In response to the first question every Matisyahu fan wants to ask: Yes, he is still shorn and shaven.
The renowned Jewish reggae star is reappearing on radio, Web and stage. The 33-year-old, West Chester-born and Westchester County, N.Y.-raised musician released his fourth studio album, Spark Seeker, just this week. The album's first single, "Sunshine," is already approaching 3 million combined online hits.
And in response to the next question: No, he hasn't abandoned Judaism. While he has acknowledged that discarding his Orthodox raiments is a result of his decision to take a different path through Judaism, those who feared he would leave the religion behind may have overreacted. After all, how many other recording artists would take a day off from an already grueling tour (52 scheduled dates between July and September, including an Atlantic City performance July 21) to play a free acoustic concert for the campers at NJY Cedar Lake Camp in Milford, Pa., as Matisyahu did on July 13? We caught up with him shortly after his performance at the camp.
You just performed an acoustic concert today. How was that?
It was wonderful. We had a great time. We all went swimming in the lake and jet-skiing, we took in the camp vibe and then did a great performance.
What was it like doing a question-and-answer session with the campers?
Some people were asking personal questions, a couple stumpers, but I had a fun time with the kids. I like to just joke around with them, mainly.
You recently moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. Where are you living now?
I live in what's called Beverly Hills Flats.
So it's like Beverly Hills, just without the hills?
Exactly. It's before the Beverly Hills Beverly Hills.
Did you go through a period of anonymity after changing your appearance?
Yes. It was pretty cool. It was nice to be able to go into certain places where I was used to getting bombarded, like in a kosher restaurant, or even in shul. That privacy was nice. But it's nice when people know you, too.
Do you find that now, months after the change, the recognition factor has begun to go up again?
I'm not sure if I'm starting to sense that yet. I can still walk around in a crowd, even at one of my own shows, and sometimes people won't even notice me.
You are currently in the midst of a six-month tour in support of your new album. How do you carve out personal space for yourself?
I read, I meditate, I pray, I run, I go out on my motorcycle. I eat healthy food — and I chew a lot. I find it's good to have one place in my day where I'm made to slow down. You might decide to pray, you might not. You might decide to meditate, you might not. But you're always going to eat. And when you're eating, if I sit down in a private place by myself, I chew very slowly, so that I can feel the energy that the food gives me. I find that to be very meditative and very much of a "me" moment.
How is the tour going?
The crowds and the shows have been amazing so far. All three bands have been playing amazing. The music really contrasts. You know, the first band [Moon Taxi] is great, it's this amazing rock band and singer. The second band, Dirty Heads, it's really feel-good music. And then there's our music, which has a kind of spiritual tilt to it.
This is the first album to be released on your own label. How different was the process for you as your own CEO?
You're more involved. The stakes are higher. You're investing your own money, going after investors, taking meetings with people, telling people how you contribute, what you make, you're hiring your own team, making your own decisions. It's an amazing experience. I recommend it to every artist to have that experience. It teaches you a lot about the industry.
Is there anything you look forward to when you come back to your old stomping grounds?
Well, what we did yesterday was play in Stamford, Conn., which is about 20 minutes from White Plains. I had friends there, parents, a sister, old friends from school. My sixth-grade health teacher was there — I brought her up onstage and she danced. It was pretty cool.
Matisyahu will be performing at the House of Blues in Atlantic City on July 21 at 8:00. For more information, go to www.houseofblues.com.