Taken from PLAYBACK (Oct 03, 2010)
Michael Franti - Sunshine All Around
by Amy Burger
Franti makes his way back
to The Pageant on Tuesday night,
along with Spearhead
Michael Franti has sunshine on his mind. Specifically The Sound of Sunshine, his latest album (on Capitol Records) with Spearhead, his band of more than 15 years, which debuted in September at #17 on the Billboard Chart – Franti’s first Top 20 debut in his nearly 25 year career. Like its name, the album and hit title track are pure joy and warmth. His website describes the record as “a kind of musical sun shower,” a fitting way to end the summer.
Although The Sound of Sunshine is a mostly happy and upbeat album, the songs on it came out of a much darker and more serious experience – Franti nearly dying of a ruptured and infected appendix while on tour in 2009.
He explains in a recent phone interview, “I was touring with Counting Crowes last summer and at the start of the tour, my appendix ruptured; but I didn’t know what was happening and it took a week for doctors to figure it out, by which time everything became badly infected. I really thought I was going to die. When the surgery was finished and I realized I was going to be okay, I suddenly had a new appreciation for everything that was front of me – my kids, my family, just eating an orange.”
During this time, his song “Say Hey (I Love You)” from last year’s All Rebel Rockers had gone into the top 20 – his first Billboard hit. “I just kind of forgot about it, I was like, okay, whatever,” he says. “It really put everything in perspective. So when I sat down to do this album, I just wanted to write songs from that place of appreciation and gratitude and love, and that’s what The Sound of Sunshine is really all about.”
Aware that countless others face much worse problems than he did every day, Franti hopes the album communicates a sense of hope and possibility for anybody who needs it. Anyone who has seen Franti live knows that he is one of the most inspiring, passionate and positive musicians playing today.When asked how he keeps his attitude and energy up night after night, he replies, “I believe that positivity is something you have to practice, like guitar. If you practice it all the time, you get good at it and it doesn’t diminish. If you don’t practice, it’s easy to fluctuate. I am always looking for how I can turn something from a negative into a positive. The second thing is that I practice Yoga. Yoga is the thing that keeps my heart and my mind and my body all in one place. And a lot of times, I just cry – because I’m not happy all the time. Sometimes I get scared or unhappy or worried and sometimes you just have to let go.”
With a rapidly growing fan base, thanks to electrifying live shows, heavy radio airplay, and his second hit record in two years, it would seem that, at least for now, Franti has more to smile about than cry about. He makes his way back to The Pageant on Tuesday night, along with Spearhead. His last show at the venue was pure delight, culminating in a large group of children in the audience taking to the stage to jam with Franti, much to his delight.
His music unquestionably crosses all lines of age, race and gender and is a swirling mix of styles and sounds. Though most notably reggae-influenced, there are notes of his early love of punk rock (he played in a punk rock band called The Beatnigs in college), as well as pop, hip-hop and jazz. Franti grew up in the musically rich San Francisco Bay area and counted among his heroes Bob Marley, The Clash, Marvin Gaye, John Lennon and The Beatles.
“They were all artists who weren’t afraid to write a song about something in the world that was happening that they cared about; but then the next song they’d write about their girlfriend or about dancing,” he says. “They also combined musical styles to create something new. If you listen to the record Sandinista by The Clash, it’s jazz, reggae, rap, funk, punk rock; but in the end all you can say is it’s just The Clash. The Beatles are the same way. Every time they made a record they were breaking the mold.”
Franti is also known for writing songs about social issues and working as an activist, using his popularity to help spur change in the world. Ten years ago, he stopped wearing shoes completely.
“I was playing in the streets of nations where people couldn’t afford shoes,” he explains. So I would take off my shoes kind of to be in solidarity. These kids would all laugh at me because my feet were tender and I hadn’t built up calluses to walk barefoot. So I decided when I got back to San Francisco that I would try to go three days without shoes to toughen up my feet, and I haven’t put them on since.”
Franti has recently taken his statement a bit further, partnering with an organization called Soles4Souls, an international shoe charity. “They provide critically needed footwear for people in areas of natural disasters like Haiti or New Orleans, or just kids who have never been able to afford shoes,” Franti says. Fans can bring shoes to donate to certain shows along the tour (check www.michaelfranti.com for details) or donate funds via text message by texting keyword “FRANTI” to 20222 or via http://www.soles4souls.org/. For every dollar raised, Soles4Souls will donate a pair of shoes to someone in need.
It is pretty much impossible not to feel inspired in Franti’s presence. Lucky for us, he’ll inject a little of his summer sunshine to St. Louis’ chilly fall forecast this week. Tickets to the show are still available at The Pageant box office or online at Ticketmaster.com. | Amy Burger
Michael Franti & Spearhead
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Doors, 7 p.m./Show 8 p.m.