New look, new sound for Matisyahu
Matisyahu | Photo by Mark Squires
Viper Alley, 275 Parkway Drive, Lincolnshire
7:15 p.m. Nov. 12
(847) 499-5000; viper-alley.com
Updated: November 7, 2012 2:40PM
The past year has been a time of significant developments for the recording artist Matisyahu.
Born Matthew Paul Miller, he first made a name for himself by combining his Hasidic faith (a branch of Orthodox Judaism) with a potent blend of stripped-down reggae, beatboxing and hip-hop.
After posting a photo of himself sans beard and forelock late last year in a Tweet that began “No more Chassidic reggae superstar,” he has distanced himself from Hasidism. He also made his Hollywood debut playing a Jewish exorcist in the horror film “The Possession” and released his fourth studio album, “Spark Seeker,” a recording that mixes world music with a pop sensibility.
In advance of his Nov. 12 performance at Viper Alley in Lincolnshire, he recently discussed his spiritual and musical evolution.
QUESTION: This has been a remarkable year for you, beginning with your decision to move away from Hasidism — at least in outward appearance. What led you to take that step?
ANSWER: When I shaved my beard last December, that was sort of a physical manifestation of some changes I was going through religiously. I spent a good amount of time in the past in Orthodox circles in Brooklyn and I’ve been looking a little differently at the world and moving in a bit of a different direction, at least from a religious perspective.
Even though I was going through a shift internally, I still had the same outward appearance. So, I thought it was time to try something new.
Q: People who have written about “Spark Seeker” tend to describe it as a departure from the sort of music you have released in the past. Is that the way you think of it?
A: It’s not, actually. I’ve noticed that writers keep using that word, but I don’t feel that I’ve departed. I feel more like I’m arriving. I prefer to think of my career in terms of evolution.
I feel that every record is an opportunity to try something new and explore yourself in a different way. This record doesn’t just go in one direction. It explores some different things and brings them together. We have middle-Eastern instrumentation from a live recording we did with some friends in Israel, mixed with a slicker studio sound. So, that’s kind of a combination of two things that are usually pretty far apart from each other.
Q: You’ve described the album in terms of pop music.
A: The songs are a little shiner, a little glossier than what I’ve done before. And they were written as pop songs, with big choruses and big hooks. There’s an art to making a pop song, for sure, and that’s what I was working on with this record.
Q: Is there a common theme in the songs on “Spark Seeker?”
A: I haven’t thought too much about whether there’s one common theme to all the songs, though it does contain some ideas I’ve encountered in Jewish mysticism. The idea was basically to explore individual songs. But I think when you listen to the songs, you can hear a lot of the struggle I was going through in my religious life. So perhaps that is a bit of a unifying theme.
Q: Why did you decide to take a role in “The Possession?” Do you enjoy horror films?
A: No, I’ve never been a fan. But I’ve been interested in acting since I was a kid. I’ve been wanting to get involved and do something in film and the producer and director (Sam “Spider-Man” Raimi and Ole Bornedal, ed.) had me in mind for part, so they reached out and set up the audition.
I enjoyed the experience. It was filmed mostly in Vancouver, which is a nice city, and it was a good opportunity to work on some acting and check that out.