyone involved became increasingly hard to handle for me. It began to compromise the essence of what I really needed to do. That is to put my focus on songwriting. In this time I got in touch with Patrik Bartosch at Tambourine Studios and Eggstone, who I previously knew, since he had played piano on one of my songs back in the day. I sent him my materials, and he turned out to be the right person to fulfill my vision. He has an incredible attention to detail, as a producer, mixer and musician. We recorded the last of the songs in the fall of 2011. The album was basically finished in January 2012. I had had a dialogue with A West Side Fabrication about publishing, but other commitments in life took my attention and the album had to be put aside. 

In the tragedy of a dear friends' passing I met with the cellist Åsa Gjerstad. We did a concert together after but it weren't until later when an artist named Tom Levin asked me if I wanted to open a few gigs on his tour, that meant that I played live again for the first time in several years, again together with Åsa. She played a large part in instilling courage and giving back my urge to get my own record out. Around this time, I began talking with a publisher and started a collaboration. The process got started but we went our separate ways in the autmn of 2016. So like this an album intended for 2009 ended up in 2017. 

During this period of time I've gotten two sons. Since then I have also educated myself and got myself into a complementary profession. Time is relative. The album feels just as relevant to me now that it will see the light of day. 

When is the final release date?
- The 10th of February.

As the album has been with you for such a long time. What has been the most fun while working on it? 
- You have an inner image or a story that you want to realize. The borderlands between your vision and the realization of it is both pleasant and enjoyable. Everything that happens before the practical problems and performance come into the picture. You have to get back to that feeling while you're in the process. For example, by challenging your own beliefs about the outcome. To let go, quite simply.

The toughest?
- The ambivalence, the doubts, and innfer-self criticism. Why spend time and resources on this? Is it justified? What does it matter? What is the purpose of publishing this? 

It haven't always been a given for you to release your music to the public?
- At an early stage, when I was part of a band, I was perhaps was the one to be the most pronouced about some kind of publication. However, it's always been close at hand for me to think about quitting music for different reasons. It's just that it always comes back in different ways. You are just supposed to make one last album and when you've decided to quit some proposal usually pop's up that is hard to resist.  

So the album was recorded in a various of locations, not only in the carpet store?
- There was a long start-up period to achieve good recording quality with small means. I had some experience of recording with my own equipment. My studio was mobile. The most important thing was to ensure as good of a base sound as possible, which I succeeded in doing. At one point, I drove to Stockholm to record together with percussionist Hakan Vreskala in his living room. Most of it was recorded in the carpet shop, but also some at Tambourine Studios. Especially Patriks toppings on vibraphone and piano. 

In between there was several temporary locations. Both Patrik and I had a lot of other commitments in life, so it could go a long time between takes. I had also entered a process with my text writing that contributed to a slower pace. It was a maze that I had a hard time finding the way out of. Sometimes I just recorded single words that I delievered on a USB to Patrik, for Patrik to replace them. It should also be mentioned that Martin Theander ... who was earlier at Tambourine ... supported me in this process as I tormented him with endless drafts of lyrics for the same song, to get feedback. 

Three songs from the album have already been released as singles. Among others "Poetry in Broken English"?
- That was already the name of the album, so I began to play around with a title song. I've been asked to explain my lyrics and describe the contents to the listeners. Most of the time this leaves me with a feeling that I am taking something away from listener, the opportunity for their own interpretations. The title "Poetry In Broken English" began with me questioning why I write my lyrics in English even though it isn't my native language. 

The fact that English is a universal language and that it reaches a greater number of listeners didn't seem like a satisfactory explanation. The closest I got to an answer is that it provides me with a filter, through which I can channel my inner being as honestly as possible through my work with lyrics and music. Some artists need stage clothes or other kinds of tools to create an alter ego for themselves. I instead need to borrow a language. 

This is certainly not anything unusual, but the ones I've talked to about this doesn't seem to have questioned or thought about it in more detail. During the years that I've worked with music and lyrics I have come to the conclusion that the ambition is poetry. With an accelerating awareness about loaning a language, I reached the conclusion that what I write in a sense is precisely "Poetry In Broken English". The lyrics itself is of course about something else. But I leave that to the listener. 

Another single is "Nuromsaniye"?
- "Nuruomsaniye" is anchored in a neighbourhood in Istanbul, where there except from bazaars also are a lot of galleries and trade of oriental carpets. It has a direct connection to my grandfather's journey from Istanbul via Germany and eventually to Stockholm in the late 1920s. The Oriental carpet shop in Malmö shut down in the first half of 2012, after 50 years in the town square, and I recorded a video for the song there just before the premises were left behind. 

The song is a reflection and memorial of my own and my family's past. 

Which is the third single?
- "In the endless home of space" which is a song of a completely different nature than the others. It went through many variations. It even had lyrics in Turkish for some time. The song leaves me in a void and there is nothing more I can say about it. 

Does this three singles give a good insight into how the whole album is like?
- "Poetry In Broken English" and "Nuruosamniye" gives a good indication. "In the home of endless space" is the song that reflects the album as a whole the least. 

What is the common thread that holds the album together? 
- The descriptions of enviroment, which are largely inspired by Istanbul. Otherwise, I refer to what I said before about declaring story in this context. That is, that it would leave me with a sense of depriving the listener of his or her own interpretation. 

Do you have any song on the album that you like particularly much? 
- "By the Bosphourus" was the first song that I wrote in this period and it captures the mood I was in then. It is a mantra that I need to remember why I got into this process and why I decided to complete it. 

How did you get into music?
- "Help" by the Beatles was the first album I listened to. John Lennon's "You've gotta hide you love away" especially took hold of me. Otherwise, I mostly listened to Sinatra back home. I got a nylon stringed guitar when I was thirteen. 

What is the core of your music creation?
- I think of music and lyrics as colors. I want to paint pictures with these tools. 

What opportunities did you have to approach your interest in music as you grew up in Malmö? 
- I had access to artistic expressions but not music in an accessible sense. I have later made my experiences into music. It has in it's own way made me free in my creation.

What do you think of today's music scene there?
- I have very little experience with today's music scene in Malmö. As a full-time father of two children, who are chasing hours to get to play myself, I rarely have time to go see concerts especially often. I have the ambition to do better, though. 

You've previously said that you don't want to be referred to as a musician? 
- My theoretical knowledge is weak and I'm not especially flexible about other musical contexts. These are qualities that I think that you need to be able to have for you to call yourself a musician in it's conventional sense. 

How was your time in the band Stockfinster?
- It was developed together with my friend Sebastian Borg. Friendships and creative collaborations have lasted right up until present times, despite that the active time as a band for me ended after two years. It was real bet for me, since it was one of the main reasons that I moved back home from Canada after having ended my acting training.

I e experienced that during that time we were looking for our common sound  and that we never really got to that point, as we in the end were heading in different directions. I will probably re-release this music with the perspective of the others being represented as musicians or producers after I now become a solo artist. 

What inspires you?
- I interpret a quote that Jacques Werup makes in a documentary when I say "Everyday phenomena, such as how the light falls on a window frame on a October afternoon". 

You have had many different occupations and whereabouts, included having lived in Canada and Turkey. Is there anything in all of these experiences that you feel that you have been able to bring with you in your music creation?
- Places that are far away from everydya life always gives perspective and inspiration. It is an incredible and for me almost indispensable asset in the creative process. My stay in Canada gave me a unique opportunity to ground myself after years of wandering and uncertainty. I joined an actor's school, and was dedicated to it. I learned to focus. 

However, I pretty soon got an acoustic guitar. It was inevitable. 

You once said that you do "readable music"?
- Did I say that? That has become a hot topic now in the context of Dylan's Nobel Prize. Lyrics that are exciting to sing can fall flat on paper, but there are those that are alive even when you read them. I put no value in either or. It's for nature to decide. Poetry can both be read and sung. All lyrics are not interesting to read, as maybe the power is in the musical expression.

Poetry in Broken English will also be released on CD, which is not a given these days. Where can one find the album if they are interested in purchasing a copy? 
- It will be distributed via Cdbaby.com and thus will be available worldwide. I will ensure that local record stores in Malmö, who still handles CD's, will have it. The Musik och Konst-store above all. Live performances will likely be the main forum for being able to offer you a physical album. 

It's not just unusual with a physical release in itself, but the whole idea of a full album has kinda disappeared. What is it about having a full-lenght album that appeals to you? 
- I'm relatively traditional in certain aspects of how I think. An album creates a context and provides an insight into the artistic process that the artist in question has been in. It could be compared to a book with a number of chapters. 

I'd like the chance to read from the beginning to end. 

How does it look with live performances for you in the near future? 
- I played live and on the radio in Amsterdam last week. Now I don't know. There is no room for a tour plan. We'll see. 

What other countries have you played in? 
- I've had a series of gigs in Turkey. It is my ambition to perform more downwards Europe during this year.

What has been your most memorable gig so far?
- I went by boat through a downpour to the Asian side of Istanbul, where I was to perform solo. A cosy context, but I had come all the way to play for the bartender and someone else in the staff. It was memorable in its own way. For sure. 

Any dreamgig? 
– Dramaten. A gig at Dramaten in Stockholm.

A song you can't be without right now? 
– I generally can't be without "Reinkarnerad Exakt Som Förut" by Bob Hund.

How do you prefer to spend an evening in Malmo?
– Seeing a film at the Art Deco-salon, over at the Spegeln venue.

So, with the singles out and the album at the finish line. What are your hopes for this year? 
- I hope that the album will find its listeners. It's worth it. I will begin to re-release some material from the past and hope that it gives out a positive energy. It's also time to move into a new recording process. It was really a very long time ago. 


Kerim Arhan is a Swedish singer, musician and songwriter from Malmo. He is also of Turkish heritage. Kerim hade no music around him during his upbringing, but nevertheless it became a creative tool for him to express himself. The album Poetry in Broken English is out February, 10 on iTunes and Spotify.


You can follow Kerim Arhan at Facebook, Youtube and Instagram.

He also has an official website.

Check it out, why don't ya.