Mention folk music to the average listener and the list of usual suspects come to mind: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Woodie Guthrie, etc. Talk to SOJA lead singer/guitarist Jacob Hemphill, however, and you’ll walk away with a different perspective. “To me, Rage Against The Machine, Wu-Tang Clan, Sade, Johnny Cash, Bob Marley—they’re all folk artists,” he says. “There’s no difference between Raekwon saying, ‘I grew up on the crime side, the New York Times side, where staying alive was no jive,’ to Bob Marley saying, ‘Cold ground was my bed last night and rock was my pillow, too,’ to Johnny Cash saying, ‘I know I had it coming, I know I can’t be free, but those people keep on moving (around) and that’s what tortures me.’ Folk is all about storytelling and passing on a legacy. It’s timeless, it’s limitless and it crosses all boundaries. That’s what this band is striving for. It’s a tall order,” he laughs, “but we’re making our way.”
Jacob Hemphill (lead singer/guitarist) and Bobby Lee (bass) met in the first grade in Virginia. The two instantly became best friends, finding common ground through their love of hip hop, rock and reggae, which they performed together at middle school talent shows. Throughout high school, they met Ryan Berty (drums), Kenneth Brownell (percussion) and Patrick O’Shea (keyboards) and formed SOJA. Rafael Rodriguez (trumpet), Hellman Escorcia (saxophone) & Trevor Young (lead guitar) joined the band when things started to heat up.
Over the course of the past few years, SOJA has sold more than 200,000 albums, headlined shows in more than 20 countries around the world, generated over 3 million Facebook fans, 60 million YouTube views, and attracted an almost Grateful Dead-like international fan base that grows each tour, with caravans of diehards following them from city to city.