Over the years, the Washington, D.C. music scene has become best known for its hardcore (Minor Threat) and go-go (Trouble Funk) alumni, but as evidenced by the great Bad Brains, reggae has been represented as well. SOJA has risen to the forefront, picking up right where the Brains left off – creating their own blend of conscious roots music entwined with the traditional rhythms of reggae, it “comes across with passion and depth.” (Washington Post ’06)
That said, SOJA is not that easy to define. Although they are rooted in reggae, they are not limited to it; their fan-base reflects this with a very diverse population. The music includes and embraces all walks of life - it has no prejudice – it is for everyone. The band grew up listening to reggae, hip-hop, and rock. In their sound, reggae became the predominate influence because it is dedicated to a real message and promotes revolution.
The group, which includes a pair of lead singers who also pull double duty - Jacob Hemphill (guitar) and Bob Jefferson (bass) – as well as Patrick O’Shea on keyboard, percussionist Ken Brownell, and drummer Ryan Berty, originally came together in 1997. Since 2000, the quintet has issued three full length albums and one EP – their latest, ‘Get Wiser,’ is their third for the group’s own label, Innerloop.
Hemphill explains the meaning of the album’s title. “The new album is called ‘Get Wiser’ – that’s the idea. We as a society tend to have blinders on. We are trying to uplift peoples’ consciousness by breaking down what makes us blind. To do this, we got to bring back truth. People get wiser.”
“Every song is different of course.” Hemphill continues, “I found music to be a way to express myself - through my life I’ve never been able to express myself well in conversations, but I can do it through music. It’s like my way to talk.”
Ever the road warriors (SOJA averages 150 gigs per year), the group will be supporting their latest release with a healthy amount of live dates this year on the “Get Wiser Tour”. With such a list of accumulated live dates, a specific high point is hard to pin down, but O’Shea remembers a particular performance. “One of the shows that remains in the front of my mind was playing at the Tito Puente Amphitheater in Puerto Rico with Gomba Jahbari. It was amazing to see thousands of people, many that may not speak English, singing along to the songs.”
With SOJA calling their own shots, ‘Get Wiser’ proves that the band’s message and music will only continue to grow stronger with each successive release. In support of their latest album, “Get Wiser”, SOJA is embarking on a journey around the world.
Jacob Hemphill - Lead Vocals, Guitar
Bob Jefferson - Lead Vocals, Bass
Ken Brownell - Percussion
Ryan Berty - Drums
Patrick O’Shea- Keyboards
311 and other ska musicians became popular during the '90s with fun rock-reggae infused tracks, and created a unique So-Cal music scene.
The band originally formed in Omaha, Nebraska when all original members met in high school. 311 released their debut EP, Unity, in 1990 and booked concert dates at local Omaha-area clubs. By 1992, the band moved to Los Angeles and were quickly signed to Capricorn Records. They released their debut album, "Music", in 1993 and scored a minor hit with "Do You Right". 311 concert dates were independently financed, and the band drove to venues in an old borrowed RV with borrowed equipment.
311 had better luck with their sophomore set, "Grassroots", which peaked at #8 on Billboard's Heatseekers albums chart and developed a loyal college following. They hit massive commercial success on their third try; Their self-titled album was released in 1995 and was eventually certified three times platinum. It featured the hit singles, "Down" and "All Mixed Up," and widened the band's fan base. 311 tour dates were booked in support of the album and they made an appearance on David Letterman.
They followed up with, "Transistor", which debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum. They toured extensively and filmed a live DVD at their New Orleans stop in 1998 and released one more album in the '90s, "Soundsytem", which featured the hit "Come Original".
In 2000, the band dubbed every March 11, as 311 day and every other year they gather in new Orleans to celebrate with a massive concert and play extended sets. This tradition has continued and in 2010 they moved the event to Las Vegas and played a 60 song set at Mandalay Bay. They released their sixth album, "From Chaos", in 2001 and it featured the hit reggae-infused single, "Amber". Two more albums followed, including "Evolver" and Don't Tread on Me", in the 2000s. They also scored their biggest commercial single with a cover of the Cure's "Love Song", which hit #1 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart and entered the Hot 100, marking their first entry on that survey.
311 tour dates have been particularly popular lately as their fan base has remained solid throughout the years. In 2006, they embarked on their Summer Unity Tour, which played to a record audience of 18,500 diehard fans at their Atlanta stop. Following the highly successful 37-date tour, the band announced a hiatus. They returned in 2009, and the 311 concert schedule included a revived Summer Unity Tour as well as an opening stint on the Offspring Tour.
311 released their most recent album, "Uplifter," in 2009, and are currently finishing up their forthcoming tenth album. Use Eventful as your source for 311 tour dates, concert schedule, and venue information.
While it’s a rare commodity for a band to tour as consistently as Slightly Stoopid, the group’s diligent commitment to live music provides some insight into why it's been a few years since the release of their last studio album. But on August 14, 2012, the Ocean Beach, California-based group—led by co-founders and multi-instrumentalists Miles Doughty and Kyle McDonald—will drop their latest studio effort, Top of the World. As heard throughout the disc, the layoff between albums has not affected the group's penchant for cooking up the tasty fusion and massive groove that permeates Stoopid’s trademark sound.
"We're a touring act, and we've been on the road pretty much non-stop over the last decade," explains Doughty. "It really came into play on the release of the new record. Our last studio record [Slightly Not Stoned Enough to Eat Breakfast Yet Stoopid] was about three and a half years ago. But with the band, we were starting families, we'd been on the road so much, we really didn't have time to sit down and
focus on actually recording it."
Doughty also admits that the creation of the band's own recording studio and rehearsal clubhouse, within the warehouse district of Mission Valley (just inland of Ocean Beach), certainly aided the creation of Top of the World.
"In the past two years, we started our own studio, which really enabled us to make the record at our own pace, and to make the right record for us at this time in our career,” Doughty continues.
“What's nice about it is having our own environment to record in
and analyze the music, and it really lets you keep an organic feel. For us, I feel like it's a step into the next level, as far as understanding the process of recording, understanding the process of songwriting. We took everything that we've learned over the
years and really put it into this record.”
Another key ingredient to what makes Top of the World so special is the inclusion of several musical guests. "It really kept that 'family atmosphere' for us,” says Doughty. “I think it really
shows in the music—it flows. It's like one of those records that feels like it's one giant song. It keeps building and building. For us, we couldn't be happier. Top of the World speaks volumes as to where the band is today; just lyrically and musically, we're really happy with the direction."
"We had G. Love, Angelo Moore from Fishbone, Don Carlos, Barrington Levy, Ian Neville from Dumpstaphunk, Tory Ruffin from Morris Day and the Time and Fishbone, and singer/songwriter Angela Hunte. We've been friends with G. Love for over 15 years, and we've been able to work together quite a few different times in the studio. It seems like second nature. Whenever you're recording with G., it's almost
like you're really just hanging out with your bro, and
you happen to hit record. We've done so many shows
together and so many studio sessions, it becomes second nature. Angelo Moore to me is one of the greatest frontmen to ever step foot on a stage. As a fan and out of respect, I try to do something with Angelo every time we have a record, really. If you listen to his lyrics, his vocal performance—I don't know who could keep up with Angelo on stage. Don Carlos from Black Uhuru is one of the legendary reggae singers of all time, and we've had the pleasure of working with him the last few years."
Riffing on some of the album’s highlights, Doughty says "I really love 'Hiphoppablues,' the song G. Love did. I love the song 'Way You Move,' Ian Neville did a great guitar line throughout the whole song. We worked with Barrington Levy on 'Ur Love,’ he is a true architect of the dance hall! Definitely 'Ska Diddy' with Angelo—it’s a fun rant and shout out to a lot of the nooks and crannies we play across the country.”
Besides recording at their own studio, Slightly Stoopid has always been extremely hands on when it comes to their career, going back more than a decade to when they founded their own record label, Stoopid Records.
"We started Stoopid Records around 2000,” Doughty clarifies. “At that time, we were in transition as far as what we were doing with our
records, and we thought it would be good to have
our own independent label—like Sublime showed us back in the day with Skunk Records. What's nice is we've had a following with the fans, where people understand that Stoopid Records is Slightly Stoopid and other bands we want to help break out."
"For us, it was a big turning point, as far as having complete creative control over everything we do. That's something big for this band—we want to make the music for ourselves and for our fans. We don't really make music for someone in an office that tells us something needs to be there. We've always had a very organic, do-it-yourself attitude. I think it's paid off in dividends."
In addition to the arrival of Top of the World, Slightly Stoopid should be very busy for the rest of 2012. "This summer, we're doing The Unity Tour with 311. That was really cool— those guys approached us about doing a tour with them. For the last five years, we've been headlining all the amphitheater tours, so it's kind of nice that we're going to
co-headline with them. It's a good chance to not only play for our fans, but to play for 311 fans and show them the new direction of the new record. After the summer tour, we're going to do a fall tour and a winter tour, stay on the road as much as possible, promote the record, and keep making more music."
Slightly Stoopid’s current line-up, featured on the Unity Tour 2012, consists of Doughty (guitar, bass, vocals) and McDonald (guitar, bass, vocals), along with Ryan “Rymo” Moran (drums), Oguer “OG” Ocon (congas, percussion, harp, vocals), C-Money (trumpet), Dela (saxophone) and Paul Wolstencroft (keyboards). Additionally, “unofficial 8th member” Karl Denson of Greyboy Allstars also lent his talents throughout Top of the World, and is joining the band on tour this summer.
Nearly two decades into their ongoing metamorphosis, Slightly Stoopid continues to progress into new musical territory, defining their signature sound even further and creating a contagious feel-good vibe. An entire subculture has grown around the social statements the band makes with their music—and it’s been done entirely on their own terms.
No wonder they feel like they're on Top of the World.