Catching Up With Matisyahu
When Matisyahu was 17, he started freestyling in parking lots for spare conversation and change. Since then, a lot has changed: He hitchhiked around the United States with a drum attached to his hands. He got married, traveled in vans and regrouped old buddies from The New School to tour. He started a family, and he made three albums.
This year has brought the recording of his fourth album, Spark Seeker. It’s a collaboration that delivers through angles, improvisation and Judaic philosophy. By these rituals and spiritual deliveries, Matisyahu has created an album for the ears and for the hearts.
We caught up with Matis to understand his sensibility for his new release and the joy that oozes from his latest single “Sunshine.”
Paste: There is an identifiable pop element to Spark Seeker.
Matisyahu: I have always had a broad appeal in music. In high school I was the hippie listening to Phish but beat-boxing for MCs at parties. I’ve had phases where I listened to one artist or a particular genre. When my vocal style was developing I was listening to a lot of Reggae. Every time I make a record or play music with different musicians I use it as an opportunity to merge sounds and expression. Kojak (producer) and I really connected musically. We’ve created songs that are fun to listen to, that blend different styles to merge pop songs that have lots of melody, hooks and crunchy beats. Kind of like sugar cereal and Saturday morning cartoons—but with content.
There also is the whole spiritual dimension that takes place on any piece of music I’m working on. We went to Israel and had that experience it is creatively important to just to get out of the studio, take a field trip and have some experience to write about. There is a track on the record called “Tel Aviv’n” which about our experience one day going out into the desert.
Paste: Where did you write Spark Seeker? What was the motivation for the album’s single “Sunshine?”
Matisyahu: We started our work together in LA and then after some time went to Israel and recorded a lot of live instrumentation there as opposed to the mostly digital sound we were creating before. It created a very unique blend of old world sound and modern sound. “Sunshine” is the first song we recorded so to me, it made sense being the first single. It is a song about returning to the inner essence, about not giving up on oneself even after making changes and to incorporate all of the self’s, to make room for the abandoned self. During the making of this record I was in a process of shedding and returning to something that had been lost.
Paste: Who produced the album? How was the recording process?
Matisyahu: While In Israel we took over a studio in Tel Aviv for 10 days. One of my best friends, Daniel Zamir, who went to the New School in NYC went with me and also became religious around that time. He is an unbelievably talented saxophone player and songwriter and helped us arrange schedules for musicians to come by and play. We also had our good friend Avisar reaching out which totally re-inspired the record.
At that point the sound of the record started coming together. We had Zohar Fresco, who is undeniably the best Middle Eastern percussionist alive today, record with us. This combined with Kojak’s beats made something special. Then there is this singer Ravid Kahalani (Yemen Blues), who has an extremely unique voice and he came in, along with so many others. We ending up having multiple musicians playing together, improvising over beats and songs we had started and writing new tunes. Also Shyne came in from Jerusalem and recorded.
Paste: You work with a few collaborators, can you tell me a bit about that experience?
Matisyahu: This record was a lot of fun to make. The chemistry between me, Kojak and the other collaborators really made this record very natural. The process was tremendously organic. We acted spontaneously and wrote songs that we wanted to hear.
Paste: What do you feel sets this album, Spark Seeker apart from your previous records?
Matisyahu: This album has an emphasis on spirituality, as do many of my past records. It derives a lot of inspiration from Chassidut, Kabbalah, and my own process of the search for meaning. I guess it picks up where I left off. Splitting the sea, leaving slavery, journeying through the desert and entering the Promised Land.