An Interview With the DC-Based Reggae Band, SOJA!
Posted On 11 Dec 2017
Meet the DC-based band SOJA! They’ve played virtually every major festival including Bonnaroo, sold out Red Rocks, toured with Dave Matthews Band, Incubus, 311 +more, have over 300M Youtube views, been nominated for two Grammys, have 4.5 Million Facebook fans and 3 Billboard #1 debuts on the reggae charts.
Founder/front-man Jacob Hemphill was brought up in Liberia, where his father worked for the International Monetary Fund (IMF). One of his earliest memories is hiding in an iron bathtub for three days after a violent military coup brought constant street shootings. Their family managed to escape on the last flight out.
Their new album ‘Poetry In Motion’ (out now on ATO) coincides with the band’s 20th anniversary, and they’ve never sounded better, going back to their roots – pulling everything from Latin music, DC Hardcore, rock, hip-hop into their signature reggae sound. They recorded the new album at Dave Matthews’ studio in Charlottesville, VA, near where the band formed. That location has given the album a new weight and poignancy following last months’ protest. This sense of social awareness is stronger on ‘Poetry In Motion’ than it has been on any previous SOJA album.
After moving to the DC-area, Jacob met SOJA co-founder Bob Jefferson in the 1st grade and they were already performing together by middle-school. Their music tackles everything from government corruption to immigrants to marriage, to veterans rights. They truly are a global band – Hawaii is SOJA’s most successful market in the U.S. outside of their native DC/Virginia; in both territories, they have sold out 8k capacity venues. They play similarly sized venues in South America, especially in Brazil, home to 1 million of their Facebook followers.
Learn more about SOJA in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time for another All Access interview! Where does this interview you today? Is there music playing in the background? What is it? What is one song that you are all loving right now? What is a song that you disagree about loving right now?
I’m being interviewed in Santiago, Chile! We’re right at the end of our South American tour for 2017, and no, there is no music playing in the background. It is a silent hotel room. One of the songs that we’re all loving right now is “Everything to Me.” I wrote it about my dad passing on, but it’s a positive song, kinda celebrating how awesome I always thought that he was and still is.
How did this group first come to be? Can you recall the moment where you all thought you could be in a band together? Was it hard to come up with a name that you could all agree on? How did you come up with your band name?
The group first came to be in middle school. Me and Bob would do talent shows and then we formed SOJA in high school with Ryan Berty and Ken Brownell. Pat joined during college. The moment that I realized that we might be a real band is when we got to Hawaii and I saw our picture on a billboard. And then I saw us in a newspaper and then I heard us on the radio. And I thought to myself, ‘Holy crap, we’re like a real band!’ It wasn’t hard to come up with the name. Israel Vibration had a song called “Soldiers of Jah Army” and Peter Tosh had a song called “Recruiting Soldiers.” And we got our name from both those influences.
How do you think this band has been influenced by the city you are from? How did that music scene affect you all?
We’ve been influenced by the city we come from; Arlington, Virginia, which is a suburb of Washington, D.C. There’s a lot of politics in the music.
How does 2017 compare to last year? What all are you most excited about for 2018?
2017 is weird because Donald Trump is the president, but also I think it’s a time for people to learn how to come together. It doesn’t really matter who won or who you voted for – what matters is, ‘Can we come up with a solution here?’
How has SOJA ultimately grown over the years? What has remained the same about the band and your sound?
SOJA has grown a lot over the years, musically and together. We’ve become different people in front of each others’ eyes. And the thing that’s remained the same about the band–I was talking to Bobby Lee and Patrick O’Shea this morning over lunch about it–is that we still try to make music that can heal part of the world. Or at least attempt to.
Can you talk about what it was like putting together your newest album, “Poetry In Motion”? Were there any unexpected surprises or challenges? What was it like recording it at Dave Matthews’ studio in Charlottesville, VA? How do you think this process has changed for you all through the years?
Putting together the new record was fun because we got to arrange it, produce it, write it, and record it together in the same room. We did everything together. There were a lot of unexpected surprises and challenges. That’s how it is when you’re making a record. Stuff just keeps coming up. The Dave Matthews Band studio in Charlottesville, Virginia was an amazing place to record. The gear is insane–they got a lot of analog stuff. And, best of all, probably, was their engineer, Rob, who was there everyday helping us make the record.
Could you pick a couple of your favorite songs from this collection and tell us how they were created from beginning to end?
A couple of the favorite songs from the record…I think it’s too early to pick favorites. I still love ‘em all. It’s all really brand new. They’re normally created the same way I write some lyrics. I write a melody, we get together, and we write the rest of the song.
Is it hard to believe that you have been making music together for 20 years? What do you think keeps you all motivated and rejuvenated year after year?
It is hard to believe that we’ve been making music together for 20 years! We’re lucky. I’m not sure what keeps us motivated. For me, personally, it’s looking at these guys and seeing how amazing they can be. That’s the main thing for me.
I would love to hear more about your intense fan-base in Hawaii and Brazil! Why do you think your fans are heavily saturated in those places? What has it been like playing over there?
The intense fan-base in Hawaii and Brazil is awesome! All over South America we do some pretty crazy shows, and in Central America and Europe. I think reggae is taken pretty seriously in these markets, so it helps us do some really amazing shows.
With all the past touring experience that this band has had in the past, I am curious to know what’s been a favorite show of yours? What was the venue and what was the crowd like?
One of the favorite shows of mine? I don’t know, I think there’s something special about every show. It’s really hard to pick a favorite, honestly .
Who are some of your favorite artists right now? Who would you love to work with in the future? What would be a dream collaboration for this group?
Some of my favorite artists right now are probably Ed Sheeran and Adele. They’re both very incredible songwriters. Who would I like to work with in the future? Probably Paul Simon and Sade.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
We hope that the message is that this world could be a beautiful place, a beautiful experience where we can all try to come together and love each other. And I think that’s the main thing that SOJA is about. Thank you guys very much.