Catching fire

Matisyahu sparks the world of pop-meets-hip-hop with songs of faith and inspiration

Untied shoelaces: philosophical symbol, fashion statement—or both?

Untied shoelaces: philosophical symbol, fashion statement—or both?

Photo by Mark Squires

Check out Matisyahu on Sunday, August 11, at Ace of Spades, 1417 R Street. Tickets are $25. Visit for more information.

For Matthew Miller—best known in music circles as Matisyahu, an Orthodox Jew who combines reggae, hip-hop, rock and beat-boxing with thought-provoking and uplifting content—the creation and evolution of his most recent album, 2012’s Spark Seeker, was not so much an accident as it was simply unintentional.

“The Spark Seeker record was just something I was doing as an experiment, working and writing with some different producers for fun,” Matisyahu says. “But I had another record that I was going to make, and that was a much more planned-out thing.”

As time went by, however, Matisyahu says he realized that it was the free-flowing, experimental record he should actually focus on.

“It was more about having fun in the studio and being in more of a relaxed environment, without the pressure of making the record I was supposed to make,” he says.

“It was almost more recreational. That’s how it started, and so, whenever I was in Los Angeles, I would get together with [producer] Kool Kojak, and we would work on a couple of songs. No pressure, just having a good time,” he says. “Before I knew it, we had almost half the record, so, at that point, I made a decision to switch gears.”

Spark Seeker is something of a departure from Matisyahu’s previous releases, in terms of its more pronounced pop sensibilities. The reggae-pop track “I Believe in Love” possesses an unmistakable sense of joy, and the catchy world-music-tinged closer “Shine on You” practically begs listeners to get up and dance. The track “Sunshine,” however, probably best exemplifies the album’s flavor, with sunny guitars, energetic hip-hop beats and upbeat lyrics combining to create an undeniable summer jam.

The great working relationship Matisyahu had with Kool Kojak (the pair worked together on Matisyahu’s 2011 holiday single “Miracle”) made the Spark Seeker sessions even more enjoyable, he says. This, in turn, allowed the recording process to go more smoothly.

“It’s like playing street ball with some good friends that you’ve grown up playing with your whole life, because you start working together based more on intuition,” he says. “When you have a musical connection with somebody—a similar vision for music—and you get along well and have fun together, it’s like any match or partnership. Each of us has different things that we bring to the table that the other one’s not able to do.”

But despite a carefree feeling that permeates certain aspects of this record, it is not without its more serious moments as well—not surprising, considering Matisyahu’s penchant for mixing music with his faith.

The lyrics of the pop-meets-hip-hop single “Live Like a Warrior,” for example, focus on standing up for oneself, but could also easily be about someone committing to a set of beliefs, while “Crossroads” features telling lyrics, such as, “They say I inspire, but I’m still looking for my fire.”

This theme of looking for something of value is further augmented by the aptly titled track “Searchin,” and the name of the album also hints at a quest for meaning and purpose.

“Initially, it was the name of a song I had written about this mystical idea of sparks that created the world and trying to find the sparks that are embedded into the physical reality of the world, the spiritual within the physical,” Matisyahu says.

“It’s that idea of a spark seeker, whether it’s an artist, a musician, a religious person, or a person who loves God or is searching for God,” he continues. “[It’s someone who is] searching for some meaning, looking for a way to make things three-dimensional.”