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Taken from Atlanta Business Chronicle (Aug 01, 2017)

Q&A: Michael Franti talks Atlanta concert at Variety Playhouse, songwriting, his band as a business

by Phil W. Hudson, Staff Writer for Atlanta Business Chronicle

Michael Franti (center) & Spearhead. Photo by Chelsea Klette

Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Phil W. Hudson recently spoke to hip-hop, rock, folk and reggae musician Michael Franti for a wide-ranging discussion.

The singer-songwriter, filmmaker, humanitarian and entrepreneur is known most for Michael Franti & Spearhead's 2009 single “Say Hey (I Love You),” which hit No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, Franti is a man who wears many hats. In addition to being the frontman of his band, Franti produced and directed the documentary “I Know I’m Not Alone,” is a past recipient of Global Exchange’s Domestic Human Rights Award, and owns a clothing company and a hotel.

Michael Franti & Spearhead will be in Atlanta Aug. 8 to perform at Variety Playhouse.

Atlanta Business Chronicle: You’re playing in Atlanta next Tuesday (Aug. 8 ). Other than performing, what do you plan to do when you’re in town?

Michael Franti: We’re very excited to be coming back. I was adopted and didn’t meet my biological father until I was 22. He recently moved to Atlanta and I have a brother who lives there so I’m excited to come out. My wife and son are flying out so they can visit with my dad. We’re looking forward to it.

ABC: You have another Atlanta connection in Hope and Steve Dezember (story on the couple here). How did y’all connect?

MF: Hope had been tweeting me saying, ‘My husband has ALS but he’d love to come to your show. It might be one of the last shows he ever gets to go see. He’s a big fan of yours and would love to meet you.’ So, we invited him to the Wanee Festival and they came out. By this point, Steve could only speak in whispers because pretty much his whole body had rigor. They came out on the side of the stage and in the middle of the show he whispered into Hope’s ear, ‘I want to get up and dance.’ Hope lifts Steve out of the chair and his whole body is stiff but she’s holding him tight and they have this beautiful dance in front of 20,000 people. I was really moved. Afterwards, I said to my wife, Sara, who is an emergency room nurse, ‘We should do this for as many families as we possibly can.’ So, from the meeting of Hope and Steve, we launched a non-profit called Do It For The Love. Our goal is to bring children, adults and veterans with serious medical conditions and special needs to see any live concert of any artist in any city in North America. To date, we’ve sent over 900 families to see shows in the last four years.

ABC: Your ninth and most recent studio album ‘Soulrocker’ was released in June 2017. Do you have anything new in the works?

MF: We’re writing new songs. I try to write whenever I’m inspired. It’s hard to write on the road because there’s so much going on that it’s difficult to really focus, but I have written a couple of songs that will be on the next record. We’re going to be touring all the way up to early October, then we’ll get back in the studio to work on an album. I’m also finishing up a film that Hope and Steve (Dezember) are in. It’s about people that have inspired me and people who use music to get through challenging moments in their life. I’ve been filming it in Indonesia and have been recently filming some in South Africa. It’s kinda a world perspective of the way music helps people get through the most challenging moments of their lives. We don’t have a title for it yet.

ABC: What should we expect from you at your show at Variety Playhouse?

MF: We’re playing a lot of songs from our last album, ‘Soulrocker.’ We always look at the set list the day of the show and pick songs from older albums and try to make it different every night. I love getting in the crowd with my guitar. I’ll put my mic on and get my guitar and go out into the audience. That’s one of the things that I love to do.

Right now is a time when there is so much division in our country — politically, socially, over the environment, sexuality, religion — and I really believe it’s important for people to have powerful positive experience that bring people together. That’s what our tour and music is really dedicated to right now — bringing people together.

ABC: At which point in your career would you describe as the moment you broke?

MF: When I was just getting started, I had a little punk-rock band. Our single goal was just to get enough gas money to get to the next town. (Laughs)

ABC: That’s super punk-rock. (Laughs)

MF: Yeah. (Laughs) We would ask at the end of a show, ‘Hey! Does anybody have a floor or a couch or two we can crash on?’ With my second group, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, we had this song called ‘Television, the Drug of the Nation,’ which was seen by U2. They loved the song so they used the video to open their Zoo TV Tour and invited us to open their tour. So, we went from traveling and sleeping on floors to suddenly opening for U2 in these huge stadiums like Yankee Stadium. Then, that band broke up and I started Spearhead. We were a band from ’94 until 2010 when we had our first Top 20 ‘hit’ song. I had started making records in 1987 so it was 23 years of overnight success, you know? (Laughs)

ABC: Do you view your band as a business?

MF: In terms of business, being a band is being a small-business owner. As the owner of that business, I am responsible for the livelihood of probably about 30 people between the band, crew, management, social media team, publicist and other people we hire along the way. But, more important than that responsibility, I have a responsibility to our audience to be bringing them the most inspiring music and concert that we can bring them every night. It starts with core values. My core values, or the values of my band, are that we believe every single person on the planet deserves to be happy, healthy and equal. Everything that we do as a band and as a business stems from that core value, and we see the way that it shows up with our audience in that they share that value and they believe in that mission so that’s what we do. Through music, I’ve had the option to travel the world. I’m a hotelier. I own a small-boutique hotel in Bali called Soulshine Bali. We also have the Stay Human clothing line. We’re also working on a beverage. There are so many aspects of business. As an artist today, it used to be that we could depend on record sales, but record sales are pretty much irrelevant these days so we try to find other businesses that can support what we do in music but they all go back to that same set of core values that we started off with. If it’s something that aligns with those, then it’s something we’ll get into.

ABC: We first met when I was a college journalist at Alabama and went to The Hangout with my cousin, who ran up to you and asked for an autograph. I was so embarrassed because that’s very faux pas for a journalist. Anyway, since I’m in Atlanta now, I want to know what is top of mind for you when you think of Georgia music?

MF:(Laughs) That’s funny. But, the first thing that came to my mind is R.E.M. (interview with Mike Mills of R.E.M. here) and all of the great hip-hop that comes out of Atlanta. (Laughs)

ABC: What do you want your legacy to be?

MF: If there was one thing that I’d want written on my tombstone it would be, “He was useful.’ That’s it. I want to be useful. I want people to feel like my music meant something in their life — that it got them through a challenging time or a difficult night even or inspired them to be their authentic self or to do something they never thought they would do or do something that they’d always dreamed of doing. That’s it. I’d like to be useful. (Laughs)


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