Taken from The Boston Globe (June 1, 2006)
Free-spirited rocker Michael Franti is fueled by politics
by Siddhartha Mitter, Globe Correspondent
San Francisco musician, activist , and free spirit Michael Franti, who plays the Bank of America Pavilion tonight in support of Gov't Mule, booked his spot in the pantheon of political pop early. In 1992 his group Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy burst forth with "Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury", an album of clattering beats and righteous indignation that eviscerated consumer society. Since then, Franti's fire has diminished in fury, but not in incandescence. His long-running band Spearhead, which distills conscious lyrics against a lively, groove-based pop, has found a home on the festival circuit. But though Franti is vegan and doesn't wear shoes, there's no hippie complacency to his agenda. Next month sees the official release of a documentary, "I Know I'm Not Alone", born of an expedition to Iraq, and a CD, "Yell Fire". With appearances that range from Bonnaroo to meetings of the World Health Organization, Franti has assumed the role of entourage-free humanist, a counterpoint to celebrity-activists like Bono or Angelina Jolie. He answered our questions by phone from New York.
What's on your mind these days?
We've been touring with this film I've made about the human cost of war. I went to Iraq, Israel, and Palestine and played music on the streets for people, and turned the camera on them.
What did you find in Iraq that you didn't expect?
It's hard to describe until you've seen it yourself -- until you walk into a hospital and see a room full of maimed children and you realize there's six or seven more rooms, with 30 kids in a room. And then you talk to the US soldiers, and you hear guys who were thinking they were going to war to avenge 9/11 and now realize that they're fighting for a lie. Their hearts are broken, too.
The film is doing well at the festivals. What kind of release are you giving it?
We decided we didn't want to release it to the art house circuit where it would play to 30 people on a Wednesday night. Instead we're touring with the film as if it was a rock album, and we're selling out rooms with 800 to 2,000 people. We screen the film and then I do an acoustic set, and we're selling DVDs.
Tell me about the title, "I Know I'm Not Alone".
We've had this ultimatum put to us by the Bush administration, either you're with us or you're with the terrorists. And those of us who felt there was another option, not just running off to war, that maybe there's something else, we felt incredibly alone. Now today the tide has turned, and we've gone from 70 to 80 percent supporting the war to 30 percent.
Does it also describe what it's like to be a so-called "political artist" nowadays?
Yes, definitely. Making political music is a tightrope to walk. You want to entertain people, but also you want to feel that you're speaking from your heart. Meeting other political artists, young emerging songwriters, is an important connection.
You play a lot on the festival circuit, the big summer festivals. What kind of energy do you get from the festivals?
Every time we play at festivals I go as a fan. I walk around, go to the booths and performances, and get a sense of what the festival is like. If most bands are playing loud, funky, we might play an acoustic set. Second, we're always trying to make the audience feel as involved as possible. That sense of togetherness is why the festival scene has really blossomed in the last five or six years. While radio is going in the opposite direction, where you hear five or 10 artists over and over.