DCMD Interview: SOJA’s Jacob Hemphill On Finding Success Outside of D.C.

SOJA Press_2014_Credit Eric Ryan Anderson

Credit: Eric Ryan Anderson 

SOJA is an 8-piece reggae and dub band that is one of the most successful acts to come from the District in the last two decades. The group has released six studio albums so far, and in 2012 SOJA earned its first number one record on Billboard’s Reggae Album Chart with Strength to Survive. Today, the band unveils its latest effort, Amid the Noise and Haste, and will perform at The Hamilton tonight to a sold-out venue. Before the show, I caught up with SOJA’s lead singer Jacob Hemphill about the band’s success, the new album and more.


D.C. Music Download: How did you first become connected to reggae music?

Jacob Hemphill: My cousins introduced me to it in middle school at a family reunion. I’ve been hooked ever since.


DCMD: Are most of the band members still based in the D.C. area, or has the gang departed for musical metropolises like LA or NYC?

JH: It’s now half and half, but myself, our bassist Bobby and drummer Byrd are still here.


DCMD: How has the local music scene changed since SOJA first began?

JH: I’m not sure that it has. The U Street area was missing for a while but Thievery brought it back.


DCMD: Are there any aspects of D.C. that have influenced any SOJA songs?

JH: Go-go definitely. We have like four go-go songs. Bad Brains, of course. We also use a lot of distortion.


DCMD:  You’re releasing your first album since 2012. How is Amid the Noise and Haste different than previous projects?

JH: We got to work with an amazing reggae producer and record the whole album with our buddies Inner Circle at Circle Village Studios in Miami. Trevor (who’s our lead guitarist) is singing for the first time on this one, and it’s been a blast doing all these crazy vocal harmonies with him. The vocals took about a month or more. Maybe two months in total.


DCMD:  The album release party will be at The Hamilton tonight. What’s it like to celebrate this release in your hometown among family and friends?

JH: It’s great, but stressful. Hometown shows are the ones you CANNOT mess up. It’s always a little bit of both.


DCMD: Your first single off the album, “Your Song”, features Damian Marley. How was it like working with him?

JH: That was awesome, and a milestone for me. Damian is an incredible artist, and an extremely talented musician.


DCMD: As the lead vocalist for SOJA, are you responsible for the majority of songwriting and/or musical arrangements?

JH: Yeah, I come up with stuff and bring it to the boys, who all do their own parts. It’s a fun process.


DCMD: You’ll be back in the area for the Lockn’ Festival. Does the band prefer being a part of diverse festival lineups, or headlining your own shows?

JH: I think there’s something special about both. Headlining shows are fun because the audience is concentrated and festivals are fun because they’re diverse, with new fans to the band. I guess I like both shows.


DCMD: Where do you see the reggae music industry headed?

JH: Hopefully bigger. Conscious music deserves a seat at the mainstream table; music that heals instead of what music is now, which is to talk about money, getting messed up, sleeping with women and being generally better than everyone all at the same time. Why not have a few songs about things that really matter?