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Published: 2009/12/11
by Jesse Borrell

Matisyahu’s Festival of Light

Matisyahu, Rob Marscher, The Jammys, WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden, 5/7/08- photo by Kevin Yatarola

On a rainy evening in Brooklyn last February, Matisyahu exited the stage in revelation. The event was billed “Matisyahu & Friends,” and it was 2-years in the making with local reggae/metal outfit Dub Trio. The resulting show relied less on song structure and more or pocket presence; a new style that Matis’ had been looking for. “It was perfect timing,” he says. With long time band members Aaron Dugan and Rob Marscher, Matisyahu spent the greater part of 2009 touring with Dub Trio acting as his backing band. The vocalist talks with Jambands about the up-coming “Festival of Light,” the band’s future with the Dub Trio, and stepping out on life’s mountain.

Jesse Borrell: Around the beginning of 2009, your career seemed to be at a crossroads. Were you waiting for some type of catalyst during that time?

Matisyahu: When I finished touring for the album Youth, which I continued for a while, I didn’t want to rush into making my next record. Basically it was a year where I wasn’t promoting myself, where I wasn’t doing things to be in the forefront. I wasn’t rushing a record out there. I wasn’t doing TV stuff. And I wasn’t touring because I wanted to work on Light. So, there was an introverted period for me.

And then last fall, Light was pretty much finished, but it wasn’t released yet. A lot of artists won’t tour unless they have a record released, and I made a conscious decision to go out on tour and do a full national tour even though there was no record out. That was because, you know, I am an artist that basically needs to be playing. You know what I mean?

I wasn’t too much of a concern to me business wise “Who’s coming to the show?” or “How many people are coming to the shows?” “Is it bad for business to go out?” It was more like “I need to be out on the road. I want to try something new.”

And I tried out basically working with this new band last year, which was Jason Fraticelli on bass and Skoota Warner on drums. We did that up until the [2008] Festival of Light, and I grew a lot throughout that tour. That was a new period for me in terms of learning how to step back and let the band play, how to use my voice as an instrument, how to hold long notes.

When we finished that tour, I went back into the studio and worked on a couple more songs. Now it was like, “Ok, let’s gets ready to put this record out, and head back [on the road].” After we did that Bell House Show with the Dub Trio, it was perfect timing. I’ve had my eye on these guys now, for like years. It started by me listening to their CD’s. Seeing Stu [Brooks] play with Adam Deitch at these hip-hop nights once a week in Williamsburg.

I went to see Dub Trio play a show in Brooklyn about two years ago when I was recording Light. I always felt that these guys were amazing stylistically. And once we did that show, I sat in with them and fit into their pocket and into their tastes. They are the type of band you don’t have to explain to them and say: “Go listen to this record, and listen to how this bass player plays behind the beat” or “Go listen to this hip-hop record.” You know what I mean?

They’ve done all of their homework. It’s an honor as a vocalist to be able to sit in and play with musicians of that caliber, with that type of pocket and that style.

JB: Were long time Matisyahu collaborators, [guitarist] Aaron Dugan and [keyboardist] Rob Marcher, on the same page after that show?

M: After that Bell House show, I asked Rob what he thought and he said: “Are you kidding me? This is it. There is no question.” Dugan is a little different because he comes from a little bit of a different style. Dub Trio work a little bit more like a machine. They play rock, but it is not loose music. There is improvisation, but it is more like a machine. Everyone is playing a part, and playing minimalistically. It is more about groove and pocket. Aaron is more from an experimental jazz kind of background. Combining the two has been cool, but it has been interesting.

JB: You seem to have fully embraced social networking to get people involved. Is that just a natural progression of the times?

M: It was natural. My management company hired a young guy named Jordan Walker who is really hip to it all. He got me on board with Twitter, like early when Twitter was just starting. Twitter just made a lot of sense to me, more so than Facebook or MySpace or any of that stuff. It was right on my phone: you could take videos, live stream, take pictures of interesting things, you can write notes to friends and other musicians. It’s simple. It’s basic. I embraced it and took it on as a real way to connect with people.

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