Bilge Nur Yılmaz’s ’21 effortless cosmopolitanism, a marriage of her insistent curiosity about everyone she meets and exuberant Turkishness (ask about breakfast the next time you see her) pulled us all towards her when we met at international student orientation. A group of us went back to Tritton to play our respective homelands’ most exciting music for each other, the thrill of difference adding urgency to every suggestion; she has mentioned the band I proudly showcased several times in subsequent years. Since, she spent the 2019-20 academic year at the London School of Economics (LSE), where she immersed herself in the London music scene. She became, among other things, part of Isolation Choir, playing with many well-known musicians. She recently released the mesmerizing “Triangles” under the moniker Tendertwin, which has amassed over 30k plays in its first month and a half on Spotify.
Only an emigrant could have written “Triangles.” It is drowsy with nostalgia and regret, drawing upon fragile affect with confidence and never in excess. The song’s vocals are longing, reminiscent of Fiona Apple, Florence Welch, and Joni Mitchell, but the deft use of instrumentation and texture is closer to Sigur Rós, The Antlers, and José González among other chamber pop greats. The tune begins intimate yet spacious, the bright chimes of bells or triangles contrasting with a guitar’s gentle and burnished arpeggio. Vocal tracks progressively multiply and cymbals ground an expanding orchestration; a violin weaves around Tendertwin’s singing like another voice, echoing her calls without straying from the tune’s emotional drive: “say it many times/so you know it’s true.” The fuzz that characterized her previous release (“Ode to the Past”) has left only a whisper as she demonstrates an extraordinary talent for harmony to leave us woozy in a swirling arrangement, aching for the clarity and stability that belong only to our past: “What do I expect?/What do I lose?” The song is truly wonderful, a great beginning that foreshadows many greater things ahead. Although plans for promoting the song in the London gig circuit were cut short, Tendertwin has continued to work from her home in the Turkish shore. I spoke with her over Zoom about “Triangles” and her music.
How did Tendertwin come about?
At an opening I went to with a friend, this poet guy was at the entrance. He had a typewriter and was making impromptu poems for people. At the time, I was trying to come up with a moniker, Jixin [Xia ‘21] and I were living together and laboring, workshopping for hours, trying to come with the ultimate name, which is impossible. Eventually, I realized it didn’t matter, you just come up with a name and let it manifest because it’s going to be an empty box before you load anything on it. I told the poet guy, “Can you come up with a moniker?” And he looks at me and asks me what kind of music I make. And I said, “With guitars and singing, kind of sad, a little soft.” And he said, “Tender, tender music.” Then he asked me for my star sign, and I said “Gemini.” He said, “Okay, Tendertwin, how about that?” And I just said, “Yes, yes, I will take it just so I don’t have any more responsibility over it!” I’ve never been much of a Zodiac follower, but I related to the concept of a twin, having two sides or masks, a kind of subtle bipolarity. And tender is a word I really like and a Blur song that I love.
Can you recount your path to music? Before Haverford, here, and in London.
My family was not into music, but my father played the Turkish guitar, and my sister sang. It was a rebellious act to be a musician because, in many cultures and families, music is not taken so seriously. But for me, it is very liberating. I didn’t realize I was good at it until some friends told me. I just held onto it, kept doing it. I was a fan of Taylor Swift when I was twelve, and I would try to learn those really basic chords with a guitar I found somewhere. In high school, we had a good music program where I was introduced to more serious music. I went to boarding school, so I was at school 24/7 and grew up with those people. They became my siblings and I made music with them. I went to a choir in Istanbul and I started writing songs as well, but never seriously. I guess I never had the guts to go into music fully, to a conservatory, because I always wanted to do another thing as well, which turned out to be politics. In high school, I was always a super big music follower. I’d sneak into gigs when I was 14 or 15, but thought I’d end up as a manager or event organizer. I even did music journalism, though I found it too divisive. Making music and constantly listening to and reviewing people’s music was tough; I knew how much work went into making it. I came to London this year and I said to myself, “Okay, I have to recognize myself as an artist. This is what I do, I want to go on this path.” That’s what flicked a switch because everyone sees you like that except you, until you accept it, and say you’ll do whatever it takes to get there. I think that happened last year after I recorded the song and it has been growing since.
How long ago did you record Triangles? It was in Philly, right?
Spring last year. Jonah [Benjamini ‘21] played sax and Liam [Mears ’22] trombone. I recorded at Headroom Studios in Philly. Walt Plumlee ‘18 was supposed to assist with the recordings, but he was not there, so I worked with Mark Watter and Sam Mayer. They aren’t alums, but they’re from the community. I had never been in a studio before—all I had were crappy demos. I wrote the song the fall before and I’d played it at the MArts House Tasters [a Haverford event] on guitar, but never recorded it. Eventually, I got funding [from the Hurford Center] for one day and we got into the studio for almost twelve hours. And we did the vocals at the very end, which was the worst idea because your voice is very tired by then, you’re very tired by then, and you’re in an airless booth trying to shout out lyrics. And there are so many vocal layers [in Triangles], about 40. But I didn’t like the vocals on the song [during the first recording]. I rerecorded them when I returned to Haverford and tried to do the vocals and mixing differently in Turkey with a friend but still didn’t like them. So, I just had the bare skeleton, instrumentals, guitar, and synth. And in London, the song was always in the background. When I got selected as a part of a music collective [in London], I was in a supergroup with seven other people and we’d meet every Tuesday to rehearse and make songs and meet with mentors. There I met the person who mastered the song and the person who played the violin. London is a magical place; you meet creative people who are really good at what they do. The photographer [who took pictures for my press kit] I met while bartending, which is where I also met the mix engineer who finally redid the vocals. I just met a bunch of people in a very short period of time who were really responsive and ready to do things.
And the lyrics you wrote before all this triangulation?
They became meaningful later. I wrote it at a time of confusion. It was not referring to the three cities, but to metaphorical things—how three freckles made a triangle. Someone I cared about had three freckles on their back and I have three freckles on my back. I saw this as such a frequent pattern, but I also thought it was odd. It’s strange because the word for freckle in Turkish is ben which also means “I.” When you’re thinking in two languages some things just take on a deeper meaning unintentionally. Songs are always self-prophecies.
Tendertwin Social Media: