Since his initial breakout in 2005, Matisyahu has become almost as famous for his music as for his unique identity as the only major Hasidic Jewish reggae star. Yet, keeping up such a recognizable outward appearance can be taxing, especially in an industry that can demand extreme consistency from its best-known stars. So it was with an apparent great sense of relief that Matisyahu tweeted a surprising new picture of himself this past winter. He had shaved off his trademark beard, and was without a kippah and his traditional Hasidic garb. Since then, Matisyahu has been making more than just superficial changes. His latest album Spark Seeker signals a revolution in his sound, swapping dark dub-influenced reggae for bright, crisp beats and arena-sized synths. We recently got the chance to sit down with Matisyahu to chat about his new album, his new look, and his thoughts on music’s power to heal.
OS: In an interview with WNYC earlier this year, you mentioned that “several things” led to your decision to shave your beard, but you didn’t really go into what exactly they were. What was it that led to your change in mentality and appearance?
M: I would say that it was an evolving experience. It was something that I had thought about many times. My decision to keep it in the first place was a big part of my life, which came from a situation when I was auditioning for a commercial and was just becoming religious. I hadn’t shaved, and they asked me to shave for it, so I went to speak to a couple of rabbis. Each one had a different answer, and I ended up becoming closer with the rabbi who was more strict. From that point on, it became less of a choice of mine than a situation in which I was conforming my own logic to the ideology. But over time, my intuition and my own sense of right and wrong began to grow into their own, and I didn’t feel that I needed to follow rules that weren’t based on my own sense of right and wrong or my own sense of what I wanted to do with my life.
OS: So it was very much a decision in which you followed your internal compass instead of submitting to ideas that were imposed upon you from the outside world.
M: Exactly. That’s the basic idea of what has happened to me. Initially when I became religious it was my own quest and my own decision. I was doing things that were meaningful to me. At a certain point, I think, there was definitely a shift. This is just another state in the evolution of that shift forward.
Trevor Hall is a musician who is on an incredible journey. Starting young in South Carolina and landing a contract with a major label right out of high school, Hall has traveled far and wide, finely tooling his eclectic musical craft along the way. Even as he faced the hardships of being misplaced and practically forgotten by the same major record label who signed him, this spiritual artist has bravely journeyed on. Getting a fresh start with Vanguard Records, Hall continues to tune his unique blend of folk, pop and reggae. The aptly titled album Everything Everytime Everywhere demonstrates this young artist’s desire to share his vast knowledge and experiences to his critics and fans alike through his music. With this exclusive interview, we get an inside scoop as to what stories Hall has to share in his latest foray into musical bliss.
OS: I just wanted to get started with your origins a bit. You got your first record deal in high school. How was that whole experience for you?
TH: Yeah, I signed my first deal my senior year of high school. All through my junior and sophomore year, I was flying around the country and meeting presidents and stuff. It wasn’t until near the end of my senior year of high school that I signed a deal with Geffen Records. It was cool at first, being eighteen years old and signing a big deal and moving to LA. It was a lot of fun, but it didn’t work out the way I expected it to work out. I wrote a few records for Geffen and I was on the label for about three years. Both records got shelved and they never came out. At the end of three years, they dropped me from the label. It was quite a whirlwind but it taught me a lot. I don’t really regret the experience, but yeah, it didn’t really go according to plan. [laughs]
OS: You’re now signed with Vanguard Records. How would you compare the atmosphere there with Geffen?
TH: Well, Vanguard is a lot smaller than Geffen. I think part of the problem with Geffen was that it was really hard to communicate with people. If you wanted to talk to this guy, you had to call this person and maybe that person would call this person. It was just too much. I think our group and the vibe of our music is very family-orientated. And with Vanguard, if I wanted to talk to the president, I can call him right now. It’s not as big as Geffen, so things just work a bit smoother.
Jenna Bryson isn’t your typical rising talent. You won’t find a long-winded backstory or moment of musical revelation in her bio”just Jenna, her songs and her humble personality. It’s these traits and more that helped the LA songwriter rise the ranks of the June Artist Access Premium Member Competition on OurStage, eventually landing her a mentoring session with one of the music industries most sought after resources”IMO president/ founder and former Sony Music and Columbia Records chief, Don Ienner.
In the nearly forty years of working in the music industry, Ienner has helped further the careers of legends like Springsteen, Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Billy Joel, Pink Floyd and has guided the passage of talents like John Mayer, Dixie Chicks, Alice in Chains, Jeff Buckley, Beyoncé, Matisyahu, Franz Ferdinand, Nas, Lauren Hill, Cypress Hill and many, many more.
Bryson and Ienner recently sat down for a chat in NYC and, well, we’ll let her tell you all about it herself. Check out Jenna’s video below”featuring a performance of her winnings song Happy and a personal recount of her mentoring session with Don Ienner. Want a mentoring session with industry powerhouse Rob Stevenson? Sign up for OurStage Premium Membership and enter the August Artist Access Competition now!
After interviewing another member of The Unity Tour earlier this summer, we were excited to sit down with the tour’s founding and headlining band 311. The easy going nature of their music and unique blend of multiple genres are perhaps their most striking attributes ”not to mention the band’s work ethic and glowing chart track record. Everyone one of the band’s releases have peaked within the Top 15 on the Billboard Top 200 album list. With catchy songs, charting albums and industry respect, we were curious to pick guitarist/vocalist Nick Hexum’s brain about the band’s techniques, releases and accomplishments. Check out what he had to say!
OS: You’ve been doing the Unity Tour for 5 years now. What has the name come to mean and why has it become such a staple for the band?
NH: “Unity” is one of the coolest words in language. It means oneness. It has always been associated with us. First, it was the name of the first CD we ever put out”that was a huge deal in ’91 Omaha “311 actually has a CD! They are big time!” It also is a song on our first album and in 2003 we started branding our summer tour with that moniker. In order, our main support for the Unity Tour has been: OAR, The Roots, Papa Roach, The Wailers, Matisyahu, Snoop Dogg, Ziggy Marley and this year, The Offspring. What a great way to spend a summer!
OS: The Unity Tour has featured quite an eclectic lineup of support acts (Snoop Dogg, The Dirty Heads, The Offspring, etc). How do you decide on who will come along on the tour each time?
NH: We want to make sure the bands have the right attitude. No shoe-gazers or anger merchants for the Unity Tour. We invite bands that are going to be fun and put on a good show.
NH: Some of it is heavy. As always, you get an eclectic blend with 311. “Too Much Too Fast,” “Two Drops” and “My Heart Sings” from the new album are not heavy at all. We try to take both sides, the hard and the beautiful, farther each time around. Perhaps our next album we will attempt to put the hardest and most beautiful into the same song. The possibilities are endless.
OS: Bob Rock produced the latest album (perhaps one of the reason for its heavier sound). What was the artistic process like with a guy who’s worked with bands like Metallica?
NH: We learned so much from him. His vast experience was an endless well for us. He’s a really nice guy, too.
OS: You’ve all had a positive, easy-going attitude on and offstage throughout your career. How has the band been able to maintain this during all of your hectic schedules and the stresses of being such a noteworthy band?
NH: We work hard on ourselves on and off stage. You only go around once so why not do your best to face your issues and help mankind?
OS: 311 celebrates 311 day every year with shows, sales and live streaming. How did this whole thing get started?
NH: People had been suggesting that perhaps our name was in reference to a date. We realized we could turn this into a holiday and it’s been gaining steam ever since. This last one was the greatest night of my professional life so far. There was so much love in the room you could taste it.
OS: Many of your albums and songs have ranked well on the Billboard charts. Is there a song or an album that you think really captures the 311 sound the best?
NH: I’m quite fond of Uplifter right now. It’s standing the test of time. We plan to make the next one our best yet!
10/16- DeLuna Festival, Pensacola, FL
10/17- Alabama Theatre, Birmingham, AL
10/19- LC Pavillion, Columbus, OH
10/20- Sherman Theatre, Stroudsburg, PA
10/21- House of Blues, Atlantic City, NJ
10/23- Pier Six Pavillion, Baltimore, MD
10/24- Charlottesville Pavillion, Charlottesville, VA
10/26- Tennessee Theatre, Knoxville, TN
10/27- House of Blues, Myrtle Beach, SC
10/29- The Fillmore, Charlotte, NC