When Rocks Off called Matisyahu last week, he was battling a nasty cold. But it didn't stop him from giving us a few minutes of his time. If you've never heard of Matisyahu, then you've probably never heard of the greatest basketball game in history: NBA2K10.
That slow-rolling reggae jam that comes on when you pause the game to set a double-team on Kobe Bryant? Yeah, that's Matisyahu's "One Day." The first song he ever wrote, "King Without a Crown," reached No.28 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and launched his career into the stratosphere.
We talked to the genre-jumping artist about the art of writing a pop smash, his summer tour, and his upcoming album, Live at Stubb's Vol. II. Dive in.
Rocks Off: When you write songs that go on to become hits, like "King Without a Crown" and "One Day," do you know as you're writing them that these songs will blow up?
M: With those two songs, I did feel it. "King Without a Crown" was really the first song that I made. It was sort of like my firstborn child.
In a lot of ways, I feel like you live your life; you learn your lesson and develop your style. Sometimes you have one shot at fame, you know what I mean? You have one song that's going to encapsulate the essence of who you are. A lot of artists don't ever get to that. For me, "King Without a Crown" was kind of like my whole life. I felt like this is what I have to share with the world.
With "One Day" it was a similar feeling. When I went in, I was trying to write a song that would be heard among the masses, distill my message and get it to a point where the mainstream audience could really connect with it. It was like, now I want to appeal to the masses. Obviously, I don't want to sacrifice my musical integrity. I don't think you need to do that with art. And that's what I was trying to do with "One Day."
RO: Which is more important to you? The message or the music?
M:I can't see a separation between those two things. Any of the greatest artist, whether it was Bob Marley or John Lennon, they never thought about the message vs. the music. So I don't think there's a separation between the two.
RO: Light isn't as heavy on reggae as your earlier work. Why did you decide to step away from reggae on that album?
M: I never really think of it like that. If I'm being inspired by reggae, then that's going to have an influence on it. I'm trying to create a fusion of different colorings, different emotions and different ways of expressing. Just trying to create, man.
RO: How exactly did you end up on the Disney Reggae Club album?
M: It's just one of those things that just happened, you know what I mean? I didn't really go out and search for it. It just kinda came through management or whatever. That's pretty much it. There's no real story there.
RO: Your influences run the gamut from soul to reggae - what was your biggest musical influence in the early stages of your career?
M: As a vocalist, reggae music is my influence. I love instrumentalist music. Musically, it really depends. Hip-hop music being such a prominent part of everything that we listen to was always one of them.
I love drums and bass. I love melody. I like space. That's what I got from dub music and reggae - the isolation of instruments. And then the extension and the improvisation of jam-rock.
I'm very much a believer in allowing the music to go where it goes. It's really a fusion. It's hard for me to put my finger on it. Right now I'm playing with the Dub Trio, and they're exceptional for bringing dub to the music.
RO: Will they be on your next album?
M: They're definitely going to be a part of the next record. I'm playing with them on tour right now.
RO: What can you tell us about this album?
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M: I'm looking at the idea of putting out a Live at Stubb's Vol. II. It will be with the Dub Trio. It will be a combination of some new songs and some songs of Light.
RO: What's your pre-show ritual - one thing you always do to mentally prepare for a show?
I don't really have one. I do different things depending on the day. Sometimes I take my motorcycle out for a ride or go for a jog. Sometimes I drink some tea. I guess right before my show, I usually have a little tea...ginger tea.
7:30 p.m. tonight at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline, 888-402-5837 or www.hob.com/houston.