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Taken from summit daily news (April 14, 2005)

Michael Franti brings love to Copper

by RYAN SLABAUGH
summit daily news


Photo by (Bret Hartman/Vail Daily)
Michael Franti performs
in Telluride last Spring.
Photo by
Bret Hartman/Vail Daily
Michael Franti, the frontman for Spearhead, was sitting in his studio in San Francisco Wednesday afternoon working on the band's new album, "Yell Fire," to be released in late August.

Franti, a politically-charged love-monger, said he works in his studio eight hours a day, but his stories defy that. He's traveled the world (Australia, he says, is where they are the biggest), and even spent time in Iraq, walking down the streets of Baghdad playing music.

Spearhead will play its music - a mix of hip-hop, rock and roll and folk - Sunday at Burning Stones Plaza at Copper Mountain. The show is scheduled to start at 2:45 p.m.

On Wednesday, he took time to answer questions about his music, his writing, and his new passion: film.


Q: After you took your trip Iraq, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan last year, you said you had a lot of video footage that would be turned into a documentary? When is this going to be finished?

We've finished the film and we showed it to the Slamdance Film Festival (in Park City, Utah) as a work in progress. In February, I went back to Israel and Palestine and shot more footage. It will have its world premier in a couple weeks in a film festival in Belgium.

Q: What's its purpose?

It's a musical documentary about war and occupation in the Middle East. I'm one of the musicians, but there are a lot of musicians that came across along the way. I took my guitar and my friends. First we flew to Baghdad then to Israel and then to Gaza Strip, and we tried to talk to the people and let them tell me their story.

Q: When you went back, did you notice any changes?

The first time, I went to the Gaza strip and heard the Palestinian perspective. The second time I wanted to speak to the Israelis. It's a very tense situation. Palestinian properties are a third-world poverty, and Israel is very first-world. It's very easy to identify the plight of the people who are being pushed down. Then you go to Israel and see people scared every day of suicide attacks. I wanted to show both sides of this.

Q: Do you think any Americans will respond to this?

It's not a political film. It's not something saying the Bush Administration is (expletive), or something like that. Policies in the Middle East are exacerbating the problem more than it's helping it. But this is more about people's lives. I met with a family who lived in their basement for two weeks during the bombings. I met a heavy metal group who, during the Saddam administration, had to play pro-Saddam songs, and they told me how hard it was for them to make music in that environment.

Q: Was returning tough? Did it make you shake your head at Americans' complaints?

That's funny. A friend and I were just talking about that. We were talking about whether to buy a 40 gig I-Pod or a 20-gig I-Pod, and we sat down and asked ourselves what we were complaining about. I-Pods, of all things. We just stopped and shook our heads.

Q: When you were in the Middle East, did the people wonder what you were up to?

Well, I started every day by just playing music. So they'd see me walk down the street and hear me sing, and then after a while they'd stop me. First of all, they wondered where the (expletive) I was from. They had never seen dredlocks before. Every American they had seen was pointing a rifle in their face. Everywhere I went was a real novelty. I would play music first, and then they would find out I was an American. They were moved and touched that I would go over there.

Q: How did you get over there?

I talked to some people - journalists - who were going there. Global Exchange sends people all over the world - especially developing nations - and I hooked up with their handlers, journalists mainly, who drive through the war. I found people who did that for a living, and they found me a place to stay.

I wanted to stay in the red zone, not the green zone. For two reasons: I felt like I would be safer if I wasn't in the military-controlled situations. People like to lob mortars into that area. The other was I feared my travel being restricted by the military. I wanted to be able to see what I wanted to see and meet who I wanted to meet.

Q: Did the military ever question you?

No, I was really below the radar. I only came in contact with U.S. Military when I came through checkpoints. One of the people I went with was a former army captain, and he knew the army talk. He arranged for me to play for military folks one night who were off duty.

Q: Was that strange for you?

It was the hardest show I've ever done. They have an M-16 sitting on the counter next to their beer, and these were soldiers who were serving a purpose I didn't agree with. What I found was that they just liked the fact that I was there doing what they thought their purpose was: to help the people and to teach them that America is a good place. The soldiers had differing political opinions, but about 90 percent understood the support. All of them just want to go home.

Q: What was your feeling when you left?

Mostly relieved. Every night I went to sleep, I couldn't sleep. I couldn't fall asleep until about 4 in the morning. I tried to catch a nap during the car rides sometimes, but I kept a tight schedule. I have two sons, and I was really just happy to see them again.

I did feel bad for leaving the civilians behind. I made a lot of Iraqi friends I still keep in touch with.

Q: You've seemed to have struck a chord with the younger, festival-going audience with your message. Do you have a problem reaching an older audience, who might be turned off by your message or your audience?

No, I've never really had that problem. First of all, I do everything in the perspective of love. That is really my message. We do everything we can to put on the best live show. That's how our reputation has grown through making great music and putting on great live shows. People come for that first. When I perform live, I let the songs speak for themselves.

Q: Moving on, how's the new album coming?

We're in the studio right now. We're finishing. We started about a month ago, and we started recording in Jamaica. We did the drums and bass down there, and we're doing the guitar and vocals in San Francisco. It will be done in a couple weeks. It will be out at the end of August. It's called "Yell Fire."

The movie is called "I Know I Am Not alone." We'll be touring throughout the fall doing shows and screening the movie. We'll come into a town and do a theater one night, then play the show the next night. Then we'll do an acoustic set after the viewing.

Q: You're coming out to an active area, where a lot of people keep their sanity by skiing, hiking, camping, you know, getting away from it all. Does your schedule allow you to do this?

You know, not too much. We always plan to play snow areas or beach areas in Australia. I try to plan around my work to be in nature. I love Colorado for that reason. Even just driving from Denver up in the mountains, just to see the mountains ...

I love snowboarding. The thing I love about it is that sense of letting go. You can turn on your snowboard and you're between turns, you're just floating.

Q: I'm a poetry fan. Your work on albums like "One Giant Leap" begs the question ... do you differentiate between poetry and music?

I do both. The thing I'm really in love with now is the form of the 3 1/2 minute song and trying to say something eloquent and powerful in that time using chords and melody. I spend a lot of time with my guitar. I used to spend more time in the past with a notebook.

Q: Has that changed how you write songs?

I used to write songs from the rhythm first, and now I write songs with the melody first. And also, for example, when I was in Iraq, I'd be walking down the street and playing the guitar and singing to people. I really love - not just my voice - but anybody playing and singing the guitar. I write songs that are meant to sing to somebody in front of you, not just on a stage. I write them to play to the two friends.

Q: Who do you read?

Right now, the book I'm reading, called "Between a Rock and a Hard Place," is a book about Aron Ralston. It's a really good read. But I read a lot of different things, mostly non-fiction.

Q: Who do you listen to?

Mostly older artists. I'm really a reggae fanatic. I love the studio recording. Lee Perry. Bob Marley. Black Uhuru. I'm also a fan of singer-songwriters. Neil Young. John Lennon. Bob Dylan.

Q: Is the singer-songwriter attitude departed?

There's a lot of disposable music today. It's also because I'm making music all the time. I'm in the studio making music eight hours today. When I get home, maybe my musical adventureness is tapped out. I go back to the records.

 
 

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