The rapping, beatboxing, reggae star, Matisyahu, came into fame in the mid 2000s with his chart topping sophomore album, Youth, as the “Chassidic Rapper.” Six years after posting a beardless picture on Twitter captioned “Sorry folks, all you get is me…no alias,” Matisyahu has been just that – beyond novelty; a complex, creatively variable, and individualistic artist.
Matisyahu is now on tour in support of his Release the Bound EP, which dropped in November. The EP features five songs in which Matisyahu collaborates with a few different producers. Thematically, Matisyahu has not strayed from the influence of faith in his songs, and finds where that faith meets personal relatability in the human experience. Release the Bound is a lyrical narrative alluding to the Jewish prophet, Abraham, and his journey and struggle, analogous to a shared human experience.
Not surprising for the artist, who seems to always be stepping into his next endeavor before the previous has lost it’s presence, is also getting ready to release a double LP, tentatively set to drop this spring. The single, “Step Out into the Light”, was released in early March.
Matisyahu said that the new album is much different from the Release the Bound EP, which is more collaborative outside of himself and his band. “Not a lot of bells and whistles, not a lot of guest artists, or extra production,” he said. The upcoming record is more representative of a “vision for the music that we’ve been on this quest to create over the past 15 years.”
“The new record coming out this spring I would say is the culmination of the last two or three years of work in terms of creating a sound and putting together the right elements to be able to create that sound,” said Matisyahu. “The right band, just playing a lot of music together, a lot of improvisations and exploring a lot of new territory live while usually out on tour.”
Improv is essential in the crafting of the songs, and the live performance is often where the writing is done. The dynamic group of musicians features Big Yuki (keys), Stu Brooks (bass), Joe Tomino (drums), and of course, Aaron Dugan (guitar) who has been making music with Matisyahu since they were in college. Each member has an imperative influence in the formation of these songs.
“It’s like you’re cooking something and you only have five ingredients,” he said. “There are only four members in the band and myself. So each ingredient is gonna make a huge impact on the flavor and the dish you create so when you bring in different players, if you’re playing songs as they are on a record you can always give somebody tracks and you can always say, ‘this is the feel, can you copy this?’ and there’s a lot of musicians out there who can do that.”
“In this case, bringing someone new into the band, you’re trying to get them to move away from that sort of way of doing things like a hired gun and you’re trying to get them to actually express themselves.”
The band’s strong live presence is the product of personal relationships, allowing comfort in doing something unexpected every time, for the band as well as the audience. The band then references live recordings of improvisations when writing the record.
For his upcoming release, Matisyahu said he went into the studio without any material, but he wasn’t worried.
“We put the time in, playing music together, creating together, living together, sharing that vision with each other, so when it comes time to make the record it’s all there. Now we just gotta pull it out,” he said.
In writing lyrics for the new album, Matisyahu adjusted his storytelling lens further from only lyrics, but onto the whole ensemble as a backdrop to his vision for the album. “Even if there were no lyrics at all,” he said, “the music tells a story on it’s own.”
Matisyahu will be hitting the stage Tuesday, March 28, at The National – doors at 6:30pm. Tickets $23 in advance, $26 day of show.