Summer Stars: SOJA

May 30, 2012

Our Summer Stars series continues as we share the latest from groups out there making the rounds on the festival circuit. Today it’s SOJA who will perform at Wakarusa and then at Bonnaroo. Here’s a link to all of our Summer Star pieces which we will post over the coming weeks.

The transcendental appeal of the Washington, D.C.- based SOJA has as much to do with their simply and traditionally constructed reggae tunes as it does with their universally appealing messages of hope and peace. Imbued with Earth-conscious themes, their newest record Strength to Survive was released this past January.

“[The album is] about the survival of the earth and, more specifically, the human race and what’s happened over the last 50 years – and what could be coming the next 50 years,” says bandleader Jacob Hemphill. “[The threat of the earth’s destruction] is a paper tiger and it’s up to us to decide if it becomes a real threat or not. It’s not as hard as everybody may think to change the world.”

Hemphill acknowledges Bob Marley’s substantial influence on his music and, particularly, the reggae god’s later work like Uprising, Survival and Confrontation. “On those albums, he was starting to use 36 channel mixing boards, his voice got deeper and his music more complex,” notes Hemphill. With that in mind, SOJA strove to return to a “rootsier approach to recording” with producer John Alagia on Strength to Survive.

The seven-piece outfit – which includes bassist Bobby Lee who Hemphill met in the first grade – spent the last year and a half playing more than 360 gigs, headlining soldout tours across continents, opening for O.A.R. and sharing stages with the likes of the Dave Matthews Band and Matisyahu. This summer, the band will travel to a variety of festivals, including Wanee, Wakarusa, Bonnaroo and All Good, in addition to a tour with 311 and Slightly Stoopid. (They have also garnered a substantial following in South America.)

“Pop music – especially American pop music – is about having money, sleeping with models, living in mansions, spending all of our time in clubs and generally being better than the rest of the world,” says Hemphill. “We sing about different things – things that actually matter. I think our fans appreciate that.”

Favorite summertime food: Quinoa, veggie skewers and tuna on the grill

Best album for a warm summer night: Bob Marley, Kaya or Paul Simon, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

In the forest versus beach debate, I choose: The beach because the rhythm of the water is perfect for falling asleep, waking up, writing music – everything. Plus, storms are better to watch by open water.