What’s your name?
Arno Sojo. I opted for the Sweet Gum Tree moniker in 2009 when initiating my solo project.
Give us a little bio about you.
I was born and raised in France, where I still live. I’ve been recording music and touring for a couple of decades already, mostly as a guitar player, in countless bands. At some point I set up Sojo Glider with my brother and my girlfriend, and we release three albums, notably “Man Sleeps To Forget”(2008, Discograph), which we recorded in New-York with producer Malcolm Burn (known for his work with Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop or Patti Smith, among others). The band barely survived this third LP and soon it made sense to go solo.
How would you describe your music?
I like blending textures and atmospherics with a more traditional singer-songwriter approach. There’s a bit of shoegaze and dream pop in there. You could label it as poetic, melancholic, romantic, cinematic (and a hundred more words in ”-ic’’, not implying pathetic !)
Are you a signed artist?
No, I release the music through my own imprint, which has distribution deals with The Orchard for digital and Plastic Head for physical.
You’re set to release a brand-new album, ‘Sustain The Illusion’, could you tell us the meaning behind the title?
The title nods to Wes Anderson’s movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, itself based on the writings of Stefan Zweig about Europe sinking into barbarity in the 1930’s, which retains much relevance today. The illusion being referred to would be that of humanity. Hence the lyric bit in the song called The Gift : “If we cannot make this world humane, at least we can sustain the illusion with grace”.
Try and describe each track in two words!
BREAKING THE BOND : light-and-shade, liberation
TWINKLE : playfulness, philosophy
SOMEDAY : utopia, pacifism
ROLLERCOASTER : female, courage
FAIRWEATHER FAITH : friendship, betrayal
STARS ALIGN : romance, fate
GUILT TRIP : witch hunt
CLEAN SLATE : childhood, memories
BURN YOUR ICONS : heroes, society
THE GIFT : father, son
KEEPER : darkness, lullaby
What was the writing process like?
Fresh, spontaneous, urgent, visceral, liberating. No written scores as opposed to the classically-arranged previous album. More heartfelt this time, less cerebral.
What was the recording process like?
After “The Snakes You Charm & The Wolves You Tame” and its cast of twenty plus musicians playing live, it felt weird and lonely but also playful to work on the initial home recordings. I had to rely on myself and technology to bring those new songs to life. I enjoyed getting to play a lot of different instruments : drums, keyboards and bass in addition to the guitars and vocals. I got myself a cheap analog drum machine, which was fun to use and sounded pretty good. As much as the previous record relied on acoustic textures and natural instruments, this time I enjoyed shaping sounds with otherworldly qualities. When I was ready to go to a proper studio I played the material to Irish producer David Odlum, as we’d planned from the start. He’s great at bringing out the best in you, never forcing things out, acting more like a revelator, with a lot of patience, understanding and sensitivity. With musicians Romy (keyboards) and Elise (violin) we went to do some live recordings for a couple of days at Studio Black Box, where David is a resident engineer. The last overdubs and the mixing were completed months after that, so we might have lost some momentum there, but we definitely gained perspective.
Are you heading out on tour with the Album?
We’re working on it, there are a few dates being scheduled for the Spring, but hopefully in the Fall I might be able to tour more extensively, fingers crossed.
You have confirmed you are performing on the 5th April at The Good Ship, are you excited?
Sure, London is my favourite travelling destination, and yet I’ve only played there once before. As humbling as it can be to perform in culturally rich cities, there’s also usually a better reception of the project.
You have collaborated with some great names, Isobel of Belle &Sebastian, Earl Harvin of Tindersticks, and many more, what was it like to work with them?
It was thrilling, rewarding, and kind of unreal. Working with those artists I admire took none of the magic away, and I’m glad I’ve got those recordings to remind me that I haven’t been dreaming. Their presence on the project felt like a validation of my ideas, and it helped me build a bit more self-confidence. They certainly enhanced the songs a great deal, but then so did every other musician I’ve had the pleasure to work with, famous or not.
Did you receive any advice?
Very little actually, perhaps out of respect for my own vision, which those musicians were trying to help me achieve, and it even strikes me that I never followed the rare piece of advice that was offered by those heroes of mine, like when Isobel Campbell suggested recording a French version of “Bird Of Passage” for instance. But then we’re both self-admitted control freaks !
What made you first go into music?
I had an epiphany listening to Pink Floyd at the age of two, and since then, playing records, writing songs and performing them has been my main interest in life.
Are you playing at any festivals this year?
Not yet, but I’m still hoping to.
What are your favourite instruments to play?
Guitar first, and then piano. I got my first six-string at the age of three, and it’s been my obsession ever since.
Who are your musical influences?
Gaz Coombes, Kurt Vile, David Bowie, The Church, Talk Talk, Doves, David Sylvian, Lloyd Cole, Echo & the Bunnymen, Elysian Fields, Joseph Arthur, Ed Harcourt, Badly Drawn Boy…
How do you get inspiration to write songs?
It’s hardly ever a conscious process, that’s the beauty of inspiration. The main ideas come out of the blue, knocking at your door. Suddenly a song is here for you to capture. Of course every creative mind is like a sponge and so you constantly absorb things, from life, from other works of art… Sooner or later some of that gets recycled one way or another, feeding your imagination.
Where do you see yourself in 5 Years?
Probably still where I am today, perhaps living in a foreign country, like Canada… I don’t really have a plan for the rest of my life, and it feels great. My only certainty is that I’ll still be writing and recording music, as I always have, regardless circumstances, whether I have an audience or not, making art for art’s sake…
When you’re not involved in music, what do you like to do?
Well… playing records, reading books, going to the movies, but most of all spending time with my son, this is the best part, the most fun.
What was the song that made you want to go into the music scene?
“Under The Milky Way” by Australian band The Church. As a teenager I recall standing spellbound for those 4:59 minutes of velvet underkill, and by the time the song ended, my life had changed : a part of myself that I didn’t know was there had been revealed to me, and all of a sudden I knew who I was, in all my human complexity. In terms of mood, texture, this song stood out at the time from other productions. I still can’t believe it became such a hit, but it paved the way for the belief that this kind of “melancholic” music, reflecting a particular set of values, not the most commonly shared, could still somehow, almost accidentally, seduce large audiences.
If your music was featured in a TV show or Film which one would it be?
I don’t know, it could end up in many places I think, not necessarily the most predictable ones. But someone should get “The Gift” featured in a romantic comedy, that might actually make sense.
What’s the best advice you have ever been given?
To remain true to myself.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians not about the industry and just as an artist?
Become who you are, and don’t be afraid to value the things that make you special, different, and ultimately unique.
What quote or saying do you always stick by?
There are many of them, but here’s a good one, from the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr : “To have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”.
When you come back off tour, what is the…
First place you visit?
Angers (France), my hometown.
First person you see?
First thing you eat?
When you are at a gig, what are 5 things you cannot forget?
– Which songs made the setlist
– The line-up
– The vibe from the audience, people’s behaviour, which can transcend the show or ruin it all
– Ultimately, that unexpected moment when you make eye contact with the performer during a song
– The occasional little chat with the musicians after the show
Do you have social media accounts so your fans can follow you?