Desert Soul: Matisyahu finds inspiration in the outdoors and runs when he can. Courtesy of Matisyahu

Spirit Seeker

Hasidic rapper Matisyahu brings his unique sound to Colorado and talks with EO about inspiration, music and getting outside.

Matisyahu just might be Earth’s lone Hasidic rapper. Until a recent haircut that took the Jewish world by surprise (Internet forums were on fire with speculation—fear not, he’s still Jewish), you could catch his traditional locks bouncing on stage from New York to Paris. But despite his modern take on reggae, Matisyahu is surprisingly easy listening. He riffs reggae tunes your dad might love, mixing the tight acoustic sounds of his band with creatively constructed synthesized beats that have been used as Olympic theme songs and in skiing and paddling flicks.

Matthew Paul Miller (Matisyahu) was brought up in White Plains, N. Y., and raised a Reconstructionist Jew. He did what many of us probably did: rebelled and got into drugs. But he got his shit together by finishing high school at an outdoor-oriented school in Bend, Ore. That’s where he got his musical start. He’s since had both pop and critical success with “Shake off the Dust…Arise,” “Youth,” and “Light.” His new album “Spark Seeker,” dropped in July and he plays the Boulder Theatre October 15.

In Spark Seeker you mix old school hip-hop with some synthesized club sounds, a departure from your other stuff.

The record came together really organically. I hit it off with the producer (Kool Kojak). He’s more talented at making beats, finding the right sounds. I come from a reggae background, a lot of the music I loved in my early 20s was stuff like Sizzla Kalonji. But the right beat underneath really motivates your flow, motivates the way you deliver, rhythmically.

You mixed in some cool Middle Eastern stuff.

Yeah, things took a big turn there, musically. We used a live feed to record Middle Eastern-style instruments and then fused it all together with pop and California sounds. I guess the biggest difference was the beat. I had to get comfortable with it. I grew up programmed to reggae music so I had to wait for the right moment (to lay down lyrics).

I’m sure people ask you about your religion a lot. But it seems to affect your music.

More like when I’m creating music, taking things that are inspirational to me, I try to get it in because it’s part of me. Religion is an aspect of who I am. I’m used to (questions about it). Depending on the question and tone, I don’t mind talking about it. People are naturally curious.

You spent time at North Star Center outdoor school in Oregon. How did it prepare you for where you are now?

I Iove the outdoors so being in Oregon was great. That definitely added to my sense of spirituality. It gave me a lot of inspiration. I played at a small café in Bend and it was the first place I started getting up and being comfortable in front of an audience.

I was like 18 years old and Bend was just starting to get big. There were cowboys in the café we were playing at and we’re coming in with an MPC machine wrapped up in towels. It was another planet. Fun times. I was getting into acting, doing shows, snowboarding everyday, hustling, it was a fun time.

How do you like to get outside now? 

I do a lot of running. It’s easy. I don’t need to bring a lot of gear. I’ll be in some place like Lisbon, Portugal for a day, put on a pair of sneakers, see a little bit of the town or find a trail and get out.

You have three kids. How important is it to get them outside?

Definitely important. You have to go back to the basics of living. There’s so much confusion for kids today in the computer world. Getting out camping or backpacking, all distractions are stripped away. You have no choice but to face yourself.  You start to feel good about being able to provide for yourself. It’ll be raining and you’re under a tarp with some hot stew: just the basics, feeling warm. It’s a great thing to give to your kids.

You play the Boulder Theatre on October 15.  How’s the Colorado audience?

The Colorado audience is great because they’re generally music people. It’s usually a patient crowd and they really get into the show. They really know music so it’s fun to play for them. •

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