Jacob Hemphill (lead vocals & guitar) met Bobby Lee (bass) in the first grade in Virginia, shortly after Jacob returned from living in Africa with his family. The two instantly became best friends, and in middle school found a common love for hip hop, rock and reggae music. Throughout middle and high school, they met Ryan Berty (drums), Patrick O'Shea (keyboards) and Kenneth Brownell (percussion). Together they formed SOJA. In the formative years the band gigged locally in the DC area while a couple of the guys finished school. All the while making plans to hit the road after graduation...
In 2005 the band hit the road... and they hit the road hard. Often dubbed "road warriors", SOJA has brought their unique sound and stage show to nearly every city in North America, as well as many cities throughout Europe, South America, the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean. While touring in Puerto Rico the band linked up with sax player Hellman Escorcia & trumpet player Rafael Rodriguez. These two exceptional musicians earned their position as SOJA's mainstay horn section by helping further develop the band's eclectic sound.
With no signs of slowing down. SOJA is planning a world tour for 2011/2012 in support of their upcoming album release. It's all about the message in the music for this band. "People think we write music about the earth for the earth's sake, but its not really like that. If we harm the earth, it will reject us. For all we know, its happened one hundred times before. This place gets too hot, that's it. Reset button. That's why I sing what I sing - to pull us all in the same direction, the same future. Without that, were finished (Jacob Hemphill)."
There is no doubt about it. This band is on the forefront of a Revolution with hopes to bring about positive change: environmentally, politically and socially. "Maybe we need to WANT to fix it. Maybe stop talking, maybe start listening. Maybe we need to look at this world less like a square and more like a circle. Maybe just maybe God's not unfair, maybe we're all his kids and he's up there. Maybe he loves us for all our races, maybe he hates us when we're all so racist. Maybe he sees us, when we dont care, that its heaven right here, but its hell over there. Then maybe the meek will inherit this earth, cause it was written before... so..." Everything Changes - SOJA.
The Green’s latest album, Hawai‘i ’13, opens with a chant.
“From the times of ancient Hawai‘i and even up to present day, chanting has been a part of our culture,” says JP Kennedy, guitarist, vocalist, and one of the band’s five songwriters. “It’s a way to start something important. When we chant, we ask for blessings, knowledge, and guidance so that we can be ‘pono’ or righteous in whatever we do.”
The chant of “He Mele No Ku‘u Hawai‘i” prepares the album’s listener as much as the band. Hawai‘i ’13 dances through roots reggae, soul, and R&B. The album charts a journey through Hawaiian life and music in 2013, reflecting The Green’s musical upbringing as much as their vision for the future of Hawai‘i and its musical output. Following The Green’s usual modus operandi, the album was written by the group’s five separate songwriters (Kennedy, guitarist-vocalist Zion Thompson, vocalist Caleb Keolanui, keyboardist-vocalist Ikaika Antone, and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Brad Watanabe); the band’s four singers (Kennedy, Thompson, Keolanui and Antone) take turns on lead vocals, sometimes trading off with each other within a song. Once you listen to this record, there is little doubt that the chant served its purpose, as the results show the band has been righteous in their hard work.
The Green formed on O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, in 2009. The group began as a vehicle for six different members of Hawai‘i’s tight-knit music scene to record a few songs and have a bit of fun along the way. Their self-titled debut album, released in 2010, earned both critical and commercial acclaim, and was awarded iTunes Best Reggae Album of the Year.
Afterwards, the band jumped on a plane to the mainland and started a heavy touring cycle. On the strength of their debut album, The Green struck a record deal with ground-breaking independent reggae label Easy Star Records to record their sophomore album, Ways & Means. Ways & Means hit #1 on the iTunes and Billboard Reggae charts and the band embarked on more intense touring; supporting acts like Rebelution, Iration, SOJA and Damian Marley. They also played at acclaimed festivals including Vans Warped Tour, Wakarusa, Sierra Nevada World Music Festival and California Roots Festival.
Despite all the time spent away from home, Hawai‘i never left the band’s day-to-day life on the road. In almost every state, the band met Hawaiian ex-pats, driven away from their home state for reasons both economic and social. The Green’s concerts became a place where Hawaiian natives could gather and for one night, share a bit of Aloha spirit from the Pacific islands they call home.
“Hawaiians living on the mainland will come to our shows and say ‘I haven’t been home in years! You remind me so much of home,’” says multi-instrumentalist-songwriter Brad “BW” Watanabe. “I feel like that’s our service in some way.”
In early 2013, The Green retreated to Hurley Studios in Costa Mesa, CA, to record their third album with Danny Kalb (Ben Harper, Beck, Jack Johnson), the band’s first outside producer/engineer, at the helm. In addition, the group brought in Joe Tomino, drummer from Dub Trio (who also double as Matisyahu’s backing band), to handle the drums for the sessions.
“We were worried about it because we always recorded everything ourselves,” Kennedy admits. “But when we added Danny Kalb to the mix, and Joe on the drums, they just brought so much to the sound of the songs.”
The addition of an outside ear helped sharpen the band’s direction, and the 13 tracks on Hawai‘i ’13 sound focused and pointed, despite the group’s many different songwriters. “All of us contribute to the creation of a song,” says guitarist-vocalist Zion Thompson, “whether it’s lyrics or music, it’s always collaborative.”
“Everyone respects each other’s opinions,” Thompson continues. “Everyone has their place and everyone makes room for it to work.”
The album’s songs span soulful lover’s rock (“Striking Up A Love,” “Take Me On”), heavy roots workouts (“Good One,” “Forgive Me”), smooth R&B ballads (“Chocolates & Roses”), roots reggae-pop hybrids (“Power in the Words,” “Good Vibe Killah”), and herb anthems (“Hold Me Tight”).
The Green hit all the right notes with their first two albums, but the band members are still coming to grips with the personal toll of success. Bands from the mainland may be used to touring from state to state, but that’s no small step for a group from a small island in the South Pacific. “While I face a dozen spotlights, you’re crying at home,” goes “Something About It,” one of the lead singles from Hawai‘i ’13. “Sit by the phone. You think I’m alone, wishing I could be there. But the music’s got me traveling on.”
The Green struck the reggae community hard with their debut in 2010. Their sophomore LP Ways & Means solidified their status as a force in reggae music. With Hawai‘i ’13, the band aims higher. The album collects 13 stellar tracks by a group with an insatiable urge to push their music onto the global stage. Some songs punch and some songs sway, but ultimately they all blend to form a new shade of Green.