STREETERVILLE — To Demir Demirkan, half of the uber-popular Turkish-folk rock duo about to kick off a national tour, his new home in Streeterville reminds him a lot of his home city of Istanbul.
"I consider Lake Michigan like a sea, because it's really huge," said Demirkan, whose bandmate is well-known in his home country for winning an "American Idol"-esque music competition in Europe. "If I think about the Aegean Sea right between Greece and Turkey, it's as big as the lake. So this is a sea for me."
Streeterville's proximity to the lake is a big part of what caused Demirkan and his longtime girlfriend and music partner Sertab Erener to move to Chicago. Their band, aptly named Painted on Water, draws inspiration from lakes, seas and oceans, Demirkan said.
"Whenever we have free time and we're not in the city, we're always by the water," he said. "We like sailing a lot. If we want to go somewhere on vacation, we're always by the water. I'm glad that we're by the water [here] — that influences your whole process of writing."
The couple moved to 500 Lake Shore Drive in July for a musical project they're involved in at Northwestern University, and so they could launch their North American tour from the Old Town School of Folk Music.
With their 7 p.m. show March 15 at the school at 4544 N. Lincoln Ave. nearly sold out, they just added a second performance at 10 p.m.
After that, their tour heads to New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Toronto.
In 2003, Erener won the Eurovision Song Contest, which pits artists from European Union countries against each other in a televised battle, similar to "American Idol." She performed "Everyway That I Can," the first time a Turkish artist sang entirely in English. The song was later a Top 10 hit in Turkey, Sweden, Greece, Spain, Belgium, Holland and Austria.
Demirkan's past credits include six years playing guitar with Turkish metal band Mezarkabul. The couple of 16 years became musical partners, and their wide-ranging repertoire now cross-references pop, electronica, rock and Turkish folk music.
Erener's power pop vocals and Demirkan's heavy alternative guitar style combine in their latest EP, "Chicago Issue."
Demirkan and Erener initially considered moving to Evanston, but they fell in love with Streeterville almost immediately.
"When we were coming here on our previous visits for shows, we've always stayed downtown, so we knew the area," he said. "We were going to the AMC 21 Theater and Niu, the sushi place all the time. ... When we decided to move, we thought we might want to be closer to [Evanston], but we like the city, and the best neighborhood we could find was right there."
"Now, when we walk into Niu, they know us there," Demirkan said. "It makes us feel less homesick."
While they often return to Turkey to visit family, perform and do promotions, Painted on Water has moved most of their production work to the Chicago area. They're recording their new album, due out this spring, at Wax Trax, and Demirkan said he did most of his writing in their Streeterville apartment.
During their extended stays in America for projects, Demirkan and Erener have lived in New York and Los Angeles, but said Chicago feels the most like home.
"It's relaxed here, and really organized — you can really concentrate on your music," Demirkan said.
There's only one thing about Chicago that Demirkan worries might drive them away.
"I didn't really know that Chicago would get this cold," he said. "I'm kind of waking up every morning and thinking about what it's like in southern Turkey right now."