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‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄúSay Hey (I Love You),‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄúI Know I‚Äôm Not Alone,‚ÄĚ is a past recipient of Global Exchange‚Äôs 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‚Äôre playing in Atlanta next Tuesday (Aug. 8 ). Other than performing, what do you plan to do when you‚Äôre in town?
Michael Franti: We‚Äôre very excited to be coming back. I was adopted and didn‚Äôt meet my biological father until I was 22. He recently moved to Atlanta and I have a brother who lives there so I‚Äôm excited to come out. My wife and son are flying out so they can visit with my dad. We‚Äôre looking forward to it.
ABC: You have another Atlanta connection in Hope and Steve Dezember (story on the couple here). How did y‚Äôall connect?
MF: Hope had been tweeting me saying, ‚ÄėMy husband has ALS but he‚Äôd love to come to your show. It might be one of the last shows he ever gets to go see. He‚Äôs a big fan of yours and would love to meet you.‚Äô 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‚Äôs ear, ‚ÄėI want to get up and dance.‚Äô Hope lifts Steve out of the chair and his whole body is stiff but she‚Äôs 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, ‚ÄėWe should do this for as many families as we possibly can.‚Äô 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‚Äôve sent over 900 families to see shows in the last four years.
ABC: Your ninth and most recent studio album ‚ÄėSoulrocker‚Äô was released in June 2017. Do you have anything new in the works?
MF: We‚Äôre writing new songs. I try to write whenever I‚Äôm inspired. It‚Äôs hard to write on the road because there‚Äôs so much going on that it‚Äôs difficult to really focus, but I have written a couple of songs that will be on the next record. We‚Äôre going to be touring all the way up to early October, then we‚Äôll get back in the studio to work on an album. I‚Äôm also finishing up a film that Hope and Steve (Dezember) are in. It‚Äôs about people that have inspired me and people who use music to get through challenging moments in their life. I‚Äôve been filming it in Indonesia and have been recently filming some in South Africa. It‚Äôs kinda a world perspective of the way music helps people get through the most challenging moments of their lives. We don‚Äôt have a title for it yet.
ABC: What should we expect from you at your show at Variety Playhouse?
MF: We‚Äôre playing a lot of songs from our last album, ‚ÄėSoulrocker.‚Äô 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‚Äôll put my mic on and get my guitar and go out into the audience. That‚Äôs one of the things that I love to do.
Right now is a time when there is so much division in our country ‚ÄĒ politically, socially, over the environment, sexuality, religion ‚ÄĒ and I really believe it‚Äôs important for people to have powerful positive experience that bring people together. That‚Äôs what our tour and music is really dedicated to right now ‚ÄĒ 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‚Äôs super punk-rock. (Laughs)
MF: Yeah. (Laughs) We would ask at the end of a show, ‚ÄėHey! Does anybody have a floor or a couch or two we can crash on?‚Äô With my second group, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, we had this song called ‚ÄėTelevision, the Drug of the Nation,‚Äô 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 ‚Äô94 until 2010 when we had our first Top 20 ‚Äėhit‚Äô 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‚Äôs what we do. Through music, I‚Äôve had the option to travel the world. I‚Äôm a hotelier. I own a small-boutique hotel in Bali called Soulshine Bali. We also have the Stay Human clothing line. We‚Äôre 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‚Äôs something that aligns with those, then it‚Äôs something we‚Äôll 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‚Äôs very faux pas for a journalist. Anyway, since I‚Äôm in Atlanta now, I want to know what is top of mind for you when you think of Georgia music?
MF:(Laughs) That‚Äôs 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‚Äôd want written on my tombstone it would be, ‚ÄúHe was useful.‚Äô That‚Äôs it. I want to be useful. I want people to feel like my music meant something in their life ‚ÄĒ 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‚Äôd always dreamed of doing. That‚Äôs it. I‚Äôd like to be useful. (Laughs)