It’s a Tuesday night and I sit across from Eric Arikan in his favourite bar in his hometown, Ulm. He’s sipping on a coke while he looks around the room with a thoughtful look in his eyes.
It’s late now and the Motörhead‘s tunes playing in the background have now changed to gentle Beatles. The candles that illuminate the assortment of mismatched chairs and overflowing ashtrays have burned down and only a few people are left, chatting away with the bartender. Eric seems to register it all, making a mental note. Then he rolls a cigarette, fiddles with his lighter for a minute before he lights the cigarette and when I ask him if he’s ready for the interview, he grins at me and replies: “Yes, ma’am.”
Eric’s been making music for almost 12 years now. He started playing the guitar when he was 11. He also started writing music at the same time but he acknowledges that it takes time to get good at it, “I’d say I wrote my first decent song at 16.”
He released his first album The Ship in 2014. “It was really just a challenge to myself to record and finish a whole record,” says Eric, “up to that point I’d only ever recorded single songs at a time.”
The album’s tracks range from blues rock songs like The Dead Stare in Your Eyes to dark, threatening nu-metal guitars in I Saw Jesus Walking on a Tightrope. It’s skilfully written blues rock, melding together influences like Iggy Pop, the Velvet Underground and Alice in Chains in a way that leaves you unable to distinguish what it is that is so enchanting about what you’re hearing. In the song Don’t Tell Anyone Eric asks “What’s the point of it all, if there’s no point at all?”
What’s the inspiration for lyrics like that? “Life keeps happening around you and it’ll often give you something to chew on or to think about. I also find greatness to be very inspiring. When I listen to Alex Turner’s lyrics, it makes me want to write better lyrics. When I hear the Beatles’ chord changes, it makes me want to write better songs.”
But there are no boundaries what artists inspire him. “I’ll maybe listen to hip-hop for months and that will have an influence in terms of rhythm. Then I’ll listen to Tarantino soundtracks and all of a sudden all these surf guitars will appear in my songs,” Eric muses. But then he finds a common theme. “What’s most important to me is a great hook. It’s the thing that’ll move me the most in a good song and it’s the thing I strive for when I write songs.”
In his song Bonny & Clyde, he tells the story of the famous pair’s last moments. Just before they are shot down by the police, Eric narrates their demise from Clyde’s point of view. “It’s just always been a scene that fascinated me. It’s so cinematic and the music kinda goes along with that.”
The new album, he says, will contain a lot more personal material, like the song The Tide’s Electric. Talking about this he gets more and more thoughtful and lights another cigarette, watching a man walk by our table. “The song is basically about the moment you fall for somebody and everything has a different energy. It’s as if something goes through you and all of a sudden you see things differently.” He scoffs and chuckles. “It’s a song everyone has written. But writing about personal things makes me feel so much closer to the music. That’s where I want to go with things in the future.”
“I find greatness to be very inspiring. It makes me want to write better songs.”
What is the future for him? He thinks about it for a second before he replies that he would love to make a living with music. But he does feel like being from Germany is a clear disadvantage. “I feel like Germany doesn’t have that much to offer in terms of music,” says Eric and hesitates, “in terms of popular culture in general, actually.”
While Germany is a country with a vibrant and active music scene, barely anything ever goes beyond its borders. “Of course there have been great German bands and musicians that can probably also be inspiring for people outside of Germany. But the cool stuff tends to be hidden and hard to discover,” says Eric on the matter. “Also, mainstream German art seems to have a tendency to be a little cautious and harmless. On the other hand, underground artists tend to try and push the boundaries to such an extent that it becomes inaccessible. There seems to be no middle ground.”
Is it about the quality of the music? “Yes, I think most of what German artists produce just isn’t good enough for the international industry to care about. I imagine music with German lyrics must be hard to market outside of Germany simply because it’s not a very pleasant sounding language. It might’ve helped Rammstein become famous but probably no one else.”
I tell him that I think that’s nothing he has to worry about. Playing all the instruments and producing his music by himself in his bedroom is hard to believe when you hear what he has done so far. Being an English language student and having a comprehensive knowledge of music, as well as a hand for songwriting has given him something special – international potential.
“I mean, it’s been historically difficult for bands or musicians to get out of Germany,” he goes on. “There’s just so little going on here. Even when Bowie or Iggy Pop recorded in Berlin, it’s not like they recruited German musicians for their sessions, at least not as far as I know.”
We chat about this for a while longer, talk about London, sing along to the Beatles and then I decide to wrap it up with a question about Moon, his upcoming album. It will not only be more personal, but also more mature. “I hope to finish it by February,” says Eric, grimacing a bit, as if hesitant to make that commitment, “I think it’ll be better than The Ship because there’s more of a concept behind it.”
I remember that one song on his album that I never really understood, so while he’s getting his slightly tipsy friend from the bar I ask him about Silver Lining In a Mushroom Cloud. He just laughs and chuckles out a “Fuck, if I know, dude.” And I just nod and feel like that’s actually the best answer I could have got.
Words by Lena Pagel