Before there was a Matisyahu, reggae seemed confined to the cultural limits of its creators; which made Matisyahu's introduction a few years ago that epic. As a practicing Hasidic Jew, he reaped a ton of praise from the Jewish community, but his music knew no cultural limits. With the breakthrough of "King Without A Crown," the suited, bearded reggae rapper had thus a branded image in the minds of spectators.
Just as the star found himself tired of a label, he made the brazen decision to chop it all off last year: his hair AND trademark beard. It wasn't just merely a haircut, though. It was a transformation, an allowance for cristicm, and an window of opportunity to journey a new road. He received a heap of backlash from the Jewish community from the change, and mixed criticism from fans.
With a new image, Matisyahu released Spark Seeker, last summer. Although it's weaved in heavier beats and a more pop-enthused sound, he didn't ditch his musical style. From Youth to Light, the star has kept the reggae vibe in all of his songs, launching lyrics with spiritual, love, and inspirational allusions. With a heavy diet of religion, the thing that is probably most enticing about Matisyahu is his accessibility to any listener.
While enjoying his polished look and living somewhat incognito, the rapper's latest album was an acoustic celebration of Spark Seeker, with seven tracks cut down to their roots. Seemingly ironic due to the pop sound, Spark Seeker Acoustic Sessions reshapes seven of the tracks into live, completely mesmerizing acoustic ballads.
He posses the artistic authenticity of Thom Yorke, the heartfelt purity of Bob Marley himself, with the universal appeal of John Lennon. And although his looks may have changed, we will continue to stand behind Matisyahu in full-fledged support for whatever path he may blaze.
In celebration of his Spark Seeker Acoustic Sessions, Matisyahu is currently on a short tour of the east coast. If you're in the area, we highly recommend warming up your February with some reggae beatboxing, funky acoustics, heartfelt goodness, and that trademark feel good vibe the rapper radiates.
We caught up with Matisyahu to discuss the decision to strip down to acoustic, some possible Valentine's Day plans, and what his upcoming year will bring him.
What prompted you to strip down to an acoustic album?
Many people don't know it, but I've been playing acoustic shows for some time. Actually, my first performance was when I was 18 were acoustic at a coffee shop in Bend, Oregon. I wanted to do a tour of these shows and I've wanted to record an acoustic album for a while.
So there are only seven tracks on the album, how did you sift through and decide which to reproduce from the original Spark Seeker?
Not really sure, it kind of just evolved into those songs.
Do you see yourself in the future covering more of your older material? It sounds lovely - they're given a whole new meaning in my eyes. Was this concept long awaited?
Yes, I think maybe in a similar way I will release another live recording, but not just Spark Seeker songs...maybe it will be a full show.
How did the band come together for this tour? Did it sort of just happen, or have you known you've wanted to work with these guys for a while?
Well, Dave Holmes (guitar) plays with me and the Dub Trio so we were just out on tour for six months and playing these songs acoustic almost daily at radio stations and record shops. While we were in Atlanta, I had my friend Brian Gibson (cello) sit in and I felt it was really special so I asked him to join. Then I played a benefit show with my good friend Aaron Dugan recently and was reminded of his unique style and ability to improvise. I really wanted to incorporate a lot of improv into the set so I asked him to join as well. Five shows in, and I can say the unit is amazing - so much fun to play with.
Although it looks like this tour will only last a short while, do you see yourself scheduling anymore acoustic tours this year, or any others, for that matter?
I will most likely be touring this summer and yes I have a feeling I will be doing more tours of this nature.
Any special plans for Valentine's Day, even though you're playing a show?
Hadn't thought about it. Maybe I'll play "I Believe In Love".
In "Crossroads," the lyrics really give us an insight into your life. I feel like the line, "Im still young having mystic visions" comes directly from your diary. Can you say that this is true about most of the album, as a self reflection? Or can you see Spark Seeker as sort of a crossroad in your musical career?
Yes, I have always written from my experience going back to "King Without A Crown", but some songs are more in tune with where I am. "Crossroads" is one of those songs, cause everyday I feel I'm at some sort of crossroads.
Your styles are always so directional and captivating. Can you attribute these more to any specific musical influences that have inspired you, or perhaps just your life in general?
I guess I don't feel locked into one style. I feel like I have many great vocal and musical influences, especially from when I was a kid, like Tracy Chapman or Rikki Lee Jones, and I sort of let the music guide which style to use. It's like different colors for an artist, I am painting on the canvas which is the music. I never want to sound the same way twice. I want to keep it fresh and changing.
10. As for this year, what are some of your plans after finishing up the acoustic tour?
Going to Europe with the Dub Trio for a while then home to write and then probably a summer tour.
As a treat to our readers, we're giving away a pair of tickets to a lucky couple for An Acoustic Evening with Matisyahu at Asbury Park's historic Paramount Theater on Valentine's Day, Thursday, February 14.
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