By: Chris Clark
Over the last four years, Matthew Miller has seen much change. Beginning with his debut, eye-opening performances at 2004's Wakarusa Music Festival, word spread quickly about his uncanny stage presence, religiously infused rhymes, and delectable pairing of reggae beats with beat boxing and slivers of exploratory jamming.
As Matisyahu, Miller has been able to capitalize on his religious and life transformations and from them produce one of today's more prominent musical success stories. He has risen, like many reading this article, from the chaotic traveling circus that is Phish tour, converted to Hasidic Judaism and put together a musical outfit unique to themselves. Just as 2007 saw Matisyahu gain steam in major markets throughout the country, 2008 was yet another break out year for the former Mr. Miller. Now, with the release of his new EP, Shattered, and 2009's forthcoming full-length album, he is poised for even bigger things.
JamBase: How are you?
Matisyahu: I'm great, thanks. I am in Nashville. Tour is still going [and] I had shows at The Cannery. We've been selling out pretty much everywhere. We've had a couple bad turnouts. Besides those two shows, we've been on the road a month and a half now, and it's been a really nice, long tour. 80 to 85 percent [of shows] sold out per night, which is supposedly pretty amazing with the market right now.
JamBase: Let's get right into the new EP. There's a few things about that. First of all, why did you choose to release just those four tracks now and not include them or wait for the new record to come out?
Matisyahu: We did the record and there were about 16 songs on it. I didn't want to make a really long record, more like a classic record in the old days. I wanted to split up the songs and have some songs on this EP and some songs on the record. The way it turned out was I had realized I hadn't put anything out in three years and there were certain songs I wanted people to hear for the first time. So, we choose a variety for the different songs on the record. Three of those four songs are going to be on the record. The record company wasn't really ready to put the record out yet, regenerate a buzz. This was kind of the way to say, "This is what I was up to. Here's some music and check it out."
JamBase: That all makes sense. Give the people a little taste to get them warmed up. I like it. It seems like your stock has continued to rise in the music world since I first saw you at Wakarusa in 2004. When Matisyahu began, did you envision that kind of immediate success?
Matisyahu: In retrospect, it's like, "What happened?" This whole thing blew up in a pretty short amount of time. As a kid growing up I definitely had the dream to be doing this. This is what I wanted to do. I wanted to try and fulfill that. As it was actually happening it happened in a strange way. I became religious and moved to a small community in Brooklyn, cut myself off from society for a year and a half, two years. Before I know it, everything starts snowballing and I'm playing a sold out show at the Mercury Lounge, then it's a sold out show at Irving Plaza. Two months, three months out and there's already record companies who want to make the deal. Then, I got married and had a kid, then had another kid and I'm just now starting to let it all sink in, like, "Whoa, what happened and where do I go from here?" I made a lot of changes and I've changed the style of my music - three hours a night and multiple sets, totally stretching the songs. Now, we're really just going for that [Phish kind of thing].
It's fairly common knowledge that your musical roots are grounded in the days of Phish tour. What kind of impact did the scene, the traveling, the experience have on you both as a person and eventually as Matisyahu?
I came from following Phish around the country, that's my turn on to music. I want to create a similar thing at my shows; it's unpredictable every night. Before I went to my first Phish concert when I was 16, I went to Israel and had a really powerful experience there coming to terms with the fact that I was Jewish and what that meant to me. When I was in college I started to really get serious about my spirituality and I wanted to take it from a different place and move forward with it. I was looking to really have it be a lifestyle that really embraced a life where God or spirituality was the center. I started to go to different synagogues and look into it and I found that the Orthodox, within the Hasidic, that extreme of it, was what spoke to me.
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