I totally thought I was burned out on Reggae music. I didn’t expect to hear anything new. Then SOJA released it fifth album, Amid the Noise and Haste. Once my ears got a hold of this album, I couldn’t stop listening and evangelizing these songs.
The band’s second release on the label ATO Records has made some history already. It’s the first time SOJA worked with a six-time Grammy winning producer Supa Dups and the first time Dups has done a whole album–17 tracks–rather than just singles. It’s moving swiftly up the charts, already sitting at number 20 on the Worlds Best Selling Albums list after two weeks.
Jacob Hemphill, the voice of the band, took a moment to talk with us in advance of their Friday, Aug. 29 show at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center (doors open at 5pm):
MAUITIME: What does Amid the Noise and Haste mean to you?
JACOB HEMPHILL: The basic idea behind naming all the records is a theme. Born in Babylon (2009) was about a kid who lives in a rich part of the world. That album was how do I become a positive change in the whole world, not just in my realm. Strength to Survive (2012) is about the environment and how do we fix everything that is going on. Amid the Noise and Haste (2014) is about what if we had all the answers to these problems that seem so insurmountable and so hard to deal with. What if there was a simple answer and that answer was love?
MT: Is there a lot of pressure for SOJA to do well on the billboard charts?
JH: No, no, no, I don’t care at all about that stuff. Success to me has already been achieved. I have enough food, and shelter and water, forever. What I care about is how can I make this place better before I go. The way to do that is to reach more people. Our Facebook numbers say 3.5 million and if you look a Bob Marley’s, it’s 500 million. My goal has been to follow in Bob Marley’s footsteps and the bigger we get, the more of an impact we have on both the Earth and the humans who live on it.
MT: SOJA has embraced social media, with a lot of engagement on Facebook and Twitter. How has digital and social media affected your music career?
JH: Well, social media has lets people have a sense of empowerment even though they use it wrong and abuse it sometimes. It really lets people connect. Where before it was record labels and movie studios and newspapers that were telling people what to believe, what to listen to and how to think. Now with social media you can make your own decision. Giving a microphone to people who don’t have a microphone has always been my favorite side personal thing that I do. Now social media lets me do that times a million.
MT: Do you feel you have come a long ways since MySpace?
JH: The band started coming out right when MySpace started to get popular and we used that stuff to no end. Without people being able to make their own decision about what they want to listen to and who they want to listen to, I don’t think SOJA would have ever existed. Because I don’t think there is a record label in the world that would have said, “Oh! Five white guys playing reggae from D.C. Yeah! We are going to put them on.” I just don’t see that happening. So to me and the band, the cup is always half full when it comes to social media and the digital age.
MT: Hawaii has a special connection w SOJA. Why do you think Hawaii is a fertile ground for your sound?
JH: Hawaii was the first time we ever read our words in the newspaper or saw our picture on a billboard or heard our songs on the radio or saw ourselves on TV or played for thousands of people. Hawaii was the first time we realized that maybe this is our destiny. So we are forever grateful to every one of these islands. Hawaii was the first stoke of the fire for SOJA and we are forever grateful.
MT: Who are your heroes?
JH: Bob Marley was the best connector who ever lived in music. Steve Jobs was the great connector who took computers, that very vital part of our news society, and made them human. All my heroes are like that–the kings and queens of connecting with the human condition.
MT: One track, “Your Song,” is sung with Damian Marley. You talk about going over the edge and needing your people to bring you back. What’s that about?
JH: The thing people don’t realize about doing this job, and it is a job, is that you play 180 shows in a year and you are never home. You live in a bus. you live in a hotel room, you live in an airport. You live on a passport. You miss birthdays, you miss kids being born, you miss weddings, you miss funerals, you miss all these really important moments and all these people that you are so in love with and you give up your whole life just to do this.
What if the real truth is my real family is everyone, every member of the human race, and what if my real job is to bring my family closer together? What if my loved ones that truly love me see me rise as a leader who brings people together under the motive of love and compassion and those people who truly love me at home say, “Don’t come home–stay out there. This is your destiny.” The only way you can think positively like that is if the fans cheer and sing the songs with their hands in the air because they let you know that this is not a hypothesis, this is a destiny. That’s what this song is about. Melancholy as it seems, it’s actually really positive.
MT: One of your Maui shows was at a beach park in Kihei, about as underground and indie as it gets. Now you’re doing a show at the MACC with Michael Franti & Spearhead and the Murs. Do you think your fans have any growing pains about seeing SOJA mature?
JH: Yeah absolutely. You know whenever you follow something from the start, you kinda hate to see it get big. You like to see it grow but you hate to see everyone else loving this little special thing that only you used to love. I understand how that is. But I urge people to also remember that the whole point of this music is not really to have some cool little band that you know about [but] to try to make this world a better place and to change the mentality and consciousness of people everywhere. The more people we reach, the more people we can say that to.