A Conversation With Matisyahu: A Spiritual And Sonic Transformation
    • THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2015

    • Posted by: April Siese

    Matisyahu has lived some of his most important years punctuated by the spotlight of an Austin, Texas BBQ joint known as much for its brisket as its Sunday gospel brunch. Stubb's carries a significance for many musicians but few have used the venue as a launching point for their careers. The reggae superstar hit the scene with his 2005 debut album Live At Stubbs Vol. 1, recorded in February and released in August. He celebrated the birth of his first son, Laivy, the very same year.

    Starting a family is obviously what the man known as Matthew Paul Miller will cherish long after the crimson glow of Stubb's red neon sign stops illuminating its brick facade, though there's something to be said for his ability to meld the personal and the professional. The 2012 track "Sunshine" was inspired by Laivy, an upbeat jaunt spawned from his shock of blonde hair; a stark contrast to Matisyahu and wife Talia's darker hair.

    Surprisingly, appearance factors heavily into the evolution of Matisyahu as an artist and as a person, as if regularity immediately correlates with stagnance. Change is constant. Aside from recording location, the only consistent factor in Matisyahu's three Live at Stubb's albums is the artist himself. Guitarist Aaron Dugan pulls double duty with an appearance on both the first and third albums, while the Dub Trio joined Matisyahu onstage for Live at Stubb's Vol. 2 after having previously touring with the artist in 2009.

    "The types of musicians I've put together to create my own sound evolves and changes and so right now with this band it's about dynamics. I started playing with the Dub Trio and we developed a sound together," Matisyahu explains. "I wanted to make another live record with that band so we did a Live At Stubb's 2 and now again the same thing the music has evolved and changed and I just wanted to showcase the sound that I'm creating now."

    That 2010 show and subsequent 2011 release cemented the Brooklyn outfit as Matisyahu's touring band. 2011 marked the year that Matisyahu shaved his beard and shifted from orthodoxy to a more amorphous relationship with religion. The move went in tandem with his musical focus, a journey of discovery that he feels goes hand in hand with such personal introspection.

    "This kind of connects with my whole trip since I've been a kid. I've been at this since 14 years old or so. I started on this journey this search for myself and spirituality in music," Matisyahu explains. "Searching for something deeper and that entails patience. The Live At Stubb's things was a big deal for me. It was really all about my live show and the energy from that. Over time the music has evolved and my taste and style has changed. I've played with different musicians and had completely different bands."

    Where the first Live at Stubb's feels like a mission statement, Matisyahu's recently released Live at Stubb's Vol. 3 EP establishes the artist as a confident performer at once fully in command of his musical range while also being comfortable enough to let the flowing strands of staccato guitar meld into an improvisational beatbox riff on "King Without a Crown," his breakout single that returns in full force. And really, improvisation and growth is the name of the game for Matisyahu.

    "It's about dynamics. It's about improvisation. Listening is a big part of that rather than having a part that's already programmed. I'm not really trying to recreate the songs off the album and that's what's kept me touring and that's what kept me going when you create something new," Matisyahu says. "Any artist that's still being inspired by the same ten records they heard in high school, their music is going to stay stagnant. I try to find the music i'm inspired by and I'll put together and develop a sound with the band. We'll take that and go into the studio and write new songs based off that."

    Live at Stubb's Vol. 3 comes a full decade after the release of his debut album. The show in question was an anniversary, hence the circling back to "King Without a Crown." Towards the tail end of the track, Matisyahu announces his bandmates in a keyboard-heavy breakdown. "Ten years," he marvels. A decade of searching has led Matisyahu to this moment. Where he lands next is anyone's guess.

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