Matisyahu is a Hasidic singer/songwriter known for his unique style that combines a number of different musical genres and ideas. Media Mikes had the chance recently to speak with Matisyahu about the evolution of his sound and his current tour.
Adam Lawton: You have a sound that is quite unique. How would you describe it to someone who is unfamiliar with it?
Matisyahu: My sound is a mixture of different sounds. I actually don’t like to try and describe my sound because I am not good at it. I am not good at giving musical descriptions. There is a certain vocabulary you have to have in order to really be able to describe something. Listing off genres like rock, reggae and rap mixed with Hebrew ideas just doesn’t do it. Rock and all those genres can me so many different things. I really don’t have the vocabulary in order to give it what I feel to be a proper description. I like to leave that to the music journalist who describe it.
AL: When you were first starting out how did you come to develop your style of sound?
Matisyahu: I didn’t really make a decision to do what I do. There wasn’t a calculated idea or anything. It was more of just an organic part of who I am. When I heard different music I guess from the time I was born till today if it is something that I like I don’t think of it in terms of genres or if it goes together. For me it’s about if you like something you make mixtures and blends. That’s what music is. Rock music came out of the blues and reggae is a mixture of ska and rock. It’s all about blending.
AL: When you’re putting songs together what type of process do you take?
Matisyahu: It depends. Every song is different. Sometimes lyrics come first and sometimes the music comes first. If I am writing like a rapper then for me the beat is necessary. I need the beat to be there and to be inspired. The inspiration will come from the music itself and then it is basically a free association. You are spitting out whatever comes to mind. The way the lyrics sound placed next to each other and the way certain syllables and vowels go together. It is more instinctual. Whatever the thoughts or the feelings inside of me are they just come out. Other times I have written songs that are more of a concept. I may have been studying something or realized something in my life and then wrote lyrics about it followed by the music. Usually in that type of situation I will write the lyrics and then after the track is made I will re-write them to include words that I like. I will write them in more of a pattern or rhyme scheme.
AL: From your first album “Shake Off the Dust..Arise” to your latest release “Spark Seeker” how do you think your sound has evolved?
Matisyahu: The main thing for me that has evolved is my confidencein myself as a singer and my musicality. I think when I was first starting out I felt that I could sing and I had content but I wasn’t a trained musician. Being I wasn’t a trained musician I felt I had a certain lack of confidence in myself and my innate instinctual knowledge of music. I think over time I have learned more to trust myself when I am in that situation.
AL: Were there times when you had trouble getting people to see past your look and appreciate what you were creating?
Matisyahu: There probably was. I think when I started I was so naive and blind to it all. I didn’t care and I didn’t think about what anyone was saying. I don’t even think I had a computer or TV at that time. This was before Facebook back in 2004. People really weren’t making comments about things unless they were doing it to your face. It was really only in my community that people would comment to me. That was a whole different kind of thing. It was more reporters with the questions. I knew there had never been a Hasidic singer making it into mainstream music culture. I knew that was going to be the question and what people would want to know about. For people who were really touched by my music it was never about what I looked like or what I believe. It was about what I believe and how the music touches those people. To my fans and the people who felt really connected they were there with me and that was enough for me. The fact that other people had heard of me because of being a Hasidic reggae guy it was a nice thing. People wouldn’t have heard of me otherwise. Maybe my music would have come out and stood on its own but, I became more familiar with people for that reason as maybe they would down the line investigate more and listen.
AL: Can you tell us about the current tour going on and your plans for this year’s Festival of Light shows?
Matisyahu: I am currently on tour playing a number of college towns across America. That tour will run for about 6 weeks and features the Constellations as our opening act. After that I have about a week off and then I will be back for my Hanukah shows. This year for the Hanukah shows we have some west coast dates planned as well as some acoustic shows. Every show will be different and the acoustic stuff of course is done differently when we perform it live. Every night we try and change things up.