‘A Mecca of creativity’

Lead singer of SOJA discusses Charlottesville, newest album


SOJA will play at the Jefferson Theater Oct. 21. Lead singer Jacob Hemphill  gave some insight into the band's latest work.

Courtesy SOJA

“I want to speak for people, who don’t have microphones. Our goal as a band is to stick up for the human race. We see the world, and we try to make it better in the limited time we have here.” 

This is how frontman Jacob Hemphill describes the philosophy surrounding his band SOJA. The reggae group, based out of Arlington, Va., started as a group of friends in middle school and has since become a Grammy-nominated, international success. SOJA has performed in nearly 30 countries and has attracted a plethora of die-hard fans, who follow them around the world. 

SOJA spent the summer touring America. Since then, they have taken two months off and will begin a tour in South America and Mexico starting Nov. 1. They wouldn’t leave the country, however, before playing a show in front of their home-state crowd. 

SOJA will perform at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville Oct. 21 and proceeds from this show will benefit the Heal Charlottesville Fund. SOJA’s new album, “Poetry in Motion” will be released Oct. 27 — the entirety of the album having been recorded in Dave Matthews Band’s studio here in Charlottesville. In anticipation of this show, Hemphill spoke with The Cavalier Daily about Charlottesville, the state of the country and their newest album.

Arts & Entertainment: So you’re coming off a huge summer tour, and after some time off, you guys are going to spend November and December in South America and Mexico, promoting your new album “Poetry in Motion.” What is your mindset like going into such an extensive international tour? 

Jacob Hemphill: We feel like we're back. I mean, we’re obviously used to touring a ton.  That's our M.O. It's who we've always been. But this record feels like the best thing we've made in awhile. And when you have a good record, one that the musicians love, there's an excitement to get out on stage and rock the songs.

AE: The ‪Oct. 21 show is your first in Virginia — your home state — since the events of Aug. 11 and 12 in Charlottesville, and you’ve announced that this show will benefit the Heal Charlottesville Fund. What made you feel that you needed to play here, in front of your home crowd, before you leave for South America? 

JH: Charlottesville, to us, is a Mecca of creativity. It's where we rehearse, where we record, where we mix and arrange our music. It's the home of our management, Red Light. We had to watch what happened, and it just felt like … what? Wait, where? So we gotta play there first. Start this tour off right. Treat Charlottesville the way we see it: love.

AE: How is music used as a healing tool?

JH: Everyone uses it differently. My dad always told me that a microphone is a responsibility, should you choose it. It's a potentiality. It could just be nothing, but it could be so much more. It could be an affirmation of the beauty and connection of the human condition. It could be love to pain, it could be adversity to conflict. That's what we try to do. Just do something good, and let the rest follow. Hopefully good follows good. And we see it every day in our fans. It's the best part of the job — the beautiful reaction. The human condition.

AE: The album’s first released single, “Bad News,” focuses on very real issues such as the country being in “two pieces,” as well [as] watching bad news and tragedy on TV. Can you describe what went into writing this song? And what is the effect that you hope this song will have on those who hear it?

JH: This song is saying, look, we’re divided. We disagree on this Donald Trump is the president thing. Okay. We get it. But how are we making anything better by screaming and yelling? Everyone preaches to their own choir, and no one gets s—t done. Now, more than ever … It's time to come together. 

I'll give an example. My neighbor is an awesome guy. When I say awesome, I mean awesome. Deep sea fisherman, super chill wife, cool kids, helps others — including me — every chance he gets. One of the good ones. One day we were shooting the s—t about whatever, and he said something, and I thought ‘holy s—t I think he voted for Trump.’ Immediately my mind forgot everything amazing I knew about him, if even for a split second, and I became the media, the noise, the garbage. I had to kick myself. ‘He is awesome. The earth is lucky to have him here. I am lucky to have him here.’ 

People vote for all different reasons. And I don't give a s—t who anyone voted for. This country, this world, we need each other. Not dividing lines in the sand of hatred and misunderstanding — no. We need love and compassion for all our kin. And that's every person, animal, plant, ecosystem — everything. That's what the song means to me.

AE: Can we expect to hear some new tracks from “Poetry in Motion” at the Charlottesville show? Maybe some of the songs that haven’t yet been released?

JH: I don't want to give anything away, but f—k yes.

AE: Reggae is not a mainstream genre but it’s one that is strongly emerging. What is it about reggae that you fell in love with and made you want to make a career out of it?

JH: Bob Marley. The songwriter who can make any human feel like the song is dedicated to him, no matter who he or she is, is the ultimate songwriter and the best kind of human. Bob Marley. Forever.

AE: You have played at practically every major festival imaginable. What is it to you that makes a festival so special and what is one of your best festival memories? 

JH: Too many memories, man. Mostly watching my brothers get on stage, bare their souls, burst into balls of fire and collapse in exhaustion. And watching the crowd in joyous celebration. It's all one big circle. It's just like life. We either keep feeding each other or we keep starving each other. When it's the former, it's poetry in motion. When it's the latter, it's just noise and haste.

Jacob Hemphill, along with the rest of SOJA, will play at the Jefferson Theater Oct. 21.

Correction: The article has been updated with SOJA's proper band name. 

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