Analogue Music | SOJA


By Matt Conner

Analogue: The new album is entitled Beauty in the Silence and it’s not hard to wonder if that’s borne from a pandemic?

Jacob Hemphill: You’re right. Something I’ve noticed is that in my life, I’m surrounded by distraction. It’s the tour bus and the show. There are constant reasons for me not to have to really focus on what’s amazing about life. Then the pandemic happened and I started to kind of go crazy a bit. I couldn’t leave my house. I couldn’t see my friends. I couldn’t play shows.

But then one day I was looking out the window and the animals were fine. The birds were fine. The squirrels were fine. Even the plants were fine. I was like, ‘Oh!’ The noise had been distracting me.

Our last record was called Amid the Noise and Haste. That was a whirlwind two years for SOJA and it’s from a poem by Max Ehrmann and the first lines are: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste / And remember the peace there may be in silence.” So it all went together.

For Amid the Noise and Haste, we were on tour for 24 months and now we’re not on tour for 24 months. That was the perfect next line and the perfect name for the record.

Analogue: When you get that space, you’re confronted with some things where you lose access to the typical outlets you mentioned. Did that require some reorientation at all?

Jacob: That’s a good question. I guess the thought process behind the record changed a bit because when we started, the pandemic had not begun. We had the drum and the bass and the rhythm but then we didn’t see each other for a year.

We wrote remotely sort of and it’s interesting when you book a studio for two weeks and fly everybody in and you have the food and chef and hotels and all of that, it’s fun but there’s always somebody looking over your shoulder. It’s musicians in a row with three engineers and two producers and a manager and a tour manager. That somebody looking over the shoulder is also typically me, saying do this and do that.

This allowed us to lay the groundwork and the rhythm was all done. Then Pat could perfect one song for three months with no one, especially not me, saying anything to him. Then he could send it around to ask, ‘What do you all think?’ So it fit that Beauty in the Silence theme, then.

Analogue: Would others tell me they felt more creative freedom?

Jacob: For sure, and you can hear it, like Byrd [Ryan Berty] on the drums, for example. I wrote this this song called “The Day You Came” and he did this one roll. I called him and said, ‘Dude, that’s the signature roll for the whole vibe of the song.’ He said, ‘What are you thinking? Before each chorus, roll, space, chorus.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, dude, you’re kind of the identity of this song.’

Each guy had a moment like that. Trevor [Young] is the other lead vocalist and our guitar player. There was a song called “Break It Down” and me and him had originally recorded it in a hotel room in New Caledonia, which is a French Polynesian island in the middle of nowhere—a beautiful place. Then he went home and did this huge orchestral harmony thing with, I think, 14 vocal layers. He sent it to me and the email subject was “Thoughts?” [Laughs]

Cool stuff like that kept happening.

Analogue: Since a lack of control typically drives any of us crazy, I have to ask if that was hard for you in ways?

Jacob: For the first two months, yes. I was losing it. Then when the parts started coming in, I was like, ‘Holy shit, these guys are amazing.’ Then it was very freeing and it let me do stuff, too. On old SOJA records, I used to freestyle. When we were kids, we’d freestyle to beats we’d made and I hadn’t done that in a long time.

I did it on the song “Break It Down”. I sent it to the guys and said, ‘Just so you know, this is one take. Nothing was written. I was just making it all up.’ They all wrote back and said, ‘Dude, this sounds like the old you.’

I think the meaning of Beauty in the Silence is when you’re alone and maybe sorta going crazy, you can go one of two ways. One is to go fucking nuts and the other is to breathe deep, meditate, look around, realize this world has not changed, and find beauty. Most of the guys, that’s what they did.

Analogue: If the creative doors were opened for some band members, including yourself, it sounds like the kind of thing I might not to come back from—at least to some “normal” of what you had before.

Jacob: I never like giving away secrets, but we are definitely doing it like this from now on. [Laughs] We’re gonna meet up for two weeks. Structure. Drum. Bass. Rhythm. Basic lines and lyrics. Then we’ll leave and a year later, everyone will come back. You’ve gotta digest it and you can’t do that in two weeks.

I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and think, ‘Oh, shit, that’s the line.’ My girlfriend is like, ‘Where are you going?’ I’ll say, ‘I’m all right. Be back in two minutes.’ Then I’ll wake up and there’s the line. I’m going to keep doing it like this.

Analogue: I love what you’re saying because that sounds so healthy and beautiful to get in touch with this old way of doing things.

Jacob: It’s funny you mention that because when we first started, we were just making music for us. When you’re meeting up after school and going into somebody’s dad’s garage, it’s a way to breathe. In school, you’re constricted all day so you do this for fun and then to breathe. If you’re lucky it becomes a real job, but it becomes school again. You’ve gotta put up the numbers. You’ve gotta put up the songs. You’ve gotta put up the tour dates. During the pandemic, it was like, ‘Wait, we are way better at this when we’re breathing.’

Analogue: You can want the same silence but that doesn’t happen without intention. Does this have you thinking about ways to breathe when the noise returns?

Jacob: For sure. What I’ve learned in the last two years is that it’s a mixture. Part of it’s gotta be structure. Part of it’s gotta be Ryan Berty is the best pocket drummer in reggae. Part of it’s gotta be Bobby Lee is the best performer bass player in reggae. But the other part is that if Trevor and I don’t have tears coming out of our eyes at one point in the show, then we’re not breathing. It’s a combo, man. That’s why they used to call it rhythm and blues, I think, because somebody’s gotta keep it locked and somebody’s gotta unlock it.


*Photo: Hiroki Nishioka