Michael Franti & Spearhead - All People (2013) (Courtesy of Capitol Records)
For Michael Franti every Friday is Franti Friday. On that day he uploads a self-made video to his YouTube page as a way of connecting with his fans on a more personal level. Sometimes Franti takes fans on the road with him or brings them into his kitchen to teach them how to make rice and beans. Other times, he focuses on one of his choice charitable causes like the Ubuntu Education Fund, which helps raise money for underprivileged kids in Africa. It’s these particular videos, the ones that stay true to his activist roots, that Franti’s most happy to share.
“When I first started in music we’d get snail mail letters from people. We’d get like a hundred letters a year and I could maybe answer ten of them. And then email came in and people started emailing and I’d get thousands of emails and I could answer like a hundred of them and now, with social media, I get 300,000 people or whatever on our Facebook page and Twitter,” Franti explained. “Not only are you sending messages out to them, but they’re sending messages back to you and we have this dialogue that takes place 24 hours a day.”
When Franti first started making music 27 years ago with his punk band, The Beatnigs. He wanted to be the guy holding the megaphone, calling other charitably minded humans to battle. As he’s gotten older, his priorities have changed. Now he’d rather be the guy who when the world ends is with his family rather than leading the rebellion.
“When I first started I really believed that music was the best way to ignite change,” Franti explained. “But music, it moves the heart, it doesn’t move votes in Congress. And so, what I feel is the best way for me in my life to work is to write songs that are of the heart and from the heart and then work outside of my songs to do things that I care about. I feel like that’s how I can make the biggest difference in the world through the different organizations I support outside of writing songs.”
Franti’s musical style has changed since his early days. No longer is he the spoken word troubadour with a guitar slung on his back. His latest album, All People, with his band Spearhead, continues in the same pop vein of his previous two releases, specifically 2009’s All Rebel Rockers, which garnered him his first mainstream hit with “Say Hey (I Love You).” But even though Franti’s gone pop he’s still able to send a clear message. This time around he’s just combined it with an EDM-style beat.
On the album’s title track, “All People” Franti is celebrating the diversity and beauty in people all over the world over a twinkly electronic beat, while the synth-driven “11:59” is about being on the edge of some great change. “In life and in the world right now we’re on this precipice for lots of issues,” Franti said. “So the metaphor 11:59 is right at that stroke before midnight. What are we going to do? What is going to happen? What’s the next step? What’s the next thing?”
On the verses he talks about a lot of political things that are happening, everything from the Occupy movement to the LGBT community’s struggle for equality, but on the chorus he makes it clear that before the clock strikes twelve, he’d like to be with the ones he loves.
On the album’s lead single, “I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like)” Franti whistles and bops around as he talks about finding the one person in the world who just gets him. He says the love song, like the rest of the record, is a metaphor for the bigger issues that are going on in the world today.
“It’s really not about capital ‘P’ politics in the sense of left and right or Republican and Democrat,” he explained. “It’s small letter ‘P’ politics. It’s about being who you are and holding on to that and finding power and beauty in the diversity that is all people.”
For those who feel Franti’s new record is a big departure for the singer, he says that dance music has always been in his blood, citing Kraftwerk’s 1977 album, Trans-Europa Express as one of the influences on All People. “Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always loved electronic music but I’ve never made electronic music,” he said. “With this record I wanted to do it but in a way that was authentic to who I am, so I combined it with acoustic guitar.”
But whether it’s a dance song or something a bit more stripped down, Franti says every song on All People focuses on what’s happening in the world today from larger issues to the smaller issues that any person in the world could relate to.
“When I first started making music, I made a lot of songs that were about the world and especially about the 24-hour news cycle,” Franti said. “As I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve realized that that’s not really what life’s about. To me the news that happens in people’s life is just as important and sometimes more important than the news on CNN. So I really have made an effort in the years to try to make music that is about universal themes.”
Compassion being the biggest theme. Franti wants to inspire people to get up and change the world, but he understands that sometimes you need to start small to make a larger change.
“I want to make songs that make people feel inspired everyday, whether it’s just to get up in the morning, make lunch for their kids or to participate in something after school that helps their neighborhood,” Franti explained. “Every one my songs is a commercial for positivity and love.”