For Matisyahu, musical and spiritual expression have always gone hand-in-hand. As a teenager, Matthew Miller wore dreadlocks and followed Phish, until a spontaneous religous experience led him to begin exploring his Jewish roots. At the same time, Miller began delving into hip-hop and reggae and rapping and singing at open mics. The ultimate result of these twin journeys was Miller’s transformation into Matisyahu, “The Hasidic Reggae Superstar.” Combining influences as disparate as Jamaican dub and Jewish folk music, the 25-year-old has created a joyous, yet thought-provoking debut album, Live at Stubbs. Matisyahu recently took time out from a busy touring schedule to talk with mtvU’s Hot Seat about the Lips, the Boss and one aggressive Fargo “nun.”
Q: Tell us about your craziest touring experience.
A: Off the top of my head…we were in Fargo playing a show on the night before Halloween with some friends of mine in a band called Wookie Foot. Everyone was in costume and a guy dressed up like a nun came over and tried to do the cross motion over me and I grabbed him and said “Not OK!” Apparently, he thought I was dressed as a rabbi for Halloween, but when he realized who I was, he apologized. A few months later he came to a show in Portland, I didn’t recognize him at first, but he literally ran over to me after the show and said, “Hey man remember me? I’m the nun from Fargo!”
Q: What type of college class would you most want to take and why?
A: Well, I still learn everday, but the college classes I liked the most covered topics like spiritual autobiographies and spiritual stories–things like that. The best education I had though was in Yeshiva, my favorite type of learning is Hasidus, it’s like Kabbala only a bit more practical, you know, light stuff, like the Godly secrets of the universe.
Q: What city in America is the most fun to visit and why?
A: My favorites are Seattle and San Francisco–the hills, the weather, the vibe.
Q: What’s some of the best advice you were ever given?
A: “Don’t worry, just be yourself.”
–My Dad when I was 11.
“You are going to be great out there. Just have fun even if the sound sucks.”
–Perry Farrell before a show in LA
Q: What’s in heavy rotation in your mp3/CD player right now?
A: The new Matisyahu instrumentals that I’m supposed to be writing lyrics for right now, some P.O.D. tracks cause I just did some small bits for their new album, which is amazing by the way, and Flaming Lips Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots.
Q: The last good book you read or TV show you’re addicted to.
A: The prayer book, evening service, one hour ago. The last full book was The Possible Man by Meir Abehsera. If you can find it check it out, it’s about discovering your soul.
Q: What’s the first concert you ever saw? How was it?
A: The very first was the Grateful Dead on New Year’s Eve at Oakland Coliseum in the early eighties. I’ve got cool parents–I was one those tiny kids on pop’s shoulders. The first I can remember was Bruce Springsteen, “Tunnel of Love” Tour.
Q: What are three items you can’t live without on tour?
A: My Tefilin (the little black boxes with prayers in them that get strapped to arm and head when I pray in the morning), my portable hot water heater for tea before shows, and my band–they rock!
Q: Who are your major musical influences?
A: Bob Marley, Sizzla, Phish, Nas, Outkast, and traditional Hasidic melodies.
Q: Any random messages or tips you’d like to give to mtvU watchers?
A: Mosiach Now!–look it up.