January 27, 2011
The power of performance
Matisyahu turned 30 a year and a half ago, prompting a good deal of self-reflection.
“I think about getting older, what it all means,” the Brooklyn-based artist said, adding that his relationship with music has continued to evolve over the years. “I think it changes, the more time you put into it, the more experiences you have. Every show, every tour, every music experience you have, I think it shapes you.”
His music experiences include six albums — his latest, “Live at Stubbs: Vol. II,” was released Feb. 1 — and constant touring that can be energetic, fist-pumping shows or laid-back, introspective affairs, depending on whether he’s playing with a full band or in a stripped-down acoustic setting.
One recent acoustic performance took place at Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills, and he explained in an interview how his acoustic shows differ from his electric ones.
“It’s much more intimate,” he said. “We usually do some back and forth, some talking, some interacting with the audience, and the music is really just about voice and the guitar and some improv, some beatboxing.”
Matisyahu said that he started beatboxing in high school because he didn’t know how to play any other instrument.
“I tried playing a lot of different instruments, and it didn’t click,” he said. “The beatboxing came naturally, and I understood it. I understood how to make music happen through using the beatbox, through using the vocal instrument.”
Beatboxing also taught him a lot about music.
“Essentially, you’re playing drum and the bass and playing with the interplay between the drum and bass and where the kick drum falls. Does it fall at the same time as the bass? Where does the hi-hat fall? Does it fall a little bit early? A little bit late? So [I learned] different ideas spatially about music and sound.”
Matisyahu, who is married and has two sons, tends to speak in a low, sometimes barely audible voice. He talked about another aspect of performing: the way he dances. His moves involve skipping and bouncing around the stage whenever he stops singing, and gliding around his jamming band mates, New York musicians the Dub Trio, who have toured with him recently and are featured on the new live album.
“I don’t think of doing moves or I try not to force myself into it,” he said. “I guess I sort of allow myself to sink into the music, and that’s how my body kind of just jumps in and sinks into [it], so it’s almost like — it’s almost how I grab onto the words and the music. I don’t know how to describe it, actually.”
Perhaps such things can’t or shouldn’t be described, and maybe Matisyahu’s music — with songs like “Time of Your Song,” with the lyric, “I’m asking questions to the present-day me” — is purposely thoughtful, meant to, like the aging process, prompt self-reflection and unanswerable questions.
He said his next steps might include exploring “more of a rootsy, indie-style thing than more of a heavy reggae music.” Fans can expect new music sometime soon: “Probably, I would say, in the summertime or fall. I have some tracks I’m going to be releasing that I recorded over the past years, that I might put out on my Web site,” he said.
Matisyahu will perform an evening of acoustic music Feb. 15 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, a benefit concert presented by Chabad of the Conejo. Performing, he said, is what he’s all about.
“The studio is just one aspect of what I do. For me, a live show is where the magic can really happen.”