Ten years after his breakout debut, reggae artist Matisyahu is preparing for a tour stop at Napa’s BottleRock Music Festival later this month to support the release of his fifth album, Akeda, on June 3.
Once known for his Orthodox Jewish message along with his locks and a beard, Matisyahu is a veteran in the latest American reggae movement that helped bring acts like Rebelution and Iration to the mainstream. After starting out in New York, he now lives on the West Coast, sporting a more relaxed religious outlook and clean cut.
We asked Matisyahu about learning how to beat-box, his high school years as a “Phish-head,” and collaborating with Oakland hip hop duo Zion I.
You relocated from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 2011 after releasing your last album album, ‘Spark Seeker’. How does living in California compare to growing up in New York?
I think it’s a little bit of a different attitude in California than New York. It’s little bit more relaxed, and obviously the weather plays into that.
In high school you followed the rock band Phish on tour and became a self-professed “Phish-head.” Why was that time important for you?
It was a very special time. That’s when I knew really solidly that I wanted to make music and that I had the potential to make music. I was so touched by it.
Where did you get the name Akeda for your upcoming album?
It’s the story of Abraham’s binding of Isaac. I just have a deep connection to that story and the relevance.
How did you learn to beat-box and can we expect to hear some on your new album?
There’s a little bit of beat-boxing. I started that in high school with some friends. I began to sort of interpret the music I was hearing and become expressive through that channel. And just sticking with it in terms of trying to create music in that way.
What was most impressive about collaborating with reggae artist Collie Buddz?
I really appreciate his style. He’s a very talented. MC vocalist. We toured together, the three of us, over the summer and we became friends. I like working with people who I’m friends with in addition to those that I respect.
Is there anything unusual about hip-hop artist Zion that most people might not know?
He does tai chi. I’ve seen him one time in a venue doing tai chi.
Are there difficulties to being a vegan when on tour and do you stock up on food?
It’s a bit difficult to try to stay healthy. But you do your best to take care of yourself wherever you are.
What is your favorite memory of San Francisco?
Let me think about that. Well, I have a lot of good memories because I grew up in that city. I remember my preschool, Berkeley Montessori school and the sunshine and what not.
[Photo Credit: Matt Crawford]