Nearly two decades ago, SOJA began as high school friends in a D.C. area basement teaching each other to be musicians and play roots reggae music. Today, the 2x GRAMMY-nominated eight-piece band, with over 7 million online followers and over 300 million Youtube views, headlines concerts all over the world for their massive dedicated fanbase. Even with their continued success, SOJA always wants to remember their time together in that basement inspired by each other’s contributions and ideas. The feeling of true magic, collaboration and brotherhood that started it all is still evident today in their music and each night at their live concerts. For their latest studio album, Poetry In Motion (2017), it was essential for SOJA to consciously go back to the beginning and recapture that same sincere, collaborative magic sparked 20 years ago.
“For your whole life money is the thing you’re scarce on,” frontman Jacob Hemphill says. “Then once you get busy enough time becomes the thing you’re most scarce on. So spending time at home becomes your most valuable commodity and then the collaborative process starts taking place over the phone and email instead of in person. For Poetry In Motion we asked ourselves, ‘What if we went back to the beginning and wrote, arranged, recorded and produced the entire thing together?’ All eight guys in one room to create something special. That was the approach to this record – to make something we truly love and did all together.”
The band set up at Haunted Hollow Studios, Dave Matthews Band’s studio, near Charlottesville, VA. The idea was to live and work together in one place, investing all their energy into the process. They spent three months in the studio over several sessions in late 2016 and early 2017, spending hours sitting on the back porch discussing music and life. Everyone showed up with new ideas, new instruments and new gear. The band enlisted Rob Evans, Ivan Guitierrez and Mariano Aponte to coproduce the songs, and there was an open-minded sentiment throughout. “It was a learning and experimenting process,” Jacobs notes. “We got the exact thing we wanted from it.”
The album’s 11 tracks embrace reggae completely, focusing on what the genre does best. They referred often to their 2009 album, Born In Babylon, to remind them of where they came from and how they’d like to go forward. Poetry In Motion is the beginning of a chapter, but it’s also a return to the past. It’s a revitalization of what made SOJA so special to begin with. It’s about eight guys in one room making reggae music that truly means something.
“We’re going back to our roots and what we do best,” Jacob says. “We’re remembering why we started this band and the magic of what we’ve built. We were lucky enough to create our own family and we picked every brother by hand. This album feels like we’ve had an amazing family reunion. It’s a blueprint for our future.”
Poetry In Motion continues the band’s belief that music should speak for people and uplift them. The album looks at the world today and asks why it feels like something is wrong when so much exists around us. “Fire In the Sky,” propulsive and upbeat, takes the positive outlook on humanity while “Life Support,” a more introspective song, tackles the negative outlook. All the other tracks fall somewhere in the middle, as Jacob and the band grapple with the human condition, unafraid of big topics and essential life queries.
“The definition of the title is three-fold,” Jacob says. “I’m poetry, the band’s motion. The human race and the animals and plants that are spinning around on this Earth are beautiful – it’s poetry flying through the universe in motion. And then, thirdly, we are this beautiful poetry but we keep moving away from it. Right now it feels like we’re moving in the wrong direction and it’s scary.”
The album poses questions but never takes on a definitive reply. SOJA isn’t offering an answer. Instead, the answers are out there for each listener to find on their own. “There’s no periods on anything,” Jacob notes. “I give hints and glimpses, but my own opinions on the human condition change every year. Sometimes I’m climbing, sometimes I’m sliding. So maybe I’m not the right guy to be answering questions. But I can ask all these questions that matter and help people. I’m out there fishing for the next person.”
His ultimate goal with each song is simple. “How do I make the human condition come into this song?” he says. “How do I relate to the biggest family of all time? That’s all I’m ever really trying to do.”