The Remix: Q&A with Michael Franti

Roots rock reggae band Michael Franti and Spearhead are banging out summer singles left and right.  A new album, which will be released later this summer, is in the works as well. I caught up with Michael Franti for a phone interview before the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.

State Press: You wrote a lot of the upcoming album “The Sound of Sunshine” while you were in the hospital for a ruptured appendix. What can fans expect in terms of the sound, the style, and the message of the album?

Michael Franti: Last August my appendix ruptured and I was in the hospital. Every day I’d go to the window and I’d open the curtain, and I’d see if the sun was shining. If it was, I’d be like, “Yes! It’s going to be a great day!” And there were some days when it wasn’t shining, and so I would have to find that feeling of sunshine in my guitar. So I started writing uplifting songs of positivity and brightness. That’s what the album is really about. I wanted to make a record for people who felt down or felt like the sun wasn’t shining in their life…this music can pick them up.

SP: Let’s touch upon your unbelievably catchy song “Shake It Shake It.”. At the end of that song, you sing “It’s not the way that you look, it’s the way that you shook.” What’s the idea of the song?

MF: That line, and the first line of the song, which is “you’re perfect just the way you are,” are really the message of the song. I wanted to write a song that [said that] it doesn’t matter how much you weigh, what you look like, what country you’re from, what language you speak, what hairstyle you have. It’s okay to just be the person that you are, and to shake it! I’ve had lots of people come up to me at shows and write to me, saying, “Thank you so much for this song because it makes me feel like it’s okay to be the person that I am.” It’s really funny: I thought it was just a really simple song, but it’s become a song that really means a lot to people.

SP: On a separate note, in 2009 you participated in the Power to the Peaceful conference in San Francisco, where there is yoga, capoiera, a few guest speakers, and then the actual conference. How did you get involved with that project?

MF: That’s something that we actually started. I started it in 1999. We put on this event on September 11. It was a day [for saying] that we felt like there should be more emphasis and more money being spent on schools in California, and not so much money being spent on prisons. So much money was being taken out of the education system. We wanted to say it was an emergency, so we used the number 9-1-1 September 11. When we put on this concert, a few years later the attacks of September 11 occurred. So it became a day where we said, “What can each of us do to make the world a better place, and not use this day as a cry for war?” It became a larger and larger event, a spot where 50,000 people would come out. There are bands, music, environmental organizations, gang prevention organizations,…There are all kinds of different things that people are doing to create peace in our community and in the world, and that’s what the whole event is about.

SP: While we’re loosely on the topic of yoga, let’s discuss your side project, Stay Human, which is “eco wear for the urban yogi.” How did Stay Human come about, and what made you choose the Bumi Sehat Natural Birthing Clinic and the in Indonesia and the Hunter’s Point Family in San Francisco as the organizations that you wanted to help out?

MF: I started practicing yoga in 2001. It’s something that I do every day when I’m on tour. We either find a studio to go to, or I just practice on my own somewhere in the dressing room. We wanted to create a yoga clothing company that was organic clothing that people could wear on the street as well as in a yoga class. Most of the yoga clothes, especially for men, were kind of flowery and not as green looking. So we wanted to make a more street looking line of clothes. We also opened a yoga center in Bali. It’s a place where people can stay for a week and practice yoga really intensely with a teacher. People from all over the world go there. There’s a birthing clinic in Bali that I raise funds for. We just bought them a piece of land so they can build a new building. Money from the clothing company goes to the birthing clinic.

SP: You obviously have a great sense of community. Bonnaroo is sort of like its own giant community. How does playing at music festivals like Bonnaroo differ from playing regular shows? As an artist, what are the ups and downs of having such a larger audience?

MF: Any time I go to a festival, I go there [primarily] as a fan and secondarily as a performer. When I’m out at Bonnaroo, it’s like a family experience. You go out there and you see all this music. But more than that, you see all the people who are there, and you meet people from all walks of life who have gathered and are doing all kinds of interesting things. It’s just a great place to meet people, to watch people, and to hear about new things that are taking place in the world. As a fan, I always see music at a festival that I’m just discovering for the first time. That’s always the best part for me as an artist. As a performer, there’s really nothing bad about playing in front of more people. The more bands, the more fun the experience is. I always do something to get out into the crowd when I’m playing, so lately I’ve been jumping out and singing three or four songs of my set actually in the crowd. That’s been a really fun thing we’ve been doing on this tour.

SP: You’ve been on tour since the end of April. Every artist’s experience while traveling is different since it depends on what you make of it. What’s life been like on the road for you and your band Spearhead, and how do you balance your life and your music while you’re on the run all the time?

MF: We love being on the road and we love playing music, but we also have tons of fun off stage. Every day we do a video blog that we put up on our website and on Facebook. It’s called FrantiV. We do five or six minute pieces that are about stuff we do during the day. Some of it is ridiculous backstage stuff, or sometimes we’ll introduce someone we meet who’s doing something really cool in the community that we’re in. There’s always interviews with fans, too. Like I said, we [also] practice yoga every day. But we’re also big soccer fans! We play soccer every day. A lot of times we play with fans, and we’ll just organize a little game of four on four or five on five. The only thing that’s hard is being away from the people that we love and care about back home. We’re on the road six or seven months of the year, and sometimes it’s tough to balance our home life and road life.

SP: Aside from touring, what’s next for you and the band?

MF: We’re just finishing up a video for “Shake It Shake It,” and we’re going to be doing a video for the song “The Sound of Sunshine” later in the summer. We’re really just booked up touring all the way till Thanksgiving. We’re always writing new songs. We have a little recording studio we take with us on the road, so we’re constantly writing new material as well.

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