Friday, September 10, 2010


Over the last decade, the ‘Invasion of the Singer/Songwriter’ has continued to grow by leaps and bounds. The charts and record store bins haven’t seen an onslaught of sensitive guitar strummers like this since the glory days of Jim Croce, Carly Simon, Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor and Lobo! But many of these modern troubadours tend to peddle their hook-laden heartbreak and naturally expect their audience to come along for the ride. But this isn’t 1973 anymore and the average listener is no longer looking for a song to validate their own inner turmoil; they are looking for music that offers hope and will lift their spirits during hard times. And nobody does that better than Michael Franti!

While his days with The Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy were more aggressive, Franti’s work with Spearhead has seen the singer/songwriter embrace a more positive approach to playing music. While he still has a message, Franti’s way with a melody and an honest and pure joyful love of making music has made him one of the most respected and successful singer/songwriters of this generation.

With the 2010 album, The Sound Of Sunshine, Franti and Spearhead have managed to distill the very essence of Summer into songs that inspire the mind, teach the heart and lift the spirit. It’s an album that is not easy to categorize, although it is very easy to listen to. From Pop to Reggae to Hip Hop, The Sound Of Sunshine is an album that is elegant and raw, optimistic and real, and full of hope. It is an album that travels many musical avenues while remaining focused. It is an album that personifies Summer and the joy of life under the sun, yet can be played any time of the year.

Recently, SPAZ was able to catch up with Michael Franti to discuss this new platter and his career in general…

SPAZ: The Sound Of Sunshine manages to capture not only the sound of but also the FEEL of sunshine, and summer in particular. How difficult is it to translate your ideas and emotions into these living and breathing recordings? And when do you know that they are ‘ready’?
MICHAEL FRANTI: Well, I write every song on the acoustic guitar first, and then I dress them up from there. Some songs I nail the first time with the right beat and instrumentation. Other songs take years of messing around and experimentation before I feel I've captured the initial emotion.

SPAZ: Do you like to road test the songs before taking them into the studio, or do you prefer the songs to be fresh when you put them down on tape?
MF: I do both but before I put out a record, I always road test the songs.

SPAZ: Does your surroundings inspire the direction of the recordings?
MF: I recorded the bulk of the record on tour. It did directly affect the sound of our record because we would immediately see if the songs were too fast or not easy to sing along to based on the reaction of the audience we were playing for every night.

SPAZ: What’s it like working with producers Sly & Robbie? Was there a time when your ideas for a track were radically different from theirs?
MF: Working with Sly and Robbie is like going to a university of riddim. You don't just record with them. They explain to you why a certain riddim will work better than another. So it's not just about an end result on the recording, it's about the experience of learning and being surrounded by people who have a lifetime of experience of wisdom they can impart to you in a few moments. For "The Sound Of Sunshine" track, we ended up putting two versions on the record, because they didn't like the uptempo version, which has now become a hit on the radio. I agree with them and prefer the downtempo version on the album, but know what sounds good on the radio or in your car is often different from what sounds great when you're relaxing at the end of a long day, so we opted to put both versions on the record.

SPAZ: The Sound Of Sunshine reveals a new layer of magic with each spin. My personal favorite track(s) change from day to day. Are there any that you are particular fond of at this moment?
MF: My two favorite songs to listen to on the record are "I'll Be Waiting" and "Only Thing Missing Was You", but my favorite to perform live are "The Sound Of Sunshine" and "I'll Be Waiting".

SPAZ: Were there any tracks left over from the …Sunshine sessions that we may see somewhere down the line?
MF: Yeah. We had several unfinished tracks that I really like the music for and I'm sure we will finish at some point. There's a song called "Being Alone Is Better With You" that I didn't feel fit on the record, but it's a really great song and it will come out at some point as a bonus track.

SPAZ: I’ve noticed that your Franti/Spearhead releases over the years have been embraced by Reggae, Soul, Folk, Hip Hop, Rock and Pop fans. Did you set out with the intention of reaching such a wide demographic of listeners?
MF: No. The only intention I ever had was to make the music I felt in my heart and every time I make a song, I want to try to do something different and fortunately these days people's iPods have thousands of songs from all different genres, so listener's tastes have broadened considerable. I think this has helped all music become more diverse, experimental, and to find larger audiences.

SPAZ: Because of your wide range of influences, it’s difficult to categorize your music. Do you think that has been a blessing or a curse?
MF: It's been both. A blessing, because it's allowed me to make whatever music I've wanted to make, and the expectation from our audience wasn't going to be the same every time we go into the studio. It's been a curse in that radio stations are formatted for specific audience and style of music, and when you can't label your music it is hard to fit it into one of those formats.

SPAZ: How do you view the internet in regards to how it has effected you and your music?
MF: I love it. It's the greatest vehicle for the discovery of new music and has created access for hundreds of millions of people to find and download new music. A lot of artists have shunned the internet because of downloading eating into short range profits, but if you don't embrace the internet, the internet will eat you.

SPAZ: Looking back at your recordings with the Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes, how has YOUR songwriting and recording process changed over the years?
MF: With the Beatnigs, I didn't know how to play any instrument, even though I played bass: I just made up the notes. We didn't have a guitar player and most of the instruments in the band were large metal objects and power tools. Today, I write everything on the acoustic guitar first and I make sure it sounds great there before I turn it into a song with a full band arrangement. It's much easier to write a song on a guitar than it is on an angle grinder.

SPAZ: What’s next for Michael Franti
MF: Well, right now we're working on a short documentary about my visit to East Timor. I also want to work on finishing a short documentary that I shot a few years ago about survivors of the atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima. Of all the people I met in the world, they have the strongest voice for peace and demilitarization.

SPAZ: What is currently spinning on your CD and DVD players?
MF: Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits and lots of Brazilian music from the early 70's, and we just finished watching Babel.

Fan Question: Submitted by Ozzie Perez, Anaheim, CA

OZZIE: What started your path as an artist? And what message do you want people to get from your work?
MF: I started as an artist because I felt I had something I wanted to say. Some people become artists because they want to get rich and retire. I became an artist because I never want to retire. I want to be like John Lee Hooker and play music until I die. The message I want people to get from my work is very simple...Unity, and that all of us are interconnected, and it takes everyone to solve the issues that our world faces today. But there's something even more important than solving world issues that we may never see solved in our lifetime and that thing is HAPPINESS.

Thanks to Michael Franti
Special thanks to Jacki Feldstein, Ozzie Perez and Jolene Del Pozo.

1 comment:

William Francis Ahearn said...

As a lover of sunshine I am living the life: as I travel across America with Michael Franti in my speakers! What a truly up video. Give us more Michael!