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MATISYAHU: Jewish Rapper Spreads “Light” :: Behind the Scenes Video and Interview from Conan O’Brien Show
10 October, 2009, 10:35 PM
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Published 09/14/09 on

Before he was Matisyahu to the masses, Matthew Paul Miller was into jam bands and had a strong affinity for Phish. In 2004 he joined JDub records, which is a New York based non-profit record label promoting Jewish artists. Soon that love for Phish would land him a spot performing with the legendary band at Bonnaroo 2005, and in the following year his song “King Without a Crown” landed on the Billboard Modern Rock Top 10. His style blends rock, reggae and hip-hop influences, culminating in his latest release, Light. I caught up with Matis in his dressing room at the Conan O’Brien show, and we took some time to unwind in deluxe massage chairs before settling down to talk about the new record, the state of the musical landscape, and what it means to be humble, making meaningful music, and inspiring social activism.

URB: I was listening to Light and it sounds more urban and more universal, in a way, compared to Youth. Was it a natural progression and does it feel more like “you”? What was the creative process like behind the album?
MATIS: The way the process took place, the way it worked was, I had a little home studio and I invited my friends to come. The first person that I invited was Ooah from this band, Glitch Mob, and he’s like electro-hip-hop, glitch. I basically started bringing people to work with, so that’s how the record got made. It was made with Stephen McGregor in Jamaica, who’s like a programmer and does drums and electronic sounds. A lot of the beats were made by me beat boxing, so Aaron would play guitar, or Trevor would play guitar, and I would beat box behind it, and program drums into it and we would get different musicians to play over it, like Fishbones. It’s like the beats are all interwoven between program drums, drums and beat boxing, so that’s one unique thing to it.

URB: What was it like working with David Kahne as a producer on most of the tracks, and how did he influence your sound?
MATIS: He spends a lot of time in the studio and very much listens to things over and over and revises things again and again. Working with someone with that degree of precision was unique for me.

URB: What’s the strangest place you’ve written a song?
MATIS: The strangest place I’ve written a song? [Laughs]
URB: I always want to ask this question and see what the response is! [Laughs]
MATIS: Hmm. That’s hard. [Laughs]
URB: Are there a lot of strange places…?
MATIS: I’m trying to think how every song was put together. I don’t know how strange it is, but I’ve written a song during sound check.
URB: What song was that?
MATIS: “Youth.”

URB: How do you get inspired because I feel like you’re like most of the musicians that I really admire because it’s as if you live your music making something that’s meaningful and it works on different levels. I’m wondering how did you come about doing the charity, “One Day For Change”? I feel like you’re taking your message and what you’re all about to the next level.
MATIS: The main idea with that, “One Day For Change,” is like you were saying, to get inspiration from the music and then to take it and do something and to bring it down to the next level of action. It’s a way for people to use all the different things we have now, like the Internet and Twitter, Facebook, and all that.

Matisyahu on Music From Dressing Room @ Conan O’Brien from URB Magazine on Vimeo.

URB: You’re also really big on the fan interaction, and it seems genuine! You seem like you want to do the silly little video posts, I saw the one about thejuicer dying. And I thought, “Wow!” I didn’t really get into you the first time around because I was like, “Hasidic reggae-rap? What?” But when I heard you, I thought you make rocking the yarmulke cool! How do you prevent yourself from sounding too preachy or how do you respond to that criticism?
MATIS: Well, for me, one of the lessons I’ve learned in my life, maybe in the last five years or so, is that humility to me is the most important quality. No matter who you are, or what you believe, if you believe that you have the ultimate answer, you need to hook everybody on that, you know? For me, music is about creating space for people and the people in that space can find themselves and tap into an inner dimension of themselves and find their own answer. That’s the kind of music that I try to make, to stimulate people to feel but not to tell them what to think and feel.

URB: One thing I noticed is that you like K’Naan, and I do, too. Would you collaborate with him?
MATIS: Yeah, we talked about it and we did some touring together. You can go on YouTube, it’s probably on there, we did a song together. I performed “Jerusalem Now,” and I can’t remember which one of his he did [“If I Forget You”], but we did it for a radio station up in Portland.

URB: Yeah, I feel like you both try to do something similar and express positivity, but express it in different ways. Do you ever feel like you’re mislabeled or misunderstood by people who try to make you feel gimmicky when people look at your musical career taking off and they can’t put it together with your religious beliefs? Do you feel like you need to prove yourself or always be like, “This is me.”
MATIS: I always felt like I wanted to prove something, even before I was religious when I was singing reggae or rapping or beat boxing, I would go into the club, and most of the people there were African-American, and people would look at me a certain way. Then I’d start singing a Bob Marley song, and they’d be really into it, they thought it was pretty cool. I felt like once people experience my music, they’ll understand in a second, but in their initial conception of the idea, it was confusing to people.

URB: What’s your opinion of the whole musical landscape right now?
MATIS: It’s pretty bad. Music, I think, is inherently a really holy thing, a really special thing that has a strong power to penetrate into people. For me, I always felt like, it just felt unnatural to listen to music or write music that didn’t feel like an expression from a deep place. I don’t really understand the whole vibe of party music.

Then we played a word association game for some of this songs…

“I Will Be Light”: This song was written with Trevor Hall in the kitchen of the studio at David Kahne’s, and the bridge on that song is one of my favorite moments on the record.

“So High So Low”: That was written by Aaron Dugan, he played it for me pretty much in its entirety with the build on it at the end, without any vocals on it and then we brought it in and changed the verse and made it a little more melodic.

“For You”: That song Aaron played on it, and a producer named, Dave McCracken from the UK, and we worked on the song towards the end, but yeah, I love the feel on that.

“Silence”: Trevor wrote that guitar part for it, and we found the drums, and it comes in together real nice. I wanted to make that a really introspective moment.

“Aish Tamid”: Is a song that we play a lot, but each time we always play it differently. Every night we play that song, we play it coming out of an improvisation, so it’s totally different. But I use the lyrics and it always has a big arching build on it.

“Jerusalem”: It’s a cool song, it’s like an anthem for a lot of my fans, and a lot of people connect to that song. For the Jewish kids that are out there, there’s never really been an artist or a musician that they could look to or feel like there was this blending of their American qualities and their heritage and figuring out what it means to be Jewish and what it represents. For a lot of kids, when we go to Israel, it brings out this really cool feeling in a lot of people.

Matis’ favorite song on Light: If I had to choose one… I like different things about different songs. A couple of my favorite moments are the chorus on “We Will Walk,” just the hook, not even the fast rapping part.

Matis beat boxing in his dressing room:

Matisyahu Beat Boxing From Conan O’Brien from URB Magazine on Vimeo.


The List: Part One, Baby!

“We rocked the shit out of it,” said Eric Ronick about Black Gold’s third live show (ever!) as openers for Panic at the Disco in front of 10,000 fans. If listening to “Plans and Revelries” is not enough to bolster that statement, here’s some food for thought: RCRD LBL heralds their just released debut full-length Rush as, “what may be the WARMEST and MOST CHARMING indie pop offerings in recent memory.” Holy God, I thought; the remix of “Plans and Reveries” by the Teenagers hit me like a sonic tidal wave. This BK duo expertly plays with a range of genres and influences–think psychedelia and Hot Chip–to concoct a dazzling and trend-setting sound all their own.

>>this is a must download<<

L.A.’s The Bird and the Bee have an album release show at the Museum of Natural History tonight for Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. From the lush “Baby” to the magnetic “Love Letter to Japan” to the coquettish “Polite Dance Song,” this album screams “I am yours, I am yours.” Irana George brings the house down and it’s one big love affair.


Ben Kweller, you have my number on speed dial. Not only did I listen through his new album Changing Horses nine times when I got it last Sunday, but it is E X A C T L Y what I want to hear right now *ahem* when I am in a folksy mood and not bopping around. There’s nothing over-produced about the sound, and Kweller delivers quality lyrics and tunes for a breathtaking collection of majestic songs. While I would have preferred opening track “Gypsy Rose” elsewhere on the album, “Old Hat” draws listeners in and shimmers, “Sawdust Man” is dynamite, and “Ballad of Wendy Baker” is swoon-inducing.

That girl’s a crook,

got my heart in her pocketbook,

oh, she don’t even want to be my friend,

she just wants me wanting her again

-Kweller on “Wanting Her Again”


Certainly, most people write about what they know, and K’naan did just that for the “KickED PushED” video, which is an assemblage of actual footage from the arrest of K’naan’s manager, Sol Guy, in Sweden after being attacked by the police. The lyrics, penned by K’naan to Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick Push (Instrumental),” hit home because there is an uneasy tension in the air when we live in a liberal democracy with tons of discrimination and racism. On a brighter note, I’m just loving the rollicking “ABCs Featuring Chubb Rock,” and “Dreamer” is catchy party song. Troubadour drops 24 February with a performance at L.A.’s Roxy on 17 February. 

“I think I felt you in the wind today,” a soulful K’naan croons on the “Going Away” duet with Nelly Furtado. Check it:


Monday night I saw Nightmares on Wax and, unfortunately, I couldn’t get close for a good picture/I was having too much fun. So, this was the first L.A. appearance of the Leeds-based DJ Ease (aka George Evelyn). The set was on the shorter side, but it was a Monday night and the music was moving. The crowd was a little dysfunctional when it came to hollering back to the performers. I don’t go for the crowd, and I advise you to turn it up for a mind-blowing moment.