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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.


x games 3d movie premiere + the crystal method
21 September, 2009, 12:59 PM
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Posted Friday, July 31, 2009 @ 12:33 in Culture by Areti Sakellaris
Published on

Sal Maselaka from E! warmed the audience up, making some awkward insinuations about a particular Heroes starlet and an athlete, but gossip aside, he got back to MCing and presented X Games founder Ron Semiao with a plaque acknowledging the fifteen anniversary of the games. Semiao was beaming and with Steve Lawrence, the movie’s director, they introduced the show and we were underway. BTW, they both came out wearing their 3D glasses; the event was laid back and full of hollers from the audience–not your everyday premiere.

Kevin Loza gets things going as he’s revving up his dirt bike, making jumps, and landing in the foam pits. He said he doesn’t like dirt bikes, they’re “scary” but the adrenaline high seems beyond worth it for these athletes. Not gonna lie, it was pretty hot.

The film is more of a documentary than a movie, and it shines a spotlight on Loza, Danny Way, Shaun White, Travis Pastrana, Ricky “The Goat” Carmichael, and Bob Burnquis. It intersperses the slams, drama, and joy of last year’s X Games with behind the scenes footage of practice sessions and, in the case of Way and Burnquis, jamming in the band they share.

Disney teamed up with ESPN to produce the movie, which will only run for one week, beginning August 21st, and the attention to production details resulted in this superb visual ecstasy. When White is snowboarding, snow flakes seem to fall on your shoulders, and your stomach drops when Way keeps attempting to hit his run (or break every single bone in his body, your choice) on the Big Air ramp–Disney makes things unbelievable.

The soundtrack was sick, featuring the lush tones of L.A.’s own The Crystal Method. Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland were spinning on the decks during the Red Carpet festivities, and the Nokia Plaza was crawling with skaters of all ages, shaggy hair, Supras, and all. Personally, I cannot listen to “Drown in the Now (feat. Matisyahu)” without starting to dance, which I did in my seat (confession!). Crystal Method tracks, expansive as they are, just lend themselves to the majesty of these guys flying through the air or Pastrama racing his Rally car at breakneck speeds in a cloud of dirt. Peter Gabriel and Lord Jamar sing the opening with a performance of “X Games Without Borders,” a remake of sorts of an older Gabriel number. Tobias Enhus loans his expertise on original tracks… and an X Games movie wouldn’t be complete without Green Day’s “Restless Heart Syndrome” and “See the Light.”

Inside, there was a surprising number of little tykes with their parents, the ones in front of me were swooning over Tony Hawk, who was a few rows behind. The glimmer in their eyes was really touching, and they were completely into it, which made the event more fun. Plus, with each athlete came a tale of sacrifice, and confessions about their goals, drive to succeed, and practicing hard until they nailed a trick. Very inspirational and, even if some of the tricks are downright insane, the creativity required to imagine soaring through the air, 70 feet above the ground, turn this way and that, then land backwards is enough to make your head spin.