Q&A with Soja’s Jacob Hemphill: band looks at new music, bandleader looking south

Soja
Soja: Bobby Lee, Trevor Young, Patrick O’Shea, Jacob Hemphill, Hellman Escorcia, Ken Brownell, Ryan Berty, Rafael Rodriguez.

American reggae octet Soja appears Saturday, Oct. 23, in the Reno Knitting Factory. The band’s fifth album, 2014’s “Amid Noise and Haste,” was nominated for a Grammy Award and includes guests J Boog, Michael Franti, Damian Marley and Collie Buddz, among others. Most of the musicians have been friends since they attended middle school. Singer and songwriter Jacob Hemphill spoke with Tahoe Onstage this week, and here are excerpts from the conversation:

Tahoe Onstage: Soja will play an all-ages show in Reno. Do you like to play all-ages shows?

Jacob Hemphill: It’s nice for us when it’s all ages. We do a lot of stuff in South America and they let everybody in there, and then we play the states and it’s 21 and up, and it sucks because kids are the ones I am mainly talking to. I didn’t know it was all ages, so I am glad to hear that.

J Boog, as he is so often, is on the same bill as Soja, and he’s on your last two records. You must have a great rapport with him.

J Boog is a guy who is loved by everyone. He’s the real deal, the guy who you think he is, that’s who he actually is. Whenever you meet someone like that, it’s fun to work with him. You don’t have to play your cards right with that guy. He is exactly who you think he is.

“Amid Noise and Haste” has several guest songwriters. How does that process work?

It’s always different. Sometimes you are in the same room and sometimes you are in different continents, and there’s a lot of in between. The way we approach it is, we look at a song. We say something is missing. Who would understand this song? … Contact him, and if they like the song, there you go.

You are a prolific songwriter. What motivates you to write?

I have always been this way. I’m sure I should say something really humble, but in reality, I’ve always been this way. I was freestyling before that existed. I would just ride in the car with my dad, singing on everything I saw, and we started this band. It’s the same thing I’ve been doing since I was born.

Are you ever able to turn it off and take breaks?

No.

It’s been more than a year since the last record. Are you working on new songs?

I’ve got 17 songs done. We’re about to start tracking the stuff.

Will you have guests again on the next record?

Probably not. I think we might do this one with nobody.

It seems like there is great opportunity for a U.S. reggae band because it is popular worldwide.

Reggae in the states is changing now. It’s becoming a real genre. But for my whole life, reggae in the states has been vacation music or weed music, whereas in South America, reggae is a genre. You have hip-hop, you have rock, you have reggae. We saw that they actually take it seriously. Nowadays in the states, people take it more seriously. But, like, we’ll sell 1,000 tickets here, we’ll sell 10,000 on some nights in South America with no opening band.

Since you are doing so well down there, are you looking into getting a home there?

I actually am, now that you mention it. I’ve been looking at real estate in Brazil.

Why is live music important?

I think that live stuff’s important for two reasons: One, you can see if the band is actually good or shitty. And, two, you get a chance to have a human exchange, which at the end of the day is all any of us are really doing here.

Related story: Lake Tahoe gets Slightly Stoopid. LINK
Related story: Q&A with Ziggy Marley. LINK

  • Soja
    Openers: J Boog, Dustin Thomas
    For: All ages
    When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24; doors open at 7
    Where: The Knitting Factory, Reno
    Tickets: $27 to $55

 

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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