SOJA album tells listeners to look within
BY STEFANIE NAKASONE / firstname.lastname@example.org
As a band, SOJA has always championed love, peace and positivity as forces for change. The message comes through loud and clear once again in the band’s new album, “Amid the Noise and the Haste.”
The album, released earlier this month, debuted at No. 20 on the Billboard 200 and at No. 1 on the reggae chart last week. Several tracks include guest vocals by a few of the band’s friends, including “I Believe” with Nahko (of Nahko and Medicine for the People, which appeared in Honolulu in November) and Michael Franti (see sidebar).
With Michael Franti & Spearhead and Murs
» Where: Waikiki Shell
Franti and his band Spearhead join rapper Murs and SOJA for Saturday’s show at the Waikiki Shell.
Also on the album is “Easier” featuring local artists Anuhea and J Boog. The song isn’t the easiest to understand, says SOJA lead vocalist and guitarist Jacob Hemphill, but in a Seinfeld-ian way, “the song is about nothing.”
“The song is about how life doesn’t always have to be about something,” Hemphill said. “Sometimes life can just be about, ‘Dude, inhale, exhale, smile, drink some water, have some food, jump in the ocean, jump out, fall asleep, wake up, do it again.’ I know it sounds simple and kind of corny, but it also sounds like a nice way to spend an afternoon.”
During the interview, conducted before the band embarked on a four-island tour that ends with the Oahu show, Hemphill also discussed details about the meaning of “Amid the Noise and Haste,” his love of Hawaii and love for his “Easier” collaborators, and SOJA’s overall message.
HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER: Tell me about the new album, “Amid the Noise and Haste.”
JACOB HEMPHILL: It’s kind of built on a general idea in that there’s a lot of … problems in the world. There’s a lot of environmental stuff, a lot of social stuff, a lot of economic stuff. There’s just a lot of stuff. And when you look at it all as separate issues, it becomes kind of insurmountable and it seems kind of tough, you know: “How can I fix all this stuff at the same time?” And that’s the noise and the haste. …
But the idea inside the album, once you start to listen to the music, is, “What if we lived our lives based on something else, something other than accumulation and competition? What if we were the way we were when we were 8 years old, which was based on love and compassion? What if that was the way that we rewarded ourselves was by making people happy and cooperating with people?” Well then, maybe all these problems would still be problems, but they would now look easy to do instead of insurmountable and very hard. And so that’s the idea of the album: Amid the noise and haste, somewhere in there is the truth. Amid all this fast-pace crap and competition stuff, and step on the person next to you to get ahead, amid all that stuff is the truth, and it’s inside of you and it’s inside of me, and all we really got to do is find it. And once we do, maybe things will just work themselves out.
SA: So, I know you guys love Hawaii. What is it that you love?
JH: Well, a lot of (people) already know that Hawaii was the first time that we played for big audiences, the first time for radio, TV, newspapers, stuff like that. But something else great about Hawaii that I was talking about with my buddy Nahko Bear, who lived in Hilo for years, was the feeling of “tribe” out there. You know, you got your family, you got your crew. But when times get tough, you reach outside of that crew and you help the crew next to you. And that’s something that Hawaii is very good at doing. They take it one day at a time, they take it one family at a time, they take it one problem at a time. And in the end, when things get rough, they all work together.
If the world could see itself the way Hawaii sees itself, it might not be in as bad a shape as it is right now and it might look beautiful, the way Hawaii does.
SA: On the new album, you have a collaboration with Anuhea and J Boog, “Easier.” What is that song all about? How did it come about?
JH: “Easier” is the most confusing song on the album, and I’ll tell you the reason. The reason you can’t figure out what that song is about — and it’s funny because even Boogie, he was laying down his verse and he was like, “Yeah, you know, I think I’m saying the right thing here but is it me, or do you never actually ever say what the song is about?” And I was like “Yes.”
Because the song is about, “What is the secret of life?” And maybe life is just for living. Maybe life is just for enjoying life. Maybe life isn’t for saying what everything is about. Maybe life is just kind of enjoying the experience and talking about stuff.
So that’s what the song is about — “It’s easier when you don’t lie, it’s easier when you don’t try” to be something that you’re not. And Anuhea says, “It’s in the summer breeze, it’s in the wind that blows / It’s in the innocent, it’s in the criminals.”
There’s something inside all of us that’s beautiful and there’s something inside all of us that tells us we have a reason to be here and a reason to enjoy ourselves and be happy. So the song is about that.
And Boog says, “OK, so why me?” and I said, “Because man, every time I see you, you’re just enjoying your life for what it is. You don’t take any days for granted. You wake up and you go seize the moment.” And he says, “All right, so I’m gonna write about how I never really wanted to get a job that didn’t benefit my people to thrive: ‘I don’t qualify for your so-called regular life / I wish these people could see what we see and break out of their single-file line / But I’ll blaze it for all the people who feel underrated / Even though society doesn’t rate you, don’t ever change and don’t let ’em fake you / ‘Cause life can be just that, easier.'”
Boogie sent me that verse and I was like, “Man, it’s genius.”
SA: Will Anuhea be making an appearance at any of the shows? Perhaps the Big Island, since she’s living there now.
JH: She’s going to be there for Hilo and for Kauai, and I’m hoping she does decide to hit up all the shows because Anuhea always has a place performing with me on stage. The last two times we played in Hawaii, in Oahu, she was there on stage, and she was there on stage in Maui. I love performing with her. She’s my sis, man. I dig that girl, I always have. And I love her music.
I actually wrote one of her songs on her last record (“It’s Not the Same” off the 2012 album “For Love”). It’s the really sad love song. I was messing with her, how she didn’t have any sad love songs.
I was like, “All of your love songs are about sunshine and lemonade, and like, how beautiful his eyes are and how you want to go on a date with him.” And she was like, “Yeah … I kind of like the happy love songs.” And I was like, “I haven’t written a happy love song once in my entire life.” And she was like, “OK then, write me a sad love song.” So I wrote it and I sent it to her and asked her, “Could you ever write this?” and she said, “Not in a million years.” And I said, “OK then, it’s perfect for you.”
SA: Yes, a while back she mentioned in an interview how excited she was about a secret collaboration. Now I know what she was talking about.
JH: Yeah, she was talking about me writing a song on her record and us doing “Easier” on the new record because she came and stayed in my studio for a couple days. … We wrote together some stuff, and “Easier” was the main cool thing that we got out of it. But we actually have a couple of other things that we’re working on that we’re probably gonna revisit in the future.
But yeah, I have a lot of fun working with Anuhea. We have a lot of fun in the same way with Boogie. Whenever I see J Boog at a festival or whatever, that’s my roll dog. If you want to find me, just go on J Boog’s bus — I’ll be sitting there with him and the whole crew just chillin’, eating whatever they’re eating and drinking whatever they’re drinking. I love those guys. Same with The Green, honestly. We’re close with a lot of those guys. I mean, I text with JP (Kennedy) and Boogie and Anuhea. That’s my crew, man. I love the Hawaiian groups.
SA: To wrap up, what do you hope audiences take away from your show?
JH: I just hope that people try to look inside themselves to try to find the answers. … They don’t come from things, they come from experiences. And we want our show to be an experience of positive energy and love and compassion, and hypeness and good vibes and going crazy and good music. We want people to see that as a real experience. Life is full of those moments where you go, “Wow, I think I just went to something that was kind of meant to be.” So you know, pay attention to those things, because the crap that society and the government tries to sell you, they just want your money. And that stuff doesn’t do a thing for happiness.
MICHAEL FRANTI LIVES TO TELL
Five years ago, Michael Franti and his band Spearhead invaded the mainstream with the catchy reggae tune “Say Hey (I Love You).” It was the breakthrough hit Franti had worked for after 20-plus years in the music industry.
It should have been a time of celebration. But instead, Franti found himself fighting for his life.
After months of feeling ill, with doctors unable to find the problem, Franti’s appendix ruptured during a yoga class while he was on tour. He thought he had a hernia or a torn muscle — it was seven days before a doctor was able to diagnose the problem correctly.
“At that point I couldn’t stand up anymore; my whole body had become swollen with infection,” Franti recalled during a phone interview from San Francisco last week.
“On the day of the surgery, I got a text from someone saying, ‘Your song “Say Hey (I Love You)” has just gone into the Top 20.’
“We never had a song in the top 20,000 before, so it was like a big deal, you know,” he said with a laugh. “I looked at the doctor and said, ‘You better fix me, I want to hear my song on the radio.’
“And then after the surgery, it was like the song didn’t matter anymore. I was so grateful to just be alive, to have my kids around me, to have the people who love me around me again.”
The near-death experience has gone on to inspire his music.
“Sound of Sunshine,” the first record following his illness, is “all about gratitude for the simple thing in life,” Franti said, while his latest album, 2013’s “All People,” is about “that same gratitude to the people who are closest to us, but also a desire to make a difference in the planet during the short lifetime that each of us have.”
FRANTI is making a difference by spreading his message of love and understanding.
His latest project is the Do It For the Love Foundation, which he founded with girlfriend Sara Agah last August. The foundation gives children with advanced stages of life-threatening illness or severe challenges, as well as wounded veterans, tickets to attend live concerts.
Franti is also in the process of wrapping up his second documentary film, “11:59,” named for one of his songs from “All People.” The film, set to be released this fall, focuses on “ordinary people who have done extraordinary things to make a difference in the world.”
Franti’s first film was “I Know I’m Not Alone,” which follows the artist on a journey to the war-torn Middle East in 2004. With just his guitar, a film team and good intentions, Franti connected with everyday people in Iraq, the West Bank and Gaza.
Fast-forward 10 years later, and the Middle East is still in turmoil, especially with the recent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the rise of Islamic State militants.
“It makes me really sad and makes me wish our foreign policy took the humanitarian message more seriously than we do bombing,” Franti said.
“I said it in a song years ago: ‘We can bomb the world to pieces, but we can’t bomb it into peace.'”