Matisyahu made his latest album, Undercurrent, “differently than any way I’ve ever recorded before.” Fortunately, he had cameras rolling to show us how.
The genre-blending singer and rapper created a three-part “Making Of Undercurrent” video series, the first two of which are premiering below. They track the writing and recording of the set, which came out during May, via studio footage and commentary by Matisyahu and the musicians who performed on the album.
“This particular (album) we made kind of in a reverse order from how a typical record is made — I guess that’s the main reason I thought it was kind of special,” Matisyahu tells Billboard. Rather than conventional songwriting, he and his band — longtime guitarist Aaron Dugan, Dub Trio members Stu “Bassie” Brooks and Joe Tomino and keyboardist Big Yuki — recorded an instrumental album comprised of improvisations played together as a band, mostly during or after touring. “I had a vision for the sound first, before any songs were written,” Matisyahu explains. “Only after the entire record (of instrumentals) was finished did I start thinking about the vocals. I listened for about a day or two and put myself in a room, and then over the course of four or five days I wrote all the vocals and melodies over (the songs) and recorded them at the same time. That really is the reverse process from what you’d normally do.”
Key to the entire endeavor, he adds, was capturing the flavor of the band playing together as it did on stage. “It was all based around the live feel, the way a live song happens and the way we move through these different genres and styles,” Matisyahu says. “The level of musicianship on stage before I even step onto it is four guys who can have a real conversation. So the idea was to keep this kind of energy from the live thing there so we didn’t go overboard with the (song) forms and locking things in too hard but let them to be open and flow and happen very naturally. It’s not about reading a script or not about things we know will get the biggest rise out of the crowd.”
Matisyahu and company are currently in front of those crowds, however, with tour dates through December and special Acoustic Evening concerts during January in Boca Raton. He’s also confident another music project will present itself in time, but Matisyahu won’t commit to the same process as Undercurrent or something different next time out. “I’m ready to star thinking about what I want to write about, but I’m not ready to write yet,” says the father of three. “I’m too in my life now to reflect where I’m at and then see where that takes the music.” Some prose writing, in fact, may come before that.
“I actually have a book that’s sitting there, but it’s mainly a bio piece, and I really wasn’t happy with the writing,” Matisyahu reveals. “I wanted to write a book that was mainly about more of the philosophical idea behind what I do, so I have to try to rewrite what I have and try to incorporate (philosophy) into it more. We’ll see what happens.”