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Matisyahu Talks New Music, Touring And Musical Inspirations

Photo Courtesy of Matisyahu

Matthew Miller, better known by his stage name Matisyahu began his musical career over 2 decades ago with his uniquely blended music style of reggae, hip-hop, alt-rock and pop. He is well known for his dedication to spirituality, which inspires his songs and plays a large part in his creative process. 

With a Top 40 hit like “King Without a Crown,” albums like the Grammy-nominated and Billboard No.1-ranked Youth, and the Gold-certified 2009 antiwar hit “One Day”, Matisyahu found himself touring around the world to perform. Since 2004, he has released seven studio albums as well as five live albums and has collaborated with well-known artists like Akon, Trevor Hall, Avicii, and The Crystal Method.

After a break from touring and releasing music, Matisyahu is back to sharing his music with the world and is currently on tour across the U.S. supporting his new EP “Hold The Fire,” released on February 2nd, which includes his latest single “End of the World.”

We had the pleasure of speaking with Matisyahu about his new EP and current 34-city tour, the ins and outs of touring with your family, and which artists are giving him current musical inspirations.

I’ve been listening to your new EP. What is the meaning behind “End of the World?”

Well, it sounds like it’s talking about the end of the world, but it’s really referring to a place. It’s about the wave that pulls you in and then spits you out into the far corner of existence while we move through our lives, building bridges and burning some. Preparing for battles with the experiences we have, and using discernment to make the best choices we can. Some enjoy the comfort of the waters they swim in, and others deep sea dive to explore deeper realms. 

Some are perched on the water’s surface, looking for a wave to ride, some trying to catch the ocean. But we all secretly hold on to this, yearning for something major that will happen to us and take us into uncharted waters, something within and above nature that will change everything we once knew. 

You’re going to be releasing more new music throughout this year. I know things have changed for you, but what can fans look forward to?

They can look forward to just a lot of Matisyahu because I’ve been active, but haven’t released that much music until now.  I’m going to be releasing more songs every 4 or 5 weeks. I’ll be releasing a new single almost every month. I recorded like 40 songs last year, and I’m planning to release them. I’m on tour right now, 34 cities. I’m kind of out here doing stuff and then connecting with the fans, playing the music and living Matisyahu at the moment.

Are there any cities that you’re looking forward to going back to or visiting for the first time on the new tour?

I love coming back to these little towns and stuff. Like, today I’m in Pensacola, Florida, and sometimes I don’t always remember which towns are which, but then when I walk into the venue or I walk down the street, I kind of get flooded with all these memories of the last two decades of coming to these places time after time. Jannus Live is always nice. I like St. Petersburg. We have that in a couple of days and are going to be in Atlanta which is a nice place to be. A lot of nice cities that I’m going to be in. 

What do you like to do on your downtime on tour?

I have my family with me. I have a four-year old and a two-year old so I don’t have much downtime, to be honest. I also have my 17-year old out on tour with me. His first song was released last night. The song is called “Wasted Time” and his artist name is Duvbear. 

Anybody I talk to that’s traveling with their family or touring with their family, I always ask them if they have tips for traveling with family. 

We have these two little strollers that fold up very easily and are easy to pull out of the bottom of the bus. Being organized, for example, my kids sleep on bunks in the tour bus. They have bunks just like the bandmates have. We have all of their clothes organized so we can easily grab stuff for them. 

It’s really nice because the whole band and everybody becomes Uncle and you really feel like it takes a village. You really feel that when you’re on the road they bring a lot of joy to people but at the same time, they can be stressful. It really makes it more like a family dynamic when you have kids on the road, which is really nice. 

If I do get any free time, I will try to go for a jog. Sometimes I like to just put on my running shoes and start running and just disappear for like an hour and come back.

Tell me about the Last Prisoner Project and why you chose to donate ticket sales to that charity.

It’s an important thing. A lot of people, like myself, have been smoking marijuana for a long time and have been lucky that we didn’t get caught or else we would be in jail with murderers and rapists. It’s totally ludicrous that people have been locked up for smoking marijuana. 

Now, finally, society caught up with the notion that it’s archaic, but you still have people that are suffering, that are in jail or getting out of jail and have no way to make a living. So, I kind of feel a connection to that being that I’ve smoked pot for a lot of time, a lot of years and it could be me there just as easily.

Photo Credit: Juliana Ronderos

I know you write a lot of your songs in group writing sessions. How do you choose your writing partners?

In the past I’ve worked often with bandmates that are musicians and also producers, people that I’m close with, my band or people that we all know. On this particular record, I did something a little different, and I did this thing called Song Camp. They connect you with a bunch of different writers, producers, all types of different people that can help you with your music. 

Sometimes you’ll do Zoom sessions with one person or it’ll be in person. I had a bunch of sessions at my house where I record most of my music in my basement. There’ll be like 6 or 7 dudes over and we’d all be working on a song together and writing together. It’s a really cool collaborative way of writing. This is the first time that I’ve recorded a whole album that way. 

You recently moved to Rockland County, New York. What does your perfect day look like in your new home? 

My perfect day right now would be like not having nightmares about the hostages in Gaza. That’s kind of the thing I wake up thinking about and go to sleep thinking about. It’s hard for me to focus on other stuff. With the work and the tours and music and stuff, it’s a little bit better. 

I guess I would wake up and everyone will be in a good mood. Then I’ll go downstairs and let the dogs out and make breakfast for the kids and surround us with music and stuff like that. There’s a trail right outside my house, so go on a walk, maybe stop in town for lunch. Maybe do some interviews or some writing, hang out with my oldest son to do some mentoring, working on some music with them. Throwing a Frisbee to my dog. You know, just basic stuff.

Well, the music industry has changed a lot in the past 20 years since you started. What advice do you give to your son who’s just starting out?

I would say to roll with it. For me the way music is working now, where you can just release music and you don’t have to sit on it for a long period of time or worry about promotion, is a great opportunity. You can just make music and you can put it out there and you can make your own videos, and you can make your own TikToks and Instagrams and have the people around you help you out. So, I think it’s cool that now it’s much more hands on and easy to release music.

I know reggae has been a huge inspiration for you. Is there any place you’ve traveled specifically to get more reggae inspirations?

Not really. I don’t really go to Jamaica or anything like that. In order to get inspiration for music, I just listen to it. Not necessarily immersing myself in the culture, just immersing myself in the music. Some people may not agree with that, but for me, I’ve always just felt that music is the strongest way to build understanding and understand people.

What are you listening to right now and are there any new artists that are inspiring you?

The new artists that I’m listening to now are Black Sherif and Omah Lay, and they’re both Afro pop artists from Africa. They’ve been releasing music that’s been the most inspirational for me in the last couple of years, to be honest.

You’ve always been thoughtful and hopeful in your music. Are you hopeful right now?

Well, I wasn’t, you know, and it’s very easy to lose hope right now, but I just got back from Israel. I was on a trip just before this tour and when I left Israel, I felt a renewed sense of hope that I haven’t felt in a long time. And that has to do with the people of Israel and the strength of their resilience and some miraculous aspect to the Jewish people, something that is divine, that has somehow allowed us to survive after generation and generation of oppression and anti-Semitism.

I got filled with so much hope. I met with survivors from the Nova Festival. I heard their music and jammed out with them. I met with families of hostages, and met with the soldiers coming back from Gaza and sang for them. And meeting these people, these young people out there, some incredible spirit to the Israelis and made me feel hopeful.

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