Matisyahu & Kool Kojak in The Lab Mag (interview)
Great interview between Kool Kojak (producer of Matisyahu’s latest album) and Matis (singer of Matisyahu;s latest album) in The Lab Magazine
KOOL KOJAK—What is a Spark Seeker?
MATISYAHU—I had a song called Spark Seeker that I recorded for Youth but it only made it onto the dub album. On my past records I really had no idea what to call them and at the very last minute [chose names] based on record company suggestions. With [Spark Seeker], though, I knew right away that was the name of the record. I first heard the idea of elevating sparks in Kabbalah and Chassidut. It says that there are Godly Sparks hidden within physical objects and that we have the ability to release these sparks and unite them with the King of Kings. So we are “Spark Seekers,” seeking out inspiration and meaning in the world, in ourselves and in others. Obviously during this record I went through some external changes that reflect deeper inner changes. Authenticity is necessary. In order to find one’s truth [one] must be willing to take chances and make mistakes. I found for myself that doing things in an unauthentic way or out of guilt – especially when it pertains to God and spirituality – was quietly deadening my soul. I decided I would start over and free myself from any baggage I could. To shave it all off and start a new phase, clean slate, and return to something fresh. To release and approach God from within, not out of duty.
KK—Where is your beard.
M—Last I saw my beard it was on the floor of Supercuts on 96th St. and Broadway. I had that beard for 10 years – almost all my twenties.
KK—How long did making the record take?
M—The record took two years from start to finish, it was while we were involved with many different projects.
KK—What does the desert represent in your music?
M—Well, I am most interested in minimalist music. It comes back to the idea of quality over quantity. It’s not about how much you know but to know something in the fibers of one’s being. This vibe is emphasized on the record through the incorporation of desert sounds. On the other hand, the record is very lush, melodic, and full of harmonies and layers. I guess when one goes through the desert and isn’t afraid to be alone there, that deserted place transforms into a garden.
KK—What does the involvement of people like Shyne, Adrien Brody, and George Hamas bring to the project?
M—The people who played gave their soul to this record. You can feel the presence of each musician who came by the studio during those 10 days in Tel Aviv. Collaboration is important. I have always felt that going to Israel there is this sense of community, that we are all brothers and sisters and not so different from each other. That was the vibe in the studio and I hope it transfers through somehow in the music.
KK—Do you feel akin to Shyne?
M—Though we come from two very different worlds, we both relate to Judaism and the Torah as Living Torah, from a creative standpoint. I cannot speak for him but I believe he authentically feels a deep connection to history and our fathers and the stories in the bible in a way that is very real. I do not know that many people, no matter how religious they are, that I can say that about. In that sense yes, I do feel akin and I understand the brotha.
KK—What caused you to write the track, Tel Aviv’n?
M—It’s basically a recap of our field trip one day. Also, from a spiritual standpoint, everyone is always concerned with Jerusalem, myself included. Over my past few trips to Israel I have become a huge fan of Tel Aviv and this song kind of happened organically. Tel Aviv needs a little shine.
KK—What was the best part of making the record?
M—The desire to express one’s deepest feelings and ideas through the mode of music. Working with other talented musicians. I don’t know – it was all pretty awesome!
KK—What do you want the listeners to take from the music on Spark Seeker?
M—As with all of my music the message cannot be limited to my intention as the songs become prayers that transport and unite souls.
KK—Do the scriptures inspire all of your music?
M—All of it, no, but a lot of it, yes. When I was in Yeshiva those two years in Crown Heights, I spent all day, from 8 am ’til 10 pm, learning the Torah. That is, whenever I wasn’t eating stale kosher chips and drinking Russian vodka and getting slapped in the face (lovingly) by old Russian Chassidism. When I would come upon something that stuck I would make a note. When it came time to make that first album, I took to my notes and wrote rhymes and lyrics around it all. I developed a great deal of my writing style and vocal flavor from listening to conscious reggae music – Bob [Marley] was the best at taking quotes from the bible and making them into dope freshness – so this kind of thing was familiar to me. There is something so majestic and powerful about the Old Testament combined with reggae music when done for real. Whenever I am stuck creatively I open the bible or the Zohar or Psalms, and use it as inspiration. One specific example of this is the chorus of Shine On You. The quote is from Psalms, when David says, “Oh my soul.” Just those three words; it’s so powerful, it’s like some part of him is hurting. The soul goes through such a descent being cloaked in the body. It hurts and sometimes it’s just like, “Oh my soul!” You know what I mean?
KK—It’s a big year for you. In addition to the album, you have a movie coming out later this year. Was this planned or just a coincidence?
M—The movie release of The Possession was not planned. We shot it two years ago in British Columbia. The image is a little dated but the movie is scary as hell. And your boy plays a Chassidic rebel exorcist!
KK—What was the reason for your move to LA?
M—My moving to LA was strictly for the purpose of escaping winter.
KK—Do you miss Brooklyn?
M—Yeah, I miss it about seven months out of the year. It’s awesome, there’s no place like it. The cross cultures and vibe. I’ll move back one day when I can do it right and get myself a sick brownstone by the park.