Taken from [V] Interviews - Michael Franti (July, 1997)
Michael Franti dropped by the [V] offices in July 1997 for an interview with Jabba. As usual he was relaxed, articulate and utterly charming. Here's what went down.
Jabba: Hello, how you doin'? Jabba here in the scrumptious surrounds of the Foxtel waiting lounge, with a young man who has been waiting for us to arrive. Michael Franti - one time singer with the Beatnigs, another time singer with Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and now frontman with Spearhead. Michael, how you doin'?
Michael: I'm doing beautiful man. It's a pleasure to be here in your domain. I understand you own a lot of these buildings out here.
Jabba: Well I'm gonna have to sell a few of them I think as assets. As you can see a few of them are for lease already, but hopefully I can capitalize on those How would you describe yourself?
Michael: I would describe myself as a servant of my creator. What I try to do as I walk in life, I try to follow the path that my creator sets forth for me.
Jabba: Has that kind of been the way for your whole life?
Michael: Not my whole life. It's something that I've come to as time goes on, I realise that there's a lot of ups and downs and hills and valleys of life in the music industry. For somebody to stay balanced and stay harmonious with themselves and people around them you have to have some type of central point to your life, something that guides you to the future and where you're going. For me it's that connection.
Jabba: Is that the kind of stuff you talk about on your spoken word tours? What do you talk about?
Michael: I pretty much just get up on stage and talk shit really. I get up there and the microphone's there and when you're there with all the music and the band, like, before you even walk on stage my band will start playing groove and I know the audience is already with me, but when I get up on stage, it's like confronting a lot of my own fears of getting up in front of an audience. You're just there with a microphone and you have to entertain. One way is to get people open through humour. If you can get them laughing you can talk about more serious subjects, once people are enjoying themselves.
Jabba: It probably comes as no surprise to the audience that someone of your stature is standing on stage and going into comedy. Henry Rollins is a big spoken word person and he kind of has a similar tack - he's talking about something serious but he's kind of keeping everyone laughing. Do you have a favourite speaker?
Michael: My favourite speaker is Bose. I see all these posters around town for General Schwarzkopf and I think, what's up man? Are you guys starting little private military stick organisatons or something?
Jabba: They're big at the corporate dinners...
Michael: It's incredible...
Jabba: Have you ever gone to a motivational course?
Michael: I've never gone to a course as such, but I'd be interested in checking out what they have to say. I'm always open to seeing every performer.
Jabba: Even Stormin' Norman?
Michael: Even Stormin' Norman, you know what I'm sayin' . I bet he's got some good stick. He's got to man, because he's packing them in.
Jabba: The mind spins at what General Norman would be talking about. Do you ever check out other speakers?
Michael: I don't really go. I go see a lot of poets and when I perform I usually have some people open the show who are local to the community wherever I am. And I get to check them out. It's exciting for me because I think that spoken word performances have taken on a new thing lately. In America there's a big resurgence of it because people are so used to sitting around watching TV, or they've moved away from their family to go to school or something. To be in that setting again where people are just sitting around telling stories and sharing their emotions and their vibes with other people is like opening peoples' hearts and minds up again, so it's kind of a cool thing.
Jabba: A speaking revolution ... Do you feel more at home in clubs or at festivals?
Michael: Well we just did a month of festivals in Europe. Everything from the Glastonbury festival to the North Sea Jazz Festival. It's like a really fun environment. You usually do a shorter, more condensed set and there's lot of people in the audience participating and it's really fun. There's something though that I do like about the intimacy of a club. Just going in there it's kind of dark, and smoky, very intense, sweaty and hot. There's like energy that you can't create in any other setting, just inside a club.
Jabba: Have you been to the Glastonbury festival before?
Michael: Yeah, this was my second time.
Jabba: I believe this year it was a much wetter affair ...
Michael: I've still got the mud right here on my boots. That's Glastonbury mud...
Jabba: This could have the mad cow disease on it! British mud! Better get the agriculturalists onto this!
Michael: They were getting some kind of disease...
Michael: Yeah, trenchfoot. They haven't seen it since World War I they said. They didn't know how to treat it at first and they were trying to give people mustard gas and stuff
Jabba: I'll just have the pickles thanks...
Michael: My feet do smell like pickles anyhow man.
Jabba : I can imagine, thankyou Michael. Now what was the first gig you saw?
Michael: The first gig that I saw. The first like band that I like paid money to see a gig was, The Commodores. Lionel Ritchie came out. He rose up out above the stage on this big white piano singing, "...once, twice, three times..." It was dope man. It was dope.
Jabba: Were you right up the front?
Michael: I was inspired. I was not up the front, man. There was about 250 rows of pimps with their ladies on each arm which were separating me from the stage. It was like a really heavy Mack Daddy type of vibe.
Jabba: As you were saying, it was inspirational. Did it motivate you to want to perform?
Michael: It was exciting for me. It didn't really motivate me to want to perform, but it was exciting for me. Later when I got more into reggae music and saw a lot of reggae performers, I got really inspired to want to write music and perform because they were saying something. It wasn't like they were just getting up there and doing a show and entertaining. They had something that was also a part of their music that was connecting them.
Jabba: Do you have lyrics that you've written with a favourite kind of rhyme that you came up with at a special time?
Michael: Well yeah, I mean usually the latest thing that I wrote is the thing that I'm vibin' on the most, but there's songs that I go back to and I listen to and think, "Damn, you wrote that song. You're stupid, but you wrote a good song." I surprise myself sometimes when I check out stuff that I've written from a long time ago. I don't really have a favourite, but I love to be creative. To me, it's like when people ask me what is your wish for the future, for the year 2000, the millennium or stuff. For me, my wish is that everybody in the world would have a chance to be creative. To tell a story, to write a poem, to sing a song, to cook a meal for their friends, or to make love or whatever it is. Grow something from your heart.
Jabba: At the moment there's kind of a bit of a bidding war of who's got the rights to seeing the first sunrise of the millennium. All these different people are claiming that they'll be the first. Trying to sell package deals and stuff. You've mentioned the Notorious B.I.G. a fair bit in other interviews. Do you have favourite lyrics of other people?
Michael: Well the thing that I like about B.I.G. is like, in his lyrics. Hip hop is like an equation when you're rhyming. Like Dr Seuss, 'The Cat In The Hat', you know, cat equals hat. Or like the Grammy-nominated song 'Peaches' by the Presidents of the United States Of America - "Peaches come in a CAN, they were put there by a MAN ..." It's pretty simple stuff, but if you hear Biggie, he's constructing elaborate equations like when he says, "Who the F is this, paging me at 5.46 in the mornin', crack of dawning, now I'm yawning, trying to wipe the cold out my eye, who the F is this paging me and why?" That's like an elaborate construction. Shakespeare and people from time would love to have the type of rhythm and cadence that he has.
Jabba: Do you think that a lot of that comes from the musicians he writes with?
Michael: I think it comes from the supreme intellect really, in someone who's really smart, really gifted and really works hard at honing the craft.
Jabba: Your song 'Red Beans And Rice' - is that motivated by a healthy diet or by finances?
Michael: It's motivated by both. It's motivated by the time when I did not have a lot of money and I would buy a sack of rice and a sack of beans and I would boil it and that's it. Red beans and rice and you'd always add whatever else was in the house, a bottle of beer, spices, fish, concoct something, you know. But now, it's like I recognize what keeps most of the world alive is one of those things. Either beans or rice. That's what most people eat. We're lucky, we get to go to McDonald's every night.
Jabba: I bet you don't go to McDonald's every night. I wouldn't believe it. Wouldn't believe it if I saw it The benefit performances is something you seem to do when you come to Australia, is this something you get a chance to do everywhere you go?
Michael: Yeah, It's something that I like to do, the spoken word performance. It's like my way of sharing. I get a lot of food when I come, not literally eating black beans and rice, but I get a lot of sustenance when I come and meet new people along the road. When I'm sharing my lyrics with the people in the audience, after the show people come to me and tell me things about where they've been and they relay their experiences to me. That gives me a lot of sustenance to take home and to think about and be inspired about and it fills me up. It's why I get excited about my work. In doing that I feel that if the audience is going to pay money to come and see me, then I should pay money back to the community that they come from for the experience that they've shared with me. On this tour last night, we did something for this magazine, 'Crosstex', which deals with a lot of aboriginal and women's issues. Tonight, we're doing something for the Aboriginal defence fund, as well this aboriginal women's culture centre.
Jabba: Chocolate Superhighway, the latest album has net connotations in its name and in its content. Do you ever speak to other musicians on the internet?
Michael: A lot. Not like famous people, but I speak to a lot of people who are trying to get started and make music. I correspond with a lot of people who have independent record labels who are trying to get started on the net. I speak to a lot of kids because I'm on America Online, so when I log on, it tells other people online that I've logged on. As soon as I go on, people start talking to me. I get a lot of e-mail and I try to answer it all. Somewhere I missed a whole month of e-mail because when I was over in Europe I had a computer breakdown. My laptop wasn't working right, so I've got a whole month of e-mail to write. But that's what I like because it's like having your own post office, except the cat next to you isn't going to blow your head off you know.
Jabba: Do you do things like IRC chats?
Michael: Yeah, every now and then when I do promo I do structured ones like that but most of the time I just get on there and see what comes on.
Jabba: Well look out for Michael Franti, stay on the net 24 hours a day! Charlie Hunter toured here about 18 months ago, do you still keep in touch with him?
Michael: That's my man. He's a funny dude, man. We used to chill together a lot and he was in the Disposable Heroes too. He was the first guitar player that I saw that I liked, because I used to work in a guitar shop building guitars. That's my trade. Some people think that it's some sort of religious affiliation. I hated working there because everybody would come in and try to play chords that they couldn't even play. One day Charlie came in and started playing this jazz stuff and I was like, "yo man, this kid is on point". But the thing that really hooked me in is that he had a basketball on the other arm. I was like, this kid likes basketball and he plays some funky jazzy stuff on the guitar. We built him a guitar in the shop, just for a seven string guitar, he's up to eight strings; next time you see him, he's probably up to nine or ten. It's incredible.
Jabba: Have you had any particularly amazing hallucinations?
Michael: I had a dream the other night that I was chillin' Bill Clinton and like all these drug dealers and Bill Clinton was really involved in the underworld of cocaine. We went to this place and he had these guys locked up and he was torturing them with those Marilyn Manson face things, trying to get them to say secrets and stuff. This one guy tried to escape and I was going to shoot him because Clinton wanted to torture him more. I was like, "let me put him out of his misery". I feel so bad for the dude. Bill Clinton has this very thin veneer of being a nice guy, but he's really a drug dealing, Marilyn Manson type of torturer.
Michael: You heard it first!
Jabba: Wow, scoop of the week. I went to the States recently and the one thing I almost brought back was a cut-out Bill Clinton with his sax, but I thought I'd have to cut it up to get it on the plane and people would wonder why I cut up Bill Clinton in my luggage
Michael: I did a TV show the other day on the 4th of July with this Bill Clinton lookalike and it was pretty trippy and he looked exactly like Bill Clinton. He came up to Trina, the singer and says, "Very nice to meet you, come back, we're having a party later on, I'd like to get to know you better", so he had all the affectations down perfectly.
Jabba: I wonder if he had Greg Norman around to his house, or vice versa? I wonder whether he's been to Greg Normans' house and fallen down the stairs?
Michael: Maybe Norman Schwartzkopf's house and fallen down the stairs
Jabba: Quite possible.
Michael: That would be pulling a Norman.
Jabba: What's that?
Michael: I guess that's what they call it because he
choked at a tournament last year. That's why they have an expression
in America 'pulling a Norman'. It's like when you're doing well and
you fall down on your face.
Jabba: It could be an international expression, because we had a guy Norman Gunston who was brilliant, yet came across as embarrassing. He went to New Orleans and went around going, "Where's the KKK meeting?". His name was Norman, so 'chucking a Norman'. You're presumably coming back to the country sometime with the band?
Michael: Yeah, we're gonna be coming back here, hopefully before the end of the year, but if not, at the beginning of the new year, doing a full tour around and see the whole country. Go to Perth, swim in the Indian Ocean. That's like one of my goals in life, to swim in all the oceans of the earth everywhere I go. We were in Ireland and I went swimming in the North Sea and I got in to like my knees and said I ain't goin' nowhere in there man. But at least I can say I've been in the North Sea.
Jabba: We've got Sydney Harbour out here, maybe you'd like to come out for a christening of it?
Michael: Not in this part of Sydney Harbour. There are some nice parts, but this is kind of mucky out here.
Jabba: Yeah, I'm gonna sell it tomorrow! Dump! Well thanks for talking with us....