Shooting the breeze with Matisyahu: An Honest Tune interview

Matisyahu is a tireless songwriter, vocalist and emcee.

He is also a guy who has managed to effectively front a band that has included multiple sets of personnel and remained on the cusp of jam and mainstream music, a feat that few have been able to conquer. And he has done it all while maintaining his integrity in regards to his beliefs and the creation of spiritually moving and meaningful music. 

 

Of all places to catch up with him, we chose the Atlanta Airport, a place where one cannot help but be himself due to the absolute stress that the setting always imposes. 

Taking a moment to chat, Matis discussed his latest recorded effort, the upcoming festival season and a potential long term future on the silver screen amongst much more.  

 

 

Honest Tune: I understand that you are currently touring around with Trevor Hall, but festival season is upon us. Looking forward, particularly to the Hangout Festival where you got rained out at last year and had to move things inside, what are you looking forward to this year?

 

Matisyahu: Well, I might bring my family down this year. Last year we stayed in this house because it was Shabbos. But it is so beautiful and the beach was beautiful so I might bring my kids and wife this time.

But yeah, last year with the rain, we got rained out but we kind of scrambled and figured out how to play anyway and we did a little show inside which was fun.  A major memory was a kid from Crown Heights walking around with one of those big rubber ducky rafts wrapped around his waist in the rain. And I remember listening to Trey (Anastasio) and having a good time.

 

matis1.jpgHT: At the festivals, do you have much of an opportunity to just be a fan and listen to some of the other acts?

 

Matisyahu: I like to watch other bands and see, but I rarely get into it because of my perspective, but when I do, I definitely do and having Trey (Anastasio) [at Hangout Fest] was nice because anything Phish or Trey is just always able to get me there.

 

HT: So with these acoustic shows, are they just something that you are occasionally doing with Trevor or is something that we can look for more of in the future?

 

Matisyahu: There is also Adam Weinberg. He is from Miami. He was a promoter at Wash U who brought me to play there maybe six or seven years ago and we became friendly. He has a CD that is out. It is a really beautiful instrumental guitar

2011

Avett

Bisco

Lips

PG

Tedeschi

Panic

UM

JGB, 3/18/12

NMA, 4/2/12

Wanee, 2012

Delfest 2012

Floyd 2012

Bears Picnic

Sam Bush

Trey Thurs

Mikey Monday


. And then Trevor I asked to come out to play along with us for an acoustic set series at a bunch of colleges where I do a Q & A. It has been really cool.

 

HT: You have also been making a lot of acting appearances in these Funny or Die clips and you have gotten some stuff out there now that is just really hilarious. But it is almost self-mocking in a way, and demonstrating that you don’t take yourself quite as serious as some may think. I have heard people say things like “I bet Matisyahu is this really religious and stiff regimented guy.” A portion of that is true. You are regimented, but definitely not stiff. Is this your way of expressing to fans, more or less, who you really are?

 

Matisyahu: It is just a part and another side of me. I don’t think it’s necessary to sort of be so serious about who I am. I just want to be honest. That has always been my policy. And when we are doing these Q & A’s at these colleges or making those [movies], it is like you said, people have a certain view because of the music, because the music is meaningful music and spiritual music, but that doesn’t mean that I am not just a regular guy or that I don’t like to have a good time.

So I think it is important to show people who I am, but even more so, just being who I am and having a good time with my friends and making these things. In other words, it is less calculated about “how am I portraying my image to people” but rather just me being me and really giving too much of a shit what people think.

 

HT: So do you have a future in acting?

 

Matisyahu: (Laughs) Well, I have the movie coming out matis7.jpgthis Halloween called Dibbuk Box (with Kyra Sedgwick) which is not a funny role. It’s a somewhat exorcist role. Then I am working on a movie now that is actually based off of those (Funny of Die) skits, but it will be more like 20 minute shows that will probably be like a 10-part series and hopefully we can make a movie after that.  It’s basically about being on the road on summer tour and these characters that are surrounding me that are just totally insane, sort of like Larry David meets Flight of the Conchords. So stay tuned for that one. (Laughs)

 

HT: Moving away from acting and back into music… with Live at Stubbs Vol. II, have you taken the opportunity to examine the evolution of your sound or just the overall place you are at now versus with Vol. I? If so, what are your thoughts?

 

Matisyahu: Well, mainly the difference is just time. That first time was when things had really just started for me. And now it is over half a decade later. Trying to put your finger on what one thing has changed isn’t possible…everything’s changed.

And to be honest I haven’t listened to it that much. I mean, I listened to it when we were doing the mixes and stuff like that, but then after that, I haven’t really listened to it again.

I mean, I am at that show every night — or not that show but that same music — so I don’t really want to listen to it when I’m not playing it.

What is interesting is that neither of those [Stubbs] shows were anywhere near the best show of the tour. They were just regular nights, ya know? They represent a capturing of where the sound was and what it has evolved to and where it is. So it is a cool thing to have; a nice portrait.

 

matis10.jpgHT: In terms of the evolution of your sound from then to now – released on a record or not – there have been all kinds of changes. The sound has changed. Personnel has changed.

 

Matisyahu: Everything is directed towards a certain goal. Nothing has just ended up the way that it is for no reason. Everything over the years has been a series of growing experiences and choices in terms of which direction to go with, or which musicians to work with, or what kind of sound I want and how I want it to develop. For the most part, it has been deliberately heading in a certain direction.

 

HT: After doing summer 2010 without Aaron Dugan and when he rejoined you on stage for Festival of Lights, the reaction and interaction between you two was a neat thing to see. Is the Aaron component one that you are ever reminiscent of or say to yourself “I miss that?”  

 

Matisyahu: Well it is a different thing. I have a lot of respect and appreciation for Aaron and Rob (Marscher) and their playing. And when those guys came out, the music could rise to a certain level because they’re just such great soloists. That’s what they do. And when the two of them get going together, and with the solid [Dub] Trio behind them, the music can really take off and get really high. But there is also something that is gained by just having the Trio without them. And that [thing that is gained] is the space and the vocabulary that the Trio has together.

Obviously that was a hard decision for me to make, to change things up, but it was the right move I think for the moment. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss certain things, you know what I mean?

 

HT: I was talking to Marc Brownstein a little while back and he is doing a lot of dub-step stuff now. We spoke about you and the Dub Trio sound, though while not dub step, definitely possesses the dirtiness of dub sounds out there. He straight up said “Matis got out in front with that sound.” It is a sound that many are picking up on now particularly from a beat perspective. What is it about that sound to you that is impressive from both a personal and professional standpoint?

 

Matisyahu: With Dub Trio, it is a lean toward dub reggae. And the music that, in a big way, really inspired me as a teenager and growing up was the reggae sound. Over the years, I got more and more distant from it for a couple of reasons.

The band that I was playing in, for example with Aaron and Rob, they naturally were more soloists and we would go more toward the jam and rock side of things even though we had moments that were reggae. With the Trio, when they play reggae music and go into that dub stuff, they just spark that love that I have for that music back up just by the way in which they play it.

A lot of bands would play reggae music in a way that is simple because it is minimalist music. Whereas, the Trio has such a great pocket and feel for that music that it re-sparked that love that I have always had for that sound.

 

HT: It is a dirty and beautiful sound. You have a flight to catch. As always, it is a pleasure to chat.

 

Matisyahu: Definitely.

For more on Matisyahu, log on to www.MatisyahuWorld.com

 

Here is a video from a series that David Shehi shot on location at Hangout 2010 and released exclusively to the festival a few weeks ago…

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