All hail Matisyahu. Seriously. The man in a force to be reckoned with – and, yes, we have reduced ourselves to overused cliches because there’s really no other way to explain him. Although widely known for his 2009 track “One Day“, he has been creating inspirational works of art repeatedly under his Hebrew name since 2004’s Shake Off The Dust… ARISE. We’re massive fans of his work in general, but the new album Undercurrent was just released on May 19th, and we knew we had to get on board and ask him some questions.
So we did.
What was the first song or album you remember listening to, and who introduced it to you?
Skeletons in The Closet. It looked cool and was with my parents other records. Yes records as in LP’s. This was prob early eighties so we might not have had a cassette player in the house just the car. LP’s art was a big deal because it called out to you. I remember the music sounding nothing like the cover. It would be many years before I’d return to the Dead.
Does that song or album have any bearing on your sound now?
Yes, in that improvisation is the foundation to my live performance.
Was there a defining moment when you realized you wanted to pursue music in your life?
I always knew I wanted to be a performer in some respect but that vision changed as my life progressed. If I had to locate one moment though it would be the Centrum in Worcester, Mass in winter 1995/96. I dropped LSD for the first time and realized that it was not about performing so much as channeling and creating an environment for people to experience a spiritual experience and I felt that the capability for that was alive inside me since birth.
Your 6th studio album – Undercurrent – came out on May 19th. What are you most excited about with this release?
I love the music. I love the people making the music. These are my closest friends and musicians with whom I’ve created a bond and connections and I feel it comes through. It’s exciting to put your inner journey and creative emotion out there for people to connect with. To bring people along or be an influence on someone’s path is a special thing.
Your music has always had an ambiance to it. You have a way of spinning songs with such heavy content into the most beautiful compositions. How do you do it? How do you make it feel like a weight is being lifted from your listeners every time they listen to one of your tracks?
Wow. Thank you. I am very interested in the dynamics created between tension and release in music. In chassidic thought this concept is called ratzo v shuv, run and return. The interplay between light and dark and taking people through multiple musical landscapes is what makes music fun for me.
Do you have a favorite track off the album?
It’s like one long track to me with many different movements. I actually feel it’s deeply connected to the last record I released in 2014 AKEDA. I am really loving playing the first track live, “Step Out Into The Light”.
Your single “Back to the Old” is 5:49 of you laying yourself out on the table. Was there a specific event that inspired that track, or was it a long time coming?
This is just me talking about my current life. Or at least my current life 8 months ago. I tend to go through movements as well which plays into the undercurrent theme of the title. Moving back east after my time in LA, starting over, living simple, reflecting on my porch as I stare out over the Hudson River. Reflecting on being a dad of 4, relationships, career, religion, God, etc.
You’re a lot more vulnerable in your lyricism this time around. Not to mention you produced this record completely, just you and the band this time. Was there something that triggered that decision for you?
Yeah I’m prob more vulnerable in my life. In Judaism it is called to return to the question when someone becomes “less” orthodox. This is a vulnerable state. The not knowing state. This is the same place and reason I appreciate improvisation in music. It requires one to move beyond what they know and to re enter the question or in chassidut the vacated space where God created his world in the absence of self.
“Back to The Old” speaks of “trying to be a Superman.” If you could be any superhero, who would you choose and why?
Silver Surfernd for obvious reasons. I like waves.
Who would you collaborate with if you could – any medium – and what would you create together?
I guess I would want to make a movie with Seth Rogan. Just seems like fun.
Let’s make that happen! What is on your rider list now, or what would be on your ideal rider list?
Right now we have bud light, stumptown coffee, cold pressed juice. Ideally I would have the same plus 5 jet packs.
What’s your idea of the perfect venue/performance day?
I like venues in music towns where community is apparent and I like when we are right on the bus at venue or close so I can get a feel for the place and people before the show. I have had some epic dayssssss. Most of memories are runs or motorcycle rides I’ve had leading up to shows or having my kids on the road.
What do you think is the greatest obstacle facing the music industry these days?
Kidney failure. So much abundance of shit and people do a really good job stylizing it well so many people can’t tell the difference until their souls are starving from being fed toxicity.
What’s down the funnel for you in 2017?
A shit ton of shows.
Anything else you’d like to add? Any plans to head to KC?
Yeah we usually play crossroads once a year. Maybe In the fall.
We. Can’t. Wait. Undercurrent is available now. Keep up with the master here.