Port Chester, NY—Together since high school, SOJA has spent the last two decades touring the world, bringing its roots reggae music to the masses. Dedication to the craft has helped the band garner 7 million online followers, rack up more than 300 million YouTube views and land two Grammy nominations in the process. Currently on the road supporting its new Poetry In Motion album (ATO Records), SOJA is just as likely to be in the air, heading to South America and Europe, which it tours just as often as the United States. As a result, the group averages 120 shows a year, and that’s probably a low figure, says veteran FOH engineer Michael Versteegt.
Grabbing a bite before showtime at The Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY, Versteegt jokingly shared the benefit of the band’s widespread fanbase: “A band like this has found popularity around the world, so there’s a lot of markets they can play—they can go to South America and play summertime there, which is December, January, so you get to go from summer in one place to another.”
In truth, however, mixing the band not only keeps Versteegt on the move, but also on his toes: “It’s a lot of dynamic mixing, because they have elements of Rock and Roll, Latin, DC Go Go Funk, and you have to mix it per the style. With the Latin music, you want to emphasize the percussion and the horns; Rock and Roll is going to be a lot of guitars; Go Go is very percussion-driven, so that’s a lot of dynamic mixing to move from one style to the next. You can’t leave the faders flat and let it mix itself; you really have to keep on top of it.”
An added bonus, however, is that he gets an opportunity to perform with his mix, thanks to the band’s proclivity for dub music. “Reggae involves a lot of dubbing,” Versteegt explained. “You can throw in effects, and it gives you a lot of play to create your own soundscape, which is always a lot of fun. They give me a lot of freedom with the dubbing, so it’s something I do just about every night. I have certain parts that I do, but it’s not always the same; I might improvise if I feel that something needs to be changed.
“Phasers, reverbs and delays are the go-to effects,” he added. “You have a big reverb on the snare usually, and phasers are a typical effect used in dub—Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry would run reverbs through phasers and hi-hats and things like that. It’s also a common thing actually to use guitar pedals as delay effects in dub, so I have a Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo guitar pedal. It used to be people would use the Boss RE-20 Space Echo and I’ve used the Line 6 delay, but I like the El Capistan. It emulates a tape delay pretty well, has some ring reverb effects on it as well, and it’s handy to have actual knobs there because you’re regenerating sound on the fly—stuff you really can’t do that well on a digital console.”
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The eight-piece band fills up 40 inputs on its Midas Pro2 digital console when touring the U.S., but picks up local Avid Venue Profiles when overseas. Versteegt eschews outboard gear other than the Strymon pedal, but is now venturing into the world of plug-ins: “We have a laptop that we use for multitracking the shows, and now I’m starting to get into plug-in hosts like Waves MultiRack and LiveProfessor by Audiostrom to bring in effects that you can’t typically use on the Midas console.” The band carries its own control gear, cabling and miking, the latter a varied selection of Shures, Sennheisers, Miktek, Heil and AMT microphones and Radial DIs.
This summer, the band’s heavy schedule will find it playing festivals as far ranging as Bottlerock in California’s Napa Valley; Summerjam in Cologne, Germany; and Reggae Sun Ska Festival in Vertheuil, France. That far-flung fanbase is no accident as the band makes a point of speaking to audiences in their native tongues, recording songs with guest vocalists like Collie Buddz and Damian Marley, and welcoming regional stars on-stage—Marcelo Falcão of O Rappa has sat in with the band in Brazil and likewise Balik from Danakil in France.
SOJA’s international presence has made the last two years a personally satisfying experience for Versteegt as well: “If you go outside the major cities in Brazil or France, people don’t speak English—and I’m fine with that. I can speak Portuguese, Spanish and French pretty well, and that goes a long way. Being able to communicate not only technically but also vibe-wise shows that you really take an interest in their culture and you’re not just an English-speaking American. They give you really nice treatment and want the best for your show, too. That’s one of my favorite things about touring with SOJA is visiting different countries and learning, which is one of my passions. It’s not just work, it’s learning.”
SOJA • www.sojamusic.com
Strymon • www.strymon.net