Matisyahu: My Relationship to Judaism Has Grown and Changed

Matisyahu: My Relationship to Judaism Has Grown and Changed
Mark Squires (Press photo)

Matthew Paul Miller, otherwise known as Matisyahu (translated to "Gift of God" in Hebrew), has been putting out his blend of traditional Jewish themes, reggae, beatboxing, alternative, and slightly psychedelic rock since 2004.

From the beginning, he was known for his signature beard and Hasidic garb, and strong Jewish faith. Four albums later, he's moved to L.A., left his yarmulke by the wayside, and dyed his hair blond. While he still may be religious, he says he felt locked in by the Hasidic life, and felt he needed to expand to discover his own truth. Which, coincidentally, has worked quite well for his musical style.

Currently on tour after finishing up his fifth studio album, Matisyahu is ready to take his career, and sound, to the next level.

Up on the Sun talked with the artist once called by Esquire "the most intriguing reggae artist in the world" about being inspired by his son, the virtue he wished all humans possessed, the Alabama Shakes and his first concert.

So you're recording your next album with Joel Hamilton right now, correct? Yes, with Joel, the Dub Trio, Aaron Dugan, Rob Marscher and Mark Guliana. We are entering our final week of recording now at Studio G in Brooklyn.

You said on Twitter that it is going to be very different from Sparkseeker, which was really well received. I talked with you at the release of that record, and I love how positive the album is. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind "Sunshine"? "Sunshine" is about my oldest son Laivy. He came out blond like sunshine, and both me and his mother have dark hair. The second verse is about when I learned to sing. I had been living in a car with no money and had stopped speaking. It was then that I heard a man sing a song in the park, Rastaman Chant, and I realized the words were biblical and I had some strong connection to it. It's about returning to meet your younger self and acting as his guide.

Tell me about this new one you are working on. Like my last record, it's not what I planned and it came together very organically. I was in NY and went over to meet my good friend/bass player/ musical soul brother, Stu Brooks of the Dub Trio, and he played me a track he had been working on. I immediately got inspired and wrote and recorded the song right there. We brought in Dave Holmes and Joe Tomino of Dub trio and began writing and recording at my home in L.A. Then we brought Joel Hamilton in to help produce, engineer, and mix. They have worked closely with him before and we are all friends.


My kids were coming to camp in NY, and I found myself in a strange place. I was halfway through a record and leaving for tour till October and I had three weeks off. We decided to finish the record before the tour. I won't even try to describe it in terms of genre because it would be impossible. I bring together all of the influences in my life to create. I will say it is much more spacious as opposed to the layering and ear candy of the last record. It is also a very personal and honest record.

What type of collaborations can we expect? As of now it's the musicians I mentioned as well as a rapper named C Rayz Walz.

When are you looking for that to be released? Hopefully early next year.

So, going back to the positive changes you experienced while writing "Sunshine," and the changes that you made physically, like shaving the beard and the blond hair -- How were you changing on the inside that provoked these outside changes? Currently, my hair is gray and I have a beard. The external has always been a reflection of the inside for me. When I was getting into Judaism I took on the look that came with it.

I wouldn't say I'm less connected to Judaism now; on the contrary, my relationship to it has grown and changed; but when I shaved, I needed to let go of a lot and return to the basics. Getting back to the core and losing my identity in the process.

Religion can be such a struggle in terms of understanding what how to live your lifestyle accordingly -- for all religions. What is something you've discovered that works for you in terms of being at peace and staying true to what you believe, especially on the road? Self exploration. The ability to make new discoveries about myself and the world I live in inspires me. It helps me to retain a sense of wonder.

If you could give all humans in the world one virtue, what would it be? Compassion.

What's one of your favorite performers? I just saw Alabama Shakes the other night and it was pretty amazing.

What was the first concert you went to? Grateful Dead, 1979, northern California. I was one.

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