Taken from MichaelFranti (May 02, 2017)
The Story Behind “Say Hey (I Love You)”
Album: All Rebel Rockers
by Michael Franti
Sometimes in life, you set out to do something one way and then life throws you a curve ball. When that happens you can either stand there and watch it go by or change your approach, reach out a little further and swing the bat like you mean it.
All Rebel Rockers was a challenging album to make. We set out to make a record with the whole band recording all at once, "live" in the studio, the "old school way."
So, we wrote some songs and went to LA to work in a big studio (that sounds so cliche' now) after having made our previous three albums at our SF home studio, the Sugar Shack.
We hired a well-known producer whose music we loved and we did our best to make some magic. We spent a lot of money, like way too much freaking money. We tracked ten songs and by the time we had finished them and listened back I didn't like any of them. I was deflated. We had all put our hearts into making the best record we could, but for whatever reason, it just didn't rock the way I was hoping --- and at that point the recording budget, which wasn't huge to begin with, had all but vanished in a poof of LA studio smog.
While we were recording, I was staying at my old pal Woodie Harrelson's house while he was away. One morning I put a few acoustic guitar chords down on my iPod and played it back while in the shower. While humming along in the steam I started to get a musical rush - melodies, lyrics, vibes.
It was one of those moments song writers dream of --- when all of your depression and failure finally flows into 10 minutes of something meaningful!
I started writing the words on the glass of the shower and by the time I finished I had the majority of what I thought was a killer tune written.
I took it to my bass player Carl Young and we used his laptop to record a quick demo which I was super excited about. I felt like we'd been forcing something to happen during the previous week's sessions, but here on the final days of the studio time, I felt like I was having a breakthrough.
We took the song to the band and producer we were working with. The band thought it was pretty cool, but the producer wasn't that enthusiastic about it.
He said it had an "island" sound and didn't think it fit with the rest of the album. That it wasn't worth spending our last days in the studio recording.
I was disappointed again, but this time I was not deflated.
I knew it was a cool song and everyone I played it for loved it. I thought, well, if the song has an "island" vibe to it, why not go to an island to record it. So I took all the LA recordings and traveled to Jamaica to work with legendary drummer and bassist know as the "Riddim Twins" Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare to hopefully give it the groove it deserved.
When we got there it was like magic.
We sat in the hallway playing the song on guitar outside the Anchor Sound Studio control room and Sly started slapping a drum pattern on his knees while Robbie heard the bass line in his head.
The song went from being an acoustic guitar and vocal to having a deadly rhythm track that was part Folk, Reggae and Dancehall all rolled into one. People hanging around the studio were dancing to it and I knew then that it had a fresh sounding groove. We ended up staying on and re-recording nearly the entire album with this new sound.
When we finished I listened back to the lyrics of the chorus "I know one thing that I love you, I know one thing that I love you, I know one thing that I love you." I flew to Brazil and played the song on a TV show for the first time publicly and everyone stood up and started singing along.
Because of the difficulty in translation, "I know one thing that I love you..." was being sung by the crowd as simply, "I love you, I love you, I love you."
So, I went along with it and when I got back home, I recorded the vocals over again with this new alteration.
There's a line in the chorus that I wrote about my experiences traveling around the world, "The more I see the less I know." It was a reference to how just when I think I'm beginning to understand something, it always opens doorways of curiosity that make me realize there's always something new hiding around the corner of every breakthrough.
Often I think I'm on a path to a predetermined destination, but then I end up finding greater challenge, joy, and creativity when I stay open to the impulses of my heart and creative muse.
The transformation of the song "Say Hey (I Love You)" was one of my life's examples of following my heart, trusting my judgment and listening to the world speaking back to me.
This journey was one of openness to try anything and the willingness to be flexible.
Sometimes I feel like taking a chance on something new might lead to failure --- and sometimes (often actually) it does.
Failure, although scary and painful, is necessary.
Without it, we never reach our growing edge and never go through the trial and error process necessary to prove you're headed in the right direction. The key is to never give up.
Fall down, ask questions, and keep exploring the frontiers of creativity with tenacity and an open eye to find the answers (they will come).
"Say Hey (I Love You)" went to radio in the fall of 2009 and got a little airplay, which we were stoked about, but then, the momentum promptly died.
However, in the summer of 2010 a DJ in Florida and one in Green Bay, Wisconsin started to play it and somehow the summer months made it feel like it was the right time and place --- and the phones started to light up every time it was played.
In twenty years of making music I'd never had a song in the top 20K --- but after nearly a year since "Say Hey (I Love You)" dropped, we had our first song in the Billboard Top 20.
This song, that wasn't even supposed to get recorded, went on to get 2 million+ downloads!
A song that I had to change producers and travel to another country in the eleventh hour to record. A song I changed the lyrics to after I heard Brazilians singing it "wrong," realizing they were actually "right," had gone double platinum.
I hope that at some point this week you find yourself open to the possibility of change, to the idea that flexibility is often more powerful than expertise --- and that listening to the world around you can inspire magic that couldn't possibly occur from the creativity of just one mind.
It really is true, "The more I see the less I know, but I know one thing, that I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you."