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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Less beard, more music from Matisyahu

Having known of and avidly followed the music of Matisyahu for the past four to five years, I can honestly say I took a special interest in discovering the source of inspiration behind his recent image revamp. For those of you readers who have no idea what I’m talking about, a Google search for current pictures of “Matisyahu”—real name Matthew Miller—will show you the clean-shaven man behind the mask of facial hair once so closely linked with his persona.

I can’t say I initially felt where he was coming from on deciding to remove these facial follicles; having just begun my own no-shave November, I was taken aback by the absence of his bushy beard.

But as Miller had a chance to reveal to me when I interviewed him on behalf of The Daily Cardinal last week, the beard doesn’t make the man.

“I mean, the main thing that changed is … the shaving of my beard. But, I started changing my look, as in my wearing suits and all that, years ago,” he said. “For me, shaving was just a natural progression towards a new stage in my life. It was a very intimate choice, and a personal one, that I felt it was time for, but definitely not a huge deal or anything.” Though he did admit with an air of nostalgia that it does get chilly without the facial hair from time to time.

Well, luckily for Matisyahu fans, warmth and beards don’t make music.

Miller’s newest album, Spark Seeker, will be a surprise to anyone already familiar with his earlier work who listens to it for the first time. The crisp and impressive production work gives the new album a much more up-to-date and electronic edge, but this is only complemented by the rustic and rhythmic appearance of the traditional, world-music vibes still present and unique to Matisyahu’s sound.

When we spoke, Miller said he felt good about these new electronic influences and related how he saw the album as a combination of two very powerful musical worlds—that of the current era, and one with its roots in something more historic.

“It’s a unique sound … it’s the blending of the new world and the old world, something that sounds ancient and yet really fresh and modern,” he said. “When working with a lot of these really great Israeli instrumentalists, and as the record moved forward, it just sort of took on this meaning for us, I guess. We wanted to try blending the new and the old worlds, which is always a part of what I do, you know, trying to find something really timeless, or ageless, or classic that way.

“As an artist your influences and whatnot, they move about, but there’s always these common themes that stick throughout; and so that’s how this was for us, you know. Just trying to bridge that gap the same way we would have when playing whatever, be it reggae, hip-hop or anything really.”

Miller continued to speak about the differences in the actual music process behind this album, only furthering the idea that this record’s progress served as a re-invigoration of the group’s musical identity. He said that this time around, without the pressures of a big name label breathing down their necks, the group was free to make music they enjoyed—and this meant they could have some real fun while recording the album.

He also offered a hint as to which songs Madison should be learning the words to in preparation for his visit.

“Starting the show off with ‘Crossroads’ you know, I just feel right, lyrically ... And then we’ve got some really fun ones to play like ‘I Believe in Love,’ or ‘Bal Shem Tov,’ and all that,” Miller said. “But there’s also a lot of improvisational elements, and hip-hop aspects to our shows that can get pretty deep, or maybe darker or whatever. So there’s a lot of bouncing back and forth between different kinds of emotional states, you know.

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“But above all else, I think the main thing about the show is that it’s going to be authentic.”

No matter what music they’re playing—old, new, scripture referencing or otherwise—the audience will get an authentic and genuine helping of the wonder that is live music. Miller has garnered a reputation for himself and Matisyahu via his talents as a musician and as an MC, beard notwithstanding. So whether or not you immediately recognize the man heading the group on stage at the Overture Center Tuesday night, know that the music is coming from the same heart that brought fans previous albums, and that the performers will bring it regardless of their preference for facial hair.

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