Taken from The News-Herald (November 12, 2010)
Mr. 'Sunshine': A health issue helped changed Michael Franti's outlook
by John Benson
Turning gray skies blue is the simple task singer-songwriter Michael Franti attempted to accomplish with his latest album, "The Sounds of Sunshine." Known for his politically minded hip-hop, rock, folk and reggae blend, the Oakland, Calif., native and San Francisco resident said a serious health issue led him to re-evaluate — he believes for good — his musical mind-set.
"This album came out of an experience I had last summer when my appendix ruptured," said Franti, calling from North Hampton, Mass. "After the surgery I thought I was going to check out because this infection had gone into my whole body. Finally, when I came back I had such gratitude for being alive and everything that was around me — from my friends and family to just eating an orange. Everything took on a new importance to me. So I wanted to make an album that was really about appreciating the simple things in life that we often overlook."
In a nutshell, the simple things in life emanate from the warmth of the sun, with the new album decidedly being more upbeat than his politically charged 2008 effort, "All Rebel Rockers." However, Franti was aware that creating a sappy peace and love album would have the potential of not only turning off his growing fan base but being, well, boring.
That's when the founder of early '90s industrial-meets-hip-hop group Disposable Heroes focused his writing around not only the good things in life, but also the idea of making it through these current tough economic times.
"I'd have a hard time of making everything be (happy go lucky) just by my nature, but if you write songs — especially the chorus — where it feels good and is uplifting and you feel alive, then in the verses you have a little bit more feeling to talk about troubled times," said Franti, who along with backing band Spearhead returns to Cleveland Saturday for a House of Blues show. "Like on new song ‘Hey Hey Hey,' I talk about a lot of things that are happening today with the economy and home foreclosures and Wall Street crime. But in the chorus of the song, it's really optimistic in saying, despite all of these things we have to worry about and complain about in the world, we need to remember that our life is fleeting and we never know when it's dramatically going to come to an end."
Another example of how Franti shifted his songwriting approach is the new album's title track, which he said he originally wrote prior to his illness. At first the song was detailing the feeling of the sun at dusk but instead he changed the narrative to reflect the sun in the middle of the day and feeling the warmth and optimism.
Such optimism coupled with incessant touring in his career has led Franti to finally receive mainstream attention. Within the past few weeks his act appeared on CBS' "The Late Show With David Letterman" and "The Early Show." The reason why is simple: He scored a hit single with "Say Hey (I Love You)," which sold more than 2.5 million singles and appeared in movies ("Valentine's Day") and television shows ("Weeds"). Now the group is enjoying the same success with its latest single, the title track of the new CD.
Speaking of sunshine, November in Northeast Ohio doesn't often produce much. Does Franti think his music can chase away the overcast skies?
"I guarantee it at least will be sunny inside the venue," Franti said. "But outside, I can't promise that."