Matisyahu opens up; he returns to Vail Friday

Caramie Schnell
Matisyahu is lighter these days, in many ways. Hear songs from his latest album "Akeda" in Vail on Friday night.
Jared Polin | Special to the Daily |

If you go ...

Who: Matisyahu.

Where: Solaris, Vail.

When: 7 p.m. Friday.

Cost: Free.

More information:

The past few years have challenged Matisyahu in a way that’s left him raw, and remarkably candid both in his lyrics and during media interviews. He released his latest album, “Akeda “in June, but the “process and leading up to the writing and recording of a record is the most important,” Matisyahu said.

First it was his health: In 2011, he discovered a cyst on his vocal chord, which forced him to stop touring and rest his voice.

“I had to sit still for a while and be silent and that in turn created an introspective period in my life,” Matisyahu wrote in an email interview with the Vail Daily this week. “That, coupled with a stomach digestive issue, made me change my diet to a macrobiotic one where I cut out all sugar and processed foods and made myself eat extremely slowly and for the nutritional benefits as opposed to taste and to fill up. Basically I was forced to … stop running and consuming but to sit and chew and process and digest and feel.”

At the same time, Matisyahu shaved his beard. Not a big deal for most guys, but for Matisyahu, a former orthodox Jew known as “the Hassidic reggae superstar,” the clean-shaven face was a monumental change and plenty of people took notice, and some, offense.

“That became a public issue, (with) everyone and their Jewish grandmother having an opinion about my beard or my yamacha and what I should or shouldn’t do,” Matisyahu said. “To throw some icing on the cake, I got divorced and was dealing with lawyers and all the fun things that go along with splitting up with someone you’ve been married to for nine years and have three kids with.

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“Then there’s fatherhood and trying to be a dad for my kids while touring more then any other artist I know,” he said. “Oh yeah, and I met up with an old love and guess what? I had another baby; I am not with the mother.”


And then there’s those old demons that kept pestering Matisyahu.

During this same time, Matisyahu had a “bout with sobriety and chronic relapsing,” he said.

“Thank God today as I answer these questions I am 37 days sober, have slowed down touring, have my boys sleeping in the next room and am on good terms with their mother and my baby’s mother, am generally healthy, doing yoga everyday and creating the kind of music that I want to for a living,” he said. “God is Good and the road is windy and wonderful. Faith helps!”

Matisyahu has been public about his use of marijuana and acid during his younger days when he was following Phish around the country. You can read more at here where Matisyahu shares his “Hard Way” story, a reference to one of the songs on “Akeda,” and asks his fans to share their own stories using hashtag #HardWay. The story is as honest and real as it gets, especially in an industry that’s generally more worried about image than reality.

“I like to be transparent and honest, sometimes to a fault,” Matisyahu said. “It is my nature to run naked through this life, through this world.”


One of the songs on “Akeda” — a Hebrew word that means “binding,” — is “Champion.” The upbeat, hopeful anthem fits with the theme of the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships going on. Matisyahu performs in Vail tonight following the medal ceremony. The song, which is about bouncing back after defeat, is one that most athletes can likely relate to on some level.

“How can I bounce back when I feel so hurt, yeah,

Raise your cup to the sky,

Spread your wings out wide,

Champion nananananan.”

Originally the song wasn’t created for the album, Matisyahu said, but instead added later.

“It was a marketing stunt as certain people in my organization felt we needed a ‘hit,’” he said. “However, in the end, I liked it and felt it lined up in some way with the record and we added it.”

It’s not the first time a situation like this has come up. Before his 2009 album “Light” was finished, they returned to the studio to record “One Day,” and add it to the record after the record label’s president “didn’t hear a hit,” Matisyahu said.

“Thank God we did that or my career would be in a totally different place,” he said. “I have no problem writing easily-accessible, watered-down, feel good, hopeful songs and sharing them with the world. It makes people happy, which in turn makes me happy. It’s sort of like making a children’s record or something.”

Matisyahu just hopes that people will listen to the other songs as well, and give them a chance.

“In the end, I believe those ‘darker’ tunes will get into the ears of those who need them,” he said.


One of those “darker” songs Matisyahu is referring to is likely “Reservoir,” a very emotional song that opens the album.

“In that song, I’m really dealing with the pain I felt — and continue to feel — from my ‘brothers’ who were so quick to throw me under the bus because of my changes,” he said. “As usual, I make a lot of references to stories and motifs from Torah; only now, they are more internalized and deeply personal.”

The title “Reservoir” refers to a reservoir in Central Park that Matisyahu has walked around at different times in his life.

“One day it occurred to me that I’d never gone all the way around it, never completed the circle,” he said. “It made me realize how much I wanted closure and sense of completeness in my life.”

At each show, Matisyahu usually sees five or six people who are singing along with the lyrics. Though the past few years have tested Matisyahu on many levels, seeing and hearing from people who are inspired by his music helps him carry on through life.

“It fills my heart and gives me strength to keep creating meaningful music,” he said. “The lyrics on this album are for the person who is going through something real and finding God and love in the process.”

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