Matisyahu's transformation continues on new album "Akeda" (out June 3). "There's still people who come to my shows and say, 'Man, I miss the beard.' Just the image that was tied to me, a lot of people don't want to let go of that"
Akeda is a Hebrew word that refers to binding -- particularly the biblical tale of Abraham binding his son, Isaac, for sacrifice. But the songs on Matisyahu's forthcoming seventh album "Akeda" are actually about being un-bound, musically and personally.
"I think this period of my life has really been about letting go of everything, all the things I had set up form my image to certain relationships to making the kind of music that's expected of you," Matisyahu tells Billboard. "I spent some time exploring the boundaries and the rules and a lot of the rigidness, in religion and in music. I think in letting go now I've found these ideas and things I had studied and spent so much time with have come alive in more of an emotional way, inside of me. I really just kind of, for better or for worse, explored this time around."
Matisyahu had already changed his Hassidc appearance dramatically before releasing 2012's "Spark Seeker," while at the same time expanding his musical approach beyond the reggae-based sound of his early career. Much of "Akeda," due out June 3, addresses those changes as well as the reaction to them, including some harsh backlash.
"Certainly some sacrifices have been made in order to do what I love with the music," he says. "There's still people who will come to my shows and say to me, 'Man, I miss the beard.' Just the image that was tied to me, a lot of people don't want to let go of that. And I think a lot of people have not understood me in terms of the music I've made, but I've always made an eclectic mix of music. Every record has sounded so different than the last one, it always taken people by surprise."
"Akeda" will as well, though Matisyahu -- who he actually started recording prior to "Spark Seeker" -- considers it "probably the most organic and natural record I've made so far." It was recorded primarily at Studio G in Brooklyn with his frequent touring band Dub Trio, with bassist Stu Brooks producing. Four tracks, meanwhile, were done with an ensemble that includes his original guitarist Aaron Dugan along with bassist Rob Marcher and drummer Mark Guliana. "The songs are a little bit more personal," Matisyahu says. "I feel like the record has more of an emotional feel than other stuff I'd done before."
"Akeda" is certainly the only album you'll hear that references both Judaic scripture and Fred Flintstone, as Matisyahu does in the track "Broken Car." Hear it exclusively below:
"That song gets at one of the points which, for me, was very important," he explains. "For awhile everything was about this perfection I was striving for as a person and as a spiritual being and as a musician and an artist. But part of getting older and continuing to do this is acceptance of others and myself around me and celebrating the brokenness of it all. Somehow Fred Flintstone, with his feet going through the bottom of the car, was an image that popped into my head."
While he's embracing imperfections, however, Matisyahu will be trying to get things right -- or as right as possible -- when he takes "Akeda" on the road for a festival-laden itinerary starting May 2 in Fayetteville, Ark., with a just-announced date June 2 at New York's Mercury Lounge, primarily with Dub Trio but possibly working with the album's other musicians at times.
"With these songs we're going to pretty much play them how they are on (the album)," he says. "That's the first time I've wanted to do that. Up until this point I've always been interested in how the live interpretation of a recorded song could be messed around with. But now I look forward to trying to play these songs pretty well head-on, as they appear on the album."
May 17 -- Richmond, VA (Dominion RiverRock Festival)
May 23 -- Chillicothe, IL (Summer Camp Music Festival)
May 30 -- Napa Valley, CA (BottleRock Music Festival)
June 1 -- Washington, DC (Washington Jewish Music Festival*)
June 2 -- New York, NY (Mercury Lounge)
June 4 -- Los Angeles, CA (The Grammy Museum*)
June 19 -- Asbury Park, NJ (The Stone Pony)
June 21 -- Long Island, NY (Beer Fields Craft Beer & Music Festival)
June 22 -- Hampton Beach, NH (Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom)
July 3 -- Del Mar, CA (San Diego State Fair)
July 5 -- Milwaukee, WI (Summerfest)
July 11 -- Mooresville, IN (Serendipity Festival)
July 12 -- Salt Lake City, UT (Reggae Rise Up)
June 20 -- Baltimore, MD (Power Plant Live)
August 26 -- Reno, NV (Knitting Factory Concert House)
August 27 -- Jacksonville, OR (Britt Pavilion)
August 28 -- Saratoga, CA (The Mountain Winery)
August 29 -- Las Vegas, NV (Hard Rock Hotel & Casino)
*Indicates Acoustic Evening with Matisyahu