Interview: SOJA

Interview: SOJA

At the famous Fox Theater in Boulder, Colorado, The Pier was invited onto SOJA’s tour bus for an exclusive interview with front man Jacob Hemphill. The group was on their Everything Changes tour w/Chris Boomer & Mambo Sauce and gave some insight into their new album, Music Video on MTV, Living in Africa, South American fans & talks about SOJA being in the same sentence as Black Eyed Peas & Taylor Swift… Enjoy!

The Pier: In your latest single Everything Changes, you speak of life in terms of power and riches over poverty and heartache and taking it upon yourself to make change. What inspired the writing process for this latest single?
Jacob: It was Haiti last year when all of that was going on. I realized that we would hear about it for a little bit and then it was going to go off of air and people would start to forget about such a tragic event and start to focus on something stupid like Charlie Sheens drug bust or whatever. I believe in karma and if karma is for real, I realize that I will one day be born into a situation that those people are in or one day, in my lifetime, something may happen in the developed world and it will switch places with the underdeveloped world. It even said in the Bible that The meek shall inherit the earth and that’s something that you know in your heart. It’s a lot like when you’re watching a movie and you want the underdog to win and the underdogs cannot continue to lose over and over again. So Everything Changes is all about the ifs of our roles being reversed. As in, we are the poor people and they were the rich people.

The Pier: The music video for Everything Changes premiered on MTV’U’s The Freshmen and your fans voted to get it into rotation. How did that turn out?
Jacob: That was interesting because we realized that you can vote as many times as you want so we told our fans to vote as many times as possible and we came in second. What was funny was when my friend texted me and told me that we were on top 100. I texted back and told my friend that it was kind of rigged and to not feel like he had to vote a bunch of times. He replied back telling me that we were listed on MTV’s top 100 period. Because it was actually based off of total actual views it put us on number 49 of all of MTV. It was crazy to see Black Eyed Peas, SOJA, and Taylor Swift in the same category.

The Pier: You guys recently released your Everything Changes EP and the response has been great! Can we expect a full length follow up album to Born in Babylon in 2011?
Jacob: We have a whole album that is basically finished and sitting in my basement. We have a vision for this album but we want to check our options before we just decide to release it. We keep adding songs to it and it’s probably up to 16 songs now.

The Pier: It’s a process and I guess that’s why they call it a process (laughs). Not only has SOJA been embraced here in the U.S., but globally. Your guy’s positive message through music has transcended through Puerto Rico, Brazil, and Argentina, averaging anywhere from 1,500-16,000 fans in attendance, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What is the reaction like in those countries?
Jacob: South America is our biggest market and it gets crazy down there. Reggae is truly a part of the mainstream of music down there. It’s not like some counter culture niche thing. Their day to day lives is what reggae music is made up of. We love to play there.

The Pier: Judging by some of the YouTube videos I have seen, I can see the love that South America has for SOJA. You lived in Africa as a kid. What was that like?
Jacob: My father was working in Africa (Liberia) for an election that was going on. Being that Liberia, which means liberty, was named by former U.S. president James Monroe and that former Americans have always had control over Liberia, African candidates never won the election even when they had 99% of the votes. My father was over there making sure that the African guy rightfully won the election. Unfortunately the candidate that was able to trace his roots all the way back to being from America won again. We were one of the last planes to get out of the country and he did not let anyone else leave for a couple of years after that. So, we were lucky.

The Pier: Is it true that you freestyle a lot on stage?
Jacob: (laughs) I used to a lot more than I do now. Now, all of the fans know the lyrics to our songs so I have to stick to the songs as written.

The Pier: Do you guys find it ironic that you are one of the top roots reggae bands actively touring right now and you are from D.C. where Government and Corporation is king?
Jacob:: My father told me to not use my pen to say a bunch of outlandish shit that I cannot back up, because someday, someone is going to call me out on it if I did. People ask me that question about being from Virginia and white guys singing reggae music. The thing that has always appealed to me about reggae is that you have to back up what you are singing about. We feel that we can back up everything that we are singing about. It doesn’t matter where I am from. I can look out of my back window of my place and see the White House, Washington Monument, and Jefferson Memorial. I can look at the Pentagon and watch the plane crash into it. I can see this shit from my window and people ask me What do you know about Babylon? I’m like, You’re kidding… We are not out here trying to be Jamaican. We are just out here trying to do our thing. We have nothing but respect for Jamaican Reggae and that is where we learned it.

The Pier: You guys brought Chris Boomer with you on tour. How did this relationship develop between SOJA and Chris?
Jacob: We went to Guam a few years ago, and when we arrived, nobody was tired. So, we decided to go to this bar and watch this cover band by the name of Rebel Lion play reggae. They were a great cover band and had a good lead singer. There backup singer was Chris and there was something about his voice that had me zoned in on him when he was singing. So, I went up to him after the show and asked him if we could write a song together for his band. We went to the hotel and wrote You and Me that is on the album Born in Babylon in ten minutes. Later, I invited him to my place back home in Virginia and we did all of the vocal recording for his album “I Am Who I Am” in three days. He went back home to Guam and over the next year, I invited some of my friends that play in other bands to help me with the recording process to finish the album. Pat O’Shea did the bubbles and the rhythm stuff, Marley from Rebelution is on one of the tracks, and Marcus Urani from Groundation is on one of the tracks as well. The album came out and has done really well and peaked at #3 on iTunes. We are very proud of it.

The Pier: SOJA and Chris Boomer looks promising! Thanks for your time guys.

Interview by: Chad Hillje
Edited by: Kyle Hillje