.Matisyahu at the Mystic

Matisyahu’s new EP, Hold The Fire, is centered around the question of how to stay inspired as a music artist the further one goes into a career.

It’s a topic that resonated strongly for the singer/rapper born as Matthew Miller, as he’s now two decades into a career that began with his 2004 album, Shake Off the Dust…Arise. He’s released another six albums since then (plus several EPs and live releases).

Along the way, Matisyahu had moments of major success. His second album, the 2006 release Youth, produced a hit single, “King Without a Crown,” and established an early musical identity with songs that referenced his Jewish faith and prompted many a writer to brand Matisyahu as music’s Hasidic rapper. (He has since shed some of his more Orthodox religious beliefs, as well as his signature beard and traditional dress.) His next album, Light, was another hit, holding down the No. 1 slot on the Billboard magazine Reggae Albums chart for 34 weeks and spawning a crossover hit single in “One Day.”

And while the mix of hip-hop and reggae contained on that first album remain foundational elements of his sound, Matisyahu has incorporated a host of other musical styles as he’s continued making music, including rock (he’s a big fan of the jam band Phish), pop and soul—ingredients that have helped establish him as an ever-evolving artist.

For Matisyahu, keeping the creative flame burning involves intentionally looking for new sources of inspiration, perhaps most notably, by seeking out different styles of music that strike a chord for him.

“The original place where the inspiration comes from is the music,” Matisyahu said in a late-January phone interview. “So if you can continue to be inspired by music, I guess whether it’s old music, whether it’s new music, then you can continue to create. That’s been a real key thing for me is listening, staying in tune with music and finding inspiration in it.”

A case in point is Matisyahu’s 2022 self-titled full-length album. Going into that project, he had been exploring Afro-pop, which in turn helped him bring some new facets to his music.

“That definitely had a pretty strong effect on me,” he said. “The Afro-pop genre, a lot of it is influenced by reggae music and dancehall. So there’s a crossover there. I found myself gravitating more toward that style.”

What has also re-inspired Matisyahu was a decision to re-evaluate a core notion he had about creativity.

“There was a period of time when I had this belief, like an attitude, that a person only has so much to say, and then they’re just going to repeat themselves, right, and they’re just going to kind of repeat the same stuff or try to recreate the same stuff, or try to do new stuff, but it won’t be as good. And I changed that attitude, I think, in these last couple of years,” he said. “Why don’t you stop thinking that you have a limited amount of material inside of you, and instead start thinking that there is no such thing, that that’s not even a concept?

“And since I started doing that, I’ve realized that that is actually the truth. It really is; you can really just create, create and create,” Matisyahu explained. “And even if you say things multiple times, it’s actually totally fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it’s just the way that chord hits the kick drum or that one word is said, and you may have said it a hundred times before, but this way is the one that connects or this is the one that sort of poses things in a new way. So that’s another piece.”

So Matisyahu’s evolving musical journey continues. And with Hold The Fire, he’s returned in a sense to his roots, leaning toward reggae and hip-hop on the EP’s five songs.

“I played quite a few reggae festivals after Covid, and I felt myself really enjoying playing roots reggae and dub and all of that stuff,” Matisyahu said.

But the return to reggae and hip-hop comes with a twist on Hold The Fire, as Matisyahu, who collaborated with several different songwriter/producers on the project, dresses the tracks with an electronica/EDM sheen, giving his sound a notable update.

The period in his musical life that has produced the self-titled album and Hold The Fire has coincided with some major positive changes in Matisyahu’s life. Having gotten divorced in 2012 from his first wife, Tahlia (the mother of his sons Laivy, Shalom and Menachem Mendel), Matisyahu started a new phase in 2019, when he married Talia Dressler. The couple has since had a daughter, Esti, and a son, Judah Mac. (Matisyahu also has a daughter, Sasha, from a brief relationship between his marriages, with a woman named Toma Danley.)

Shortly after exchanging vows, the pandemic hit, which brought a good deal of uncertainty and frustration to Matisyahu’s music career. But the time away from touring was balanced by being able to build a new home life.

“It was a very joyful time to be home, even though financially and everything it was a mess,” Matisyahu said. “It was very much a family time for us and rebuilding.”

One distressing event for Matisyahu, of course, has been the war between Israel and Hamas. In January, he traveled to Israel, where he visited with Israeli soldiers, as well as survivors of the Oct. 7 attack by the Palestinian military group Hamas on Israel. He also performed a benefit concert and filmed a video for a new song, “Ascent,” which he said is about antisemitism.

Matisyahu, who remains a fervent supporter of Israel, doesn’t expect a quick end to the war, much less a resolution to the long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people.

“Pretty much 80 to 90% of the people there (in Gaza) buy into this concept that the Jews are evil. That’s something that’s indoctrinated in them from a very young age,” he said. “So when you talk about the hope for the future, it’s not just a matter of dismantling Hamas and destroying the terrorists and defending the country. It’s like somehow re-educating an entire group of people that have been indoctrinated since they were young. And that is a long, I assume it’s going to be a very long process, and kind of the only way (forward).”

Matisyahu figures to stay engaged on the war moving forward, but his first order of business will be music, as he has started a lengthy U.S. tour backed by his four-piece band. He feels his live show has evolved over the years, becoming more varied in mood and intensity and a bit more song-oriented.

“I’ve tried to make it a blend of playing some of the hits and then going and playing some of the older songs that some of the older core fans love, like ‘Chop ’em Down’ or ‘Got No Water,’ those ones off of the first album, and playing them sometimes similar to the ‘Shake Off the Dust’ version, and then the new songs,” he said. “And still my love is in improvisation, so I still keep a section of the show, a portion of the show, open to just see what happens. I’d say it’s a little bit more mature, the show, in the sense of like the variation, the dynamics, not getting stuck in one place and just kind of always coming back to the songs.”

Matisyahu performs with special guest Cydeways at 7pm, Saturday, Feb. 17, at Mystic Theatre, 23 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma. Tickets are $42 to $138.


For Matisyahu, keeping the creative flame burning involves intentionally looking for new sources of inspiration, perhaps most notably, by seeking out different styles of music that strike a chord for him.


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