NewTracks New Artist: Sojourn

NewTracks New Artist: Sojourn

When a high school teacher and a former student form a band it says a lot about mutual respect and love for music. The foundation of laid-back rock reggae funk fusion band Sojourn from around Mangawhai is based on such a story, and the school in question is Bream Bay College – made world-famous in NZ by allowing Alien Weaponry to give international fame a shot with one foot still under a school desk. Sojourn caught the ears of NZ On Air Music, who placed their latest single, Still A Mess, on the NewTracks March compilation.

So who’s in Sojourn, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

Isaac: My name is Isaac Hunter, I am from a small town called One Tree Point on Northland’s East coast. I play a bunch of instruments, drums, guitar, keys, but my main instrument is guitar.

Tony: My name is Tony Baker and I hail from a little surf town called Mangawhai Heads on the east coast. I play bass guitar in Sojourn. Our band also features Elias Giles on keys, Jim Bokma (drums), James Finlay (guitar), Jacob O’Brien playing saxophone and vocals from Annaree Peters.

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

Isaac: High school music was hugely important for how I have been shaped into the musician I am today. Bream Bay College has the best performing arts department out of any school I’ve seen in NZ. I was very lucky to have that environment to help me thrive as a musician. (Alien Weaponry also hail from this kura!)

Any other projects might we know you from?

Isaac: I performed in Smokefree Rockquest all through high school and was involved in a bunch of high school bands, but Sojourn is my main project now. I do write and produce a little bit of my own music in my spare time.

What’s the background story of how Sojourn came to be? 

Isaac: During the summer of 2018 I was at the Cove Café in Waipu Cove, watching Tony and James playing an acoustic set as The Aloha Corner. I know Tony as he was a teacher at Bream Bay College when I was there, and the boys invited me up to play a couple of songs -and from there the rest is history.
I ended up moving to Dunedin halfway through 2018 to study music at Otago University, and during that time away the band recruited three new members, Annaree, Elias and Jim which became the foundation for Sojourn. I came home for summer break at the end of 2018 and at the start of 2019, we started booking some incredible shows with some of Aotearoa’s best artists such as Mako Road, The Butlers, Summer Thieves and Sons of Zion

How has your music evolved from your beginnings to now?

Isaac: When we first started writing it was really organic in the way we could all sit in a room with our instruments and just play until we heard something we liked. We each have our own styles of playing and would each be able to have some input into the songs that we were writing.
Nowadays we don’t so much write our songs together to start with but tend to go away and write in our own time, then when we come together at practice we have something new and fresh to bring to the table. From there the foundation of a song is done and other members of the band can have their input and start building it from there. 

How did you come up with the name for the new project?

Tony: In our early days we did a lot of jamming in the sun on various people’s decks. We’d kind of lose ourselves in the music and a close mate described our little sessions and tunes as a bit of a ‘sojourn’. I floated the idea with the boys, and it was decided. We like to think our music takes people on a bit of a sojourn.

Isaac: Tony had suggested the name Sojourn and I wasn’t too sure what I meant so I asked Mum (’cause what else are mums for?!), and she told me that the definition is ‘a temporary stay’. I instantly related that to music and how I use it as my temporary escape from everyday life.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date? 

Isaac: For me personally it was opening for Mako Road on both occasions (Butter Factory and Leigh Sawmill in 2019). The boys from Mako are absolute GCs and always have a great time with them. The type of crowd and energy they bring to their shows is incredible. Rowdy, youthful energy, the perfect crowd to play to in my opinion!

Tony: Last year we had some amazing opportunities to showcase our music, including live performances as part of NZ Music Month and live on air on 95bFM, RNZ and Bass FM. We’ve been super lucky. I agree with Isaac, playing with Mako Road is definitely a highlight. The boys are super cool and really helpful and put on an absolutely killer live show. That and playing shows and having the crowd sing along to our songs. Pretty epic feeling!

What makes Still A Mess stand out for you as a single?

Isaac: What I really like about Still A Mess is that it’s just easy listening. The pretty chord progression with the simple and clear lyrics makes the track one you can listen to any time, anywhere. I like it when I don’t have to question the music too much and am able to just vibe with the track, and that’s what I feel Still A Mess does.  

What is the story behind Still A Mess?

Isaac: I started writing Still A Mess in 2019 while I was living in Dunedin. I was partying a lot and wasn’t motivated towards uni. I was also really missing home and my family and just had no idea what I was doing with myself and knew that I wanted to do more. It felt good to smoke, drink and party with my friends – I loved it and it would keep me distracted from any negative thoughts I had… for a while!
It was when I’d wake up in my room, by myself, stuck with my thoughts and feelings and just feel so down – with no way of explaining what the hell was going on. So in an attempt to stop over-thinking the thoughts that were bothering me, I wrote about it.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

Isaac: There are so many cool things in Still A Mess that I love, like the lyric, “So I might just bake up. ‘Cause the pain’s in my lungs and not my chest.” I’m not sure why ’cause when ya lungs hurt you do feel the pain in your chest, so it doesn’t really make sense, but it was a line that I thought would be a little bit witty and creative, so it’s in there! But my favourite thing in there is the chirping birds at the start of the song, which is actually an audio recording from my phone taken up in the paddocks of Takahiwai. A little piece of home to bring you into the track!

Who did you record/produce the single with and where? 

Isaac: We recorded Still A Mess along with another track (Take a Drive, ‘Summer Tape’ EP) at Roundhead Studios in Auckland. We had the very talented Paddy Hill running the show for us in there while we walked around nerding out at the amazing equipment they had at RH. Paddy is amazing to record with and threw so many cool ideas at us to add to the production of the song.

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

Isaac: I always want the listener to enjoy the music before they fully listen to the lyrics which I feel Still A Mess is a good example of. I don’t want the listener to feel upset by the lyrics in the song, but to feel uplifted by the music and to get a good, cruisey vibe from it.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

Tony: Still A Mess came about really easily for us. Isaac was back from Otago and he dropped it one night at rehearsal, and we all knew instantly that was going to be our next recording. I guess the ‘Summer Tape’ EP (2-tracks) was about us showing our true colours in terms of our music. It’s been mind-blowing to see how well Still A Mess has done as a track.

Who else is in your team?

Tony: We are totally self-managed. Last year we had input from Steven Dobbs (sound engineer for Katchafire, Cornerstone Roots) who helped us with polishing up aspects of our live shows. Andy Low and the team at DRM have helped us with all our releases to date and gave Still A Mess a nudge at their end.
Isaac already mentioned the genius that is Paddy Hill (Roundhead). For us mostly it’s been about building good connections within the industry…
Personally I’d say CJ and the lads from Mako Road has been the biggest influencer on me as a musician, in terms of setting a direction for Sojourn. They have always been super helpful and when we are trying to make a “next step” plan, they have some pretty good insights.
Actually most of the bands and industry people we have worked with have been really helpful, and we like that whanau vibe. We have recently joined MMF too for some help, and have some upcoming mentoring with Craig Pearce (The Black Seeds) which will be rad. 

Are there any other musical endeavours that we should keep an eye out for? 

Nothing in the pipeline at this stage. We are headed back to the studio in April, so watch this space for new tunes coming real soon.

Can you please name some other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside yours.

L.A.BIn The Air

MasayaTongue & Groove

Mako Road – Drink the water

Katchafire- 100

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others?

Tony: We first applied for NZOA NewTracks when we released Follow Me in March 2019. When I look back at those earlier submissions, I understand now that meeting the criteria is really important to show your commitment to creating and producing top quality music in NZ. I remember talking to Jeff Newton at NZOA and he kind of set me straight.

Basically he said if you want to get the recognition from NZOA then you need to be meeting all the criteria, but more importantly it’s essential to be recording and releasing the best music you can produce.

That was the catalyst for us going to Roundhead and working with Paddy Hill. We knew we had something special in Still A Mess and we knew that by recording at one of the best studios in the Southern Hemisphere we could create something that was a huge step up from our previous releases!

Still A Mess has already had some radio play, we are super excited to see where it ends up next. Being recognised by NZOA is an awesome achievement for us.

Was there any NZOA criterion you struggled with in the application? 

Tony: The criteria actually were a real guide for us, we always met the minimum but there were some aspects that we worked hard to achieve. For example, we just completed a five-show headline summer tour which was amazing. I guess the numbers of Still A Mess really stacked up, alongside us meeting the criteria.

Any last words?

Just a massive thanks to everyone for supporting our music. We’ve had an epic summer touring and playing shows. Watch this space for new music coming soon.