Matisyahu drops shattered EP, starts tour and prepares to release Light

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:: Matisyahu ::
:: Ogden Theatre :: November 29 ::
:: Fox Theatre :: November 30 ::

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By Karen Maye

For some, music can define their life. For Matisyahu Miller, music is life.

Matisyahu was born Matthew Paul Miller on June 30, 1979 in West Chester, Pa. Although he is not a rabbi, the Hasidic Jew, who uses the Yiddish pronunciation of the name Matthew, is often referred to as the “Reggae Rabbi.”

During his early teenage years, Matisyahu fell into the “Deadhead” crowd. He learned to beat box, and would play his bongos in the lunchroom, proudly displaying his Birkenstocks and dreadlocks. But at the age of 16, Matisyahu participated in a semester-long Jewish heritage program in Israel and his true feelings about his religion began to surface.

After leaving Israel, Matisyahu had a difficult time maintaining his new connection with Judaism and would eventually drop out of high school to go on Phish tour. When he returned home a few months later, his parents sent him off to a wilderness school that encouraged his artistic pursuits. It was there that Matisyahu studied up on reggae and hip-hop, attending open mic nights where he would rap, sing, and beat box.

In 2004, Matisyahu released his first album, Shake Off the Dust…Arise with JDub Records, a not-for-profit record label that promotes Jewish musicians. But he wasn’t widely known until Bonnaroo 2005, when Trey Anastasio of Phish invited him to play during his set. That single event would launch Matisyahu’s career. 2005 and 2006 would be huge years for Matisyahu with the release of his second album Youth, a live album, Live at Stubb’s, and extensive touring throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Israel. He also returned to Bonnaroo, this time playing his own set, and holding open Shabbat services for his fans.

“The first year I was at Bonnaroo I was there on a Friday afternoon and on Saturday I was leaving for Shabbat. I was going to Nashville and then coming back, our show was on Sunday,” Matisyahu told The Marquee in a recent interview. “When I was there a bunch of kids were coming over to me and saying, ‘Oh are you going to be here for Shabbat, can we come make Kiddush with you? Are there going to be any prayer services on Saturday morning?’ That was kind of the initial inspiration for it. It’s a cool thing; we sort of just open it up. It gives kids an opportunity to meet me, we get to chat. It makes it easier for me that I don’t have to run away and come back. I can really be there at the festival. The last one we did was at Langerado this year.”

His latest album, Shattered, was released on October 21 with Epic Records. It is a four-song EP featuring tracks from his new full-length album, Light, due out in early 2009.
“The EP is really a glimpse of Light. It shows the vibe and feeling of the record,” said Matisyahu. “Light is sort of an extension of the EP.”

Shattered was produced by David Kahne (Paul McCartney, Sublime) and was recorded and mixed in New York, Los Angeles, Virginia, and Jamaica.

“The biggest influence was there was an artist that we worked with named Stephen McGregor,” said Matisyahu. “The record was pretty much finished and we went [to Jamaica]to get Sly & Robbie to play on a couple of songs. While we were down there, we made a plan to meet up with this producer who I’d heard some of his stuff and really liked it.”

Shattered features several guest artists including Sly & Robbie, Ooah from Glitch Mob, Norwood Fisher of Fishbone, and Stephen McGregor, son of the legendary reggae singer and producer Freddie McGregor.

“Stephen’s this 17-year-old kid that lives down there, very unassuming, humble, laid back kid. Two of my favorite tracks on the record are tracks we did with him,” said Matisyahu. “It definitely gave the record and those songs a certain edge and a certain vibe that I don’t think would have been there otherwise.”

Debuting on the album is Matisyahu’s new lineup. “This past spring I changed my band around,” Matisyahu said. “After playing for 3 [or]4 years, there was always kind of this tension and this feeling like we couldn’t let things go too far. At the risk of it dragging on or at the risk of it becoming too jammy, that kind of created a certain vibe in my band that was tense.” His current lineup includes Aaron Dugan (guitar), Jason Fraticelli (bass), Rob Marscher (keys), Daniel Sadownick (percussion), and Skoota Warner (drums).

“I have a band now that really isn’t afraid to try out different things and that’s really what we’re doing a lot of, which is totally opening up the music,” Matisyahu said.

Also recently announced was Matisyahu’s Third Annual Festival of Light in New York City.
The run will consist of eight shows and begins December 21, the first night of Chanukah. Special guests will include Assembly of Dust, Asher Roth, U Melt, The Leevees, Little Jackie, Easy Star All-Stars, and Brett Dennen, who will open the final show on December 30. Matisyahu will kick off the run with a special guest DJ the first night.

It’s a delicate balance between his music and his religion. As Judaism is quite an anti-proselytizing religion, there are some who do not agree with Matisyahu’s musical message. “There definitely are ultra-orthodox Jews that don’t listen to any music that has any influence from modern society.” Matisyahu said. “Just recently when I was in Israel, a young kid just kind of sheepishly came over and gave me a book that one of his Rabbis gave him. It didn’t have my name in it per say, but it was about music and modern music, and how it’s something that shouldn’t be accepted. But around me in my environment there’s a lot of very religious Jews that I’m friends with and neighbors with and hang out with, and they’re all huge fans and very inspired by the music and feel that it’s a real move in the right direction.”

:: Matisyahu ::
:: Ogden Theatre :: November 29 ::
:: Fox Theatre :: November 30 ::

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• Bob Marley
• Wyclef Jean
• Sublime

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1 Comment

  1. finally a savier in raggae comes along, after marley no one could compair. matisyahu gives the essence of movement thats raggae. sending the message of our creator, earth, nature, hope, love and peace. sure he is jewish for all the more of purest at heart and in touch with faith and one. matisyahu you made me believe again and i adore you as you touch my soul thru your music… legend in the making! god bless us all…

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