Band is all that Matis now for reggae singer

SUPERHEROES: Matisyahu, centre, with guitarist Aaron Dugan, bassist Stu Brooks, drummer Joe Tomino, and keyboard player Big Yuki


MATISYAHU has soundtracked many a young person's Israel tour.

Songs from his second album, Youth (2006), often reverberated around coaches and in hostels around Jerusalem when the influx of British youth flooded the country every summer for their month-long pilgrimage.

Matisyahu - born in 1979 as Matthew Miller - shot to fame in 2004 with the album Shake Off the Dust . . . Arise.

His image as a chassidic Jew garnered him incredible amounts of publicity.

But in 2011, he posted the first picture of himself without his beard - writing: "No more Chassidic reggae superstar."

Now onto his sixth studio album, Undercurrent, does Matisyahu feel that people listen to his music more now that he has shaken off the association of the almost-novelty act-style performer he once was?

"When I broke out, there was a certain outer layer of people who were not fans of the music, but were interested in the story," he said.

"When you have a career spanning 15-20 years, you can't depend on that break-out moment.

"Each record has been very different and has got interest from different types of fans.

"My fanbase now is truly eclectic and has so many different styles - it's like a smorgasbord, almost cholent-like."

The 37-year-old has taken another step in his musical progression with this eight-track album.

For he and his band have written, produced and recorded it all themselves.

He said: "This is the first album I've done this with. There are no outside forces involved.

"I wanted to make a record that really does represent what I do.

"This album takes people on a real emotional journey. It's not just about the performer and how great they sound, it's about surrendering yourself to the music and this journey.

"It is about me moving back home to where I came from and being at a different stage in life.

"It's about walking down a mountain - after the intense climactic moments in life and your career."

Undercurrent originally started life as an instrumental album, with lyrics added later. It also has a special front cover that depicts each member of the band as a Marvel-esq superhero character by artist Joey Bayer as Matisyahu wanted to create an art element to the album.

He said: "My career until now has been very singular. The name Matisyahu has always been associated with just me.

"Somewhere along the line I realised that the relationships and people in my life are very important to the art that I was making.

"My band became almost like family and this album is a move away from Matisyahu as a singular entity to Matisyahu as a member of a band of musicians.

"My approach to the vocals is different to a superstar artist on stage, I use it like another musical instrument coming in and out of the song."

Each member of the band, he added, is important to the album and were picked for a specific reason.

He continued: "With music that doesn't stay in one lane or one genre, there has to be a certain understanding.

"You can tell a drummer to play hip hop, but if the drummer doesn't understand the vibe and the attitude then it's not going to sound right even if they play the drums in the right places.

"I see everyone in this almost superhero-type style where they all have these qualities and dark sides that add to the record."

Undercurrent does not just stop at the musical release either as there is an eight-part comic book and a silent film being released.

The Pennsylvania-native explained: "It's a full-length film that is based on the five of us breaking out of a mental hospital.

"I had this idea that, as I spent more time with these people, it would be cool to make a storyline around it.

"I spent three weeks with a friend of mine developing this storyline and we shot most of it while we were on tour using the band members.

"Often-times, they didn't know we were shooting anything."

Matisyahu is keen to point out that despite the change of image in 2011, he hasn't left religion behind.

He explained: "I talk about Judaism a lot in my lyrics.

"I'm very deeply connected to it in many ways - maybe not on a surface level and not preaching about it, but in very deep ways I'm connected.

"My ties to Lubavitch, chassidism and being Jewish are at the core of who I am and who I continue to be, even when I'm making music."

Matisyahu did confirm that there will be a tour in September, with the UK one of the likely destinations.

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