SOJA heads toward summer with seventh album in the works
Formed in 1997 in Northern Virginia by guitarist-singer Jacob Hemphill and bass player Bob Jefferson, SOJA – Soldiers of Jah Army – is on its “Everything Changes” tour. In between shows at Chico and Las Vegas, the reggae band performs at Stateline in the MontBleu Theatre. Lake Tahoe Action spoke with Hemphill on Monday.
Q: Where are you today, Jacob?
Hemphill: Anaheim, heading into a recording studio. It’s a new SOJA album. The album is basically done. We’re just putting some finishing touches on it. We have a few days off and LA is a great place to do stuff like that.
Q: You have six SOJA records. How will the new one compare to those?
Hemphill: This one has got us the happiest we’ve ever been before a release. We’re working with some new guys on this one. I don’t want to give too much away but there are a few new people we’ve recruited for this one.
Q: I appreciate your traditional approach to reggae. There’s not a lot of that anymore, it seems.
Hemphill: We set out to make the classic reggae album with a very modern approach and very traditional approach, and I think we nailed it. We’re all really pumped about it. There’s a lot of albums coming out that I don’t consider traditional. Bob Marley’s the reason I became a musician. It’s not really homage, it’s just because I love it.
Q: One of the places you lived as a child was Uganda. Is that were you discovered reggae?
Hemphill: It was Monrovia, Liberia. I didn’t really grow up in one place and I saw many different sides of the coin, and I think reggae does that for people. It doesn’t really matter who you are. You can get into this music, this movement, this message. Whatever it is about it that you like you can get into it. That was the attraction for me. It still is.
Q: Did you always play reggae?
Hemphill: It started off with rock, then hip-hop, then me and the bass player (Bob Jefferson), we always wanted to perform, and then we found reggae. We got hooked on the whole lifestyle and we’re still doing it.
Q: SOJA has a huge sound with a horn section and keyboards. The live show must be fun.
Hemphill: Yeah, it’s crazy. We just did one last night. It was really good. There’s a lot of force behind the band right now. It’s pretty exciting to see everybody getting into the vibe so much.
Q: John Brown’s Body just came through Tahoe and its singer Elliott Martin has recovered from throat surgery after singing with such a loud band. How do you preserve your voice?
Hemphill: I have a couple tricks but honestly if you are going to sing every day of your life for a hour and a half, two hours, your vocal chords have to be there from when you’re born. A lot of people have that surgery that he had. Some say it’s inevitable. Some say there will come a time when I’ll get it, which I’m not looking forward to because you can’t talk for two weeks and I talk a lot.
Q: Have you played Tahoe before?
Hemphill: Yes, but the show were doing this time is on a slightly grander scale.
Q: Is Hemphill your real name?
Hemphill: Yes. There’s a couple speculations where that came from. My favorite is the boats that came to America had hemp sails and hemp ropes. That’s the most convincing one I’ve heard.
Q: I know a lot of reggae fans in Tahoe are looking forward to the show.
Hemphill: We can’t wait to come. We are pumped up and ready to go.