The Sojourners
(Oil Magazine Interview 7/1/96)

(BRIGHTON)-Their music barrels along like a gatecrasher in a tux drunk on cheap beer staggering through a society ball - rough, raw but with a touch of class.

Given all that, Sojourners' guitarist/vocalist Joel Arant comes across as being soft-spoken, if not a little self-effacing. Or maybe he's just tired from his day job as a shipper.

"Yeah, I kind of miss being able to work at home," he says, commenting on his wife and co-band member Jan Arant, who stays at home and tends to the business of running The Sojourners. "It's hard to work all day and then come home and think, 'Now, I've got to do the band thing.' It can be tough to find the energy."

The Sojourners, two years old at this point, are very much a family affair. Along with Joel and bassist Jan, Joel's sister Holly sings and plays a keyboard instrument called a cordovox--drummer Jeff Farber is the only non-relation.

They named the band after a book by Marjorie Rawlings called The Sojourner. As the story goes, Joel and Jeff had played cover tunes prior to writing their own material with The Sojourners. Wanting to do more of an original thing, they looked around for bass players, not particularly caring about ability as much as attitude. "It was easy to find people that were technically competent that you could fight with all the time," comments Joel. They turned to Jan and eventually, Joel's sister joined up as well, claiming she left her home in Nevada with "the express purpose of joining The Sojourners," Joel explains.

The Sojourners' latest album, Pretty as a Picture, manages to take the raw grit and rock and roll drive of pioneering Los Angeles band X (Joel and Jan's harmony vocals sound not unlike a version of John Doe and Exene Cervenka, only on key) and imbues it with some of the mystery of the early Doors. "There's a lot of happy accidents on the album," laughs Joel about The Sojourners' ability to turn handicaps into advantages. Tracks like 'Living Like a King' and 'Judgment Day' rock with a cocky assuredness. 'Hard (As I Wanna Be)', one of the band's favorite cuts, comes off as a statement of intent: "You might forget your own true name, when you're riding on the gravy train/You might slip beneath the wheel, as you try to cut a better deal...If I ain't ready I'll be the first to know/I'm just as hard, hard, hard as I wanna be." One of the most unusual songs (and popular tracks, according to Joel) is the title cut, a piece of blues-without-sounding-like-blues sung in a ghostly style by Jan.

Currently, most of the band is based in Brighton, Iowa, a small, low-key town about 40 minutes south of Iowa City, "the closest place to Iowa City that we could afford," says Jan.

The town fits in with The Sojourners' careful, cautious approach to their music career, which has seen their CD, via the band's web pages on the Internet, attract overseas interest in Europe and China. "I don't think you can expect to make money," explains Joel about the music business for him. "I think you can hope to make money but I don't think you can go into recording a CD and playing gigs and think 'I'm going to make money doing this.' Unless you make that your prime objective, in which case, I don't think you would play original material.

"But I think just getting played on the air is the most fun part."

The Sojourners perform(ed) July 12 at Palmer College Student Union in Davenport and Sheffield's on July 27 in Des Moines.

-Brad Harvey

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