Diane Theunissen

23 Jun

On Our Radar: Arno Saari Reconnects With Himself and Music

Earlier this year, we launched our series ‘On Our Radar‘, where we highlight up-and-coming artists with a clear vision and undeniable talent. Today, we’re putting the spotlight on Arno Saari, who just kicked off his solo career with the release of the stylish yet introspective track “L’Orage”. We caught up with the artist on the rooftop of the KBR in Brussels to chat about his debut as a solo artist, Brussels’s creative community, and the mysterious message behind his stage name.

You dropped your debut single “L’Orage” a few days ago. Why did you return to music and release this project?

To be honest, I never really stopped making music. I’ve always carried on composing and producing but without any specific goal in mind. I always wonder why you go public as an artist, it’s a particular process. I believe you make music because it makes you happy: sometimes you’re really into it, and you think, “Ah fuck, that’s cool”. That being said, most of the time the stuff you come up with makes you think “Shit that sucks, that sucks, that sucks”. Then you’re not having such a good time anymore. (laughs)

Talking with Jean—who mixed the track and is a very encouraging person—as well as with the guys from Ulysse clearly motivated me to jump in. And it’s satisfying to have a project that exists, even though people don’t like it or ignore it. There’s music I’m not receptive to either, but I still think it’s cool that something exists, and that it creates a reaction within the audience. Music is shaping the way culture evolves, and I think that’s pretty great.

What message did you want to convey with this new track?

“L’Orage” perfectly describes my relationship with creation, although it’s quite figuratively. I believe it also reflects the importance of finding your place and feeling good about yourself at a certain point in your life. Personally, I’ve always been longing for that; even as a kid, I always felt the urge of discovering new things, as if I was never in the right place. The track also reflects the paradoxical relationship I have with creativity and art in general: it’s something I love to do and I come back to it all the time, but deep down it’s also often a source of harassment. You analyze yourself a lot, and it’s not always positive. The track is also very introspective: the storm is what you have inside.

That being said, as a listener, I like to be able to have my own interpretation of things, so I like it when the texts leave room for that. And that’s what I’m trying to do here.

Your music draws on various genres, influences, and styles. How would you define your sound?

I have no idea. It might be a bit of a cliché to say that you don’t want to be classified or have a particular genre, but I wouldn’t know how to answer this question. To be honest, I don’t really think about it—I know what I like, what influences me, and it’s very diverse. Sometimes it’s also a flaw because you want to do everything at once: you’re influenced by so many different things that you just want to include it all. (laughs)

When I was a kid, you had to choose a style of music, a clothing style, and your friends would do the same. Now, there are so many things happening at the same time that you don’t know where to look at: whether it’s in terms of fashion, series, music, everything has exploded. I quite enjoy this, the fact that it doesn’t matter if your piece doesn’t fit in a very precise box.

Then again, my music could be defined as pop: it has a pop structure, and there are vocals. The end is more instrumental, but then again, nowadays there are a lot of projects that tend to make pop as original as possible, and I really like this approach. “L’Orage” isn’t an 8-minute experimental track either: you have a song, you have a chorus, but you can also be surprised by the chord progressions. That’s what inspires me a lot.

What are your main inspirations?

I don’t really know what inspired me for this particular track, it’s evolved a lot. It started with just the chord progression, which I’ve had in mind for a really long time, and a beat that I modified later on. I worked with my cousin on the track, he did the bass line. I really wanted a jazzy bass on it, and he’s a jazz musician. So I sent him the demo, he did like a ten-minute improvisation, and I edited some phrases in there. It clearly gave another color to the piece.


How would you put that into a bigger picture?

For the project in general, there are a lot of artists who inspired me. Solange, for instance—I find her very inspiring. Her music doesn’t have anything to do with mine, but what I really appreciate is the minimalistic aspect of her work, the way she manages to remove unnecessary things. It inspires me in the sense that it’s something I’m trying to do more because I have a lot of ideas, but I can’t make a choice. (laughs) I also love the work of Tyler, The Creator. I believe they both take a lot of risks in the songs they release: if you hear them for the first time, you rarely think, “This is a hit.”

It takes an effort to get into it. And usually, when you do make the effort, you end up being really attached to them. I could list so many other artists, and again, they’re really varied. For instance, I listened to Daft Punk recently when they announced the end of their project, and that really inspired me too. I listen to it, and I think, “Look at that: beautiful synths and chords that speak to me!”. With them, everything is thoughtful.

That all seems fairly technical!

It is, although the funny thing is that I have absolutely no musical technique. (laughs) I’m not a real musician. I’ve been playing guitar since childhood, but I can’t even name the chords I’m playing. It’s all about accidents, which I think is pretty great because it allows you to keep a spontaneous approach to music. That being said, it’s also tiring: you never know where you’re going! There are a lot more artists in pop and mainstream music that take risks in terms of the chords they go for. It’s surprising, yet it gives flavor to the project.

You’ve been part of the Brussels-based band Ulysse for years. How did this experience influence your solo career?

I thought a lot about it when I kicked off my solo project. When Benoît, Julien, and I started the band, we didn’t have a clue about the way the music industry worked, we didn’t even know that press officers existed. (laughs) It was all about spontaneity. So obviously, we learned a lot. This experience was like a laboratory for us: we experimented a lot, we learned how to structure our writing, and I sort of learned to sing. (laughs) It also gave me strength and confidence; it was such a fantastic feeling to receive people’s feedback, it just makes you want to do more. It also allowed me to understand what I’m good at, and what I like. In terms of influences, I guess you can hear it in all my synths choices. (laughs)

You spent most of your life in Brussels. How does this city influence your creativity?

It’s funny, Brussels has changed on so many levels in the past few years. It’s hard to explain but I feel like a few years ago, it was almost impossible to make music in Brussels and export your project elsewhere. These days, there are so many projects emerging from the city, you can really feel that Brussels influences the French-speaking community. It’s incredible to live in a place where creative stuff is happening: there are various scenes and subcultures, some French artists even decide to move in here.

Brussels is such a cosmopolitan city, and you can really feel that in the music that emerges from it. As an artist living in Brussels, you’re confronted with so many different genres and influences that it creates some sort of illegitimate music. (laughs) In Brussels, you don’t have to choose between this or that. It’s so small that you quickly meet everybody and interact with the various scenes, whether it’s jazz, pop, rock, or electro. Everyone interacts with each other, and it works out pretty well.

Do you benefit from that diversity?

Absolutely. I believe it’s really healthy. It’s similar to friendships: you’re not only confronted with people that resemble you or have similar tastes.

We’re curious, what’s the story behind your artist name?

It’s an extraordinary story. It goes back to my teenage years: I used to do lots of skateboarding back then, I was basically riding and learning new tricks every day. My favorite skater was named Arto Saari, and on all my school books I would write “Arno Saari”. I also tagged it a lot, it was my 13-year-old self alias. It’s similar to when you’re a kid and you love football, you tell everyone in the playground you’re David Beckham. My real name is really tricky to pronounce, it’s really long too, so I told myself, “Okay, I need to find a name that resonates with my story,” and that one was first in line.

Do you still skate?

Yes, but in a very amateur and almost-thirty-year-old way, which means I fall off easily. (laughs)

What’s the next step in your creative career?

My mission now is to really kick off my solo project. I believe it’s easier to make plans when you already have something out there. On the face of it, the plan would be to drop a second track in September, and maybe another one after that. I just want to carry on unveiling the project to people, I know asking them to listen to new music is really demanding, it takes time. For now, I just want to let them discover the project. But I’d love to drop an album next year. I already finished a few tracks, and I still have plenty of ideas I’d like to explore. But I think I’m going to skip the EP phase, I want to jump right in and release an album directly. We only did EPs with Ulysse, and dropping an album under my solo project would be fantastic.

Pictures by Seb Desprez and Diane Theunissen for Enfnts Terribles.

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