On June 3, Matisyahu releases his fifth studio album Akeda (Elm City Music) and HIGH TIMES has the exclusive premiere of the track “Confidence” featuring Collie Buddz to share with all of you.
HIGH TIMES managing editor Jen Bernstein interviewed the ever-evolving reggae/Jewish/hip-hop artist about his love for cannabis, the creative and spiritual process, and how catching Rocker T performing with the Cannabis Cup Band would change his life forever.
Thanks so much for speaking with us, Matis. I’ve been a fan of your music for years. Are you a fan or know what HIGH TIMES is all about?
Who doesn’t know HIGH TIMES?! I may have been living in a Hassidic enclave for 10 years, but I’ve been around the block a couple of times.
Were you ever a HIGH TIMES reader?
I remember being at a Dave Matthews show in Saratoga in ‘95 or ‘96 and following around one of the writers from HIGH TIMES. I’ve always enjoyed it…especially the pictures.
You’re dividing your time these days between LA and Crown Heights, NY. Seems like two different worlds! What’s it like living in Cali where marijuana is so much more accepted than in NYC?
I moved to Los Angeles full time almost three years ago, but I spend about 250 days per year traveling. Coming home to LA is a lot easier than coming home to Crown Heights.
Talking about two different worlds, you really shocked the Orthodox Jewish community when you ditched the beard and the yarmulke (head covering). And then you posted a photo of yourself and Wiz Khalifa smoking a “J.” Have people calmed down and accepted you as Matisyahu the musician – and not judged by appearance only?
It seems like some people will never calm down. Every record that I’ve put out has had a different style than the previous record, and every time people say, “How come he’s changed his style?” I don’t understand this notion of a musician needing to create one thing for his whole career. I’ve had to let go of my desire to please everyone and I try to follow the spirit where it leads me.
Music and cannabis are such a great combination and reggae music is naturally affiliated with ganja. There’s such a deep love for the cannabis plant and it’s used both religiously and spiritually. Have you had any spiritual moments in your life in which cannabis has played a part?
I would say that my initial introduction to reggae music went hand-in-hand with smoking cannabis. I don’t know if I would have been able to submerge as deeply into the music without it. I think anything that shifts a person’s perspective and allows them to see things through a different lens than they are used to is a spiritual thing. For me, the key thing is learning how and when to use it because it’s so easy to just enjoy it…it makes everything feel better. Whenever you overuse something you can destroy the sacredness of it. The main thing is treating the plant with respect.
Is pot part of your creative process?
It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. It can make the creative process smoother and easier, but not necessarily better.
Did you puff while working on Akeda? The track you’re premiering on our site “Confidence,” features reggae artist Collie Buddz and we know that he’s down to blaze.
In the period of time leading up to the writing of Akeda, I specifically did not smoke because I wanted to feel everything – the good and the bad – and so I stayed away from all substances…not just cannabis – everything from sugar to nicotine. It was a difficult time for me on many levels, but I think it accomplished its purpose. I was able to get in touch with my emotions in a way that has been difficult in periods where I have been smoking heavily. The issue for me has never been whether pot is a good or bad thing…when used in moderation, it has been a great tool. My issue has always been the moderating…I’m more of an all or nothing kind of person.
You’ve said that your songs are “influenced and inspired by the teachings that inspire you.” Does your new track “Confidence” draw on any specific teachings or lessons?
The song isn’t based on anything that esoteric or mystical. My understanding of true confidence is that it is born out of vulnerability and humility, two things which are seemingly at opposite ends of the spectrum.
You’re something of a musical chameleon – evolving in your own way. Is Akeda the next natural step in your evolution?
With this record, I wanted to have a more raw, stripped back sound. I feel the record is more potent and filled with more emotion than anything that I’ve done thus far. So in that way it is an evolution…an evolution of less is more. If my last record, Spark Seeker, were a lush rainforest, Akeda would be standing all alone in a desert immersed in moonlight.
I’m a big Phish fan myself and identify with the jamband community. Do you still catch shows? What are you listening to these days? Got a favorite Phish show? I remember seeing you outside the “Mothership” in Hampton, ’09. What do you think of 3.0?
For a lot of us, Phish was more than a band…they were home. They were our teachers without being teachers. I sort of feel like they raised a whole group of us. For me, they taught me what a musical, spiritual experience can be. I’ve kept that vision my whole life, and have always strived to recreate that experience in my music and for my listeners. Trey is so fucking good. His guitar playing pierces my heart every time.
We’re posting this interview on the first night of Passover. The seder is such a ritual, and the seder plate so symbolic. Are you celebrating this year? And do you have any music “seders” that you partake in? When you recorded Akeda – did you follow any rituals?
I’ll be in San Diego with my three boys for Passover. No rituals to speak of…I had 10 years of ritual…well, more like 15.
Well, that’s really all I got – so thanks for chatting with us. We’re stoked to have new music to share and hope to get you out to one of our Cannabis Cups to perform! Any parting thoughts?
Yes. In 1998 I went to an event in Oregon and saw Rocker T perform with the HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup Band. To this day, that was one of the most influential shows that I have seen. I used to go watch them perform at The Wetlands and it was during that time that I realized that I wanted to one day do the same thing.
Catch Matisyahu at The Waldo's Music Festival in Denver at the Fillmore Auditorium on Sunday, April 20.