The Piper of the Sun
An Interview with Michael Franti

Words By Martin Halo
Photo by Joe Papeo

Michael Franti will be releasing his 7th studio album, The Sound of Sunshine [Capitol Records], on September 21. Throughout his sixteen years as a musician, entertainer, and political activist Franti has navigated through a DIY upbringing to become a growing artist in an expanding mainstream market. In recent months he has supported John Mayer on the Battle Studies Tour and made the move to bio-diesel to promote an energy efficient agenda.

As ‘Say Hey (I Love You)’ brought crossover mainstream success, it was an ideology and spirituality for music which made Franti the man he is today. In this short Q&A, we talk shop with the California born artist on topics ranging from vegan delicacies, his punk roots, ZOOTV, and bizarre requests from club owners.

What’s was the worst piece of advice you have ever received?

A: Give up

What as the best piece of advice you have ever gave?

Don’t ever give up

If there was a single dish that you felt could convert a meat lover what would that be, and why?

My black beans and rice recipe because it’s super tasty and it’s filled with smokey garlicky rib sticking goodness, and for a meat lover that’s used to “feeling full” at the end of a meal, this is something that will give you that feeling. All that being said, it’s never been my goal to convert people to my diet. Rather, my wish is that people make conscious decisions for themselves as to what serves them and the planet.

I am a New Yorker, and for better or for worse we are wired differently out here – always in a rush. Can you talk to me about growing up in Northern California and how you felt that has shaped your spiritual outlook on living life and what you have set out to shape as your experiences?

Northern California is a land of high tolerance. People take pride in their ability to embrace difference, and this openness has served me well as I’ve traveled around the planet and shared my music and listened to the music of people from many different walks of life.

Can you take me inside the studio for the recording process of The Sound of Sunshine? Where was it tracked, and what was was the vibe of the sessions like?

We started writing songs in Bali. Most of the recording that we did was during rainstorms when the downpour was so hard we couldn’t do anything outdoors. I started writing songs about longing and then we went to Jamaica and worked with Sly and Robbie on all kinds of tracks for the record. Working in Jamaica, there were lots of people coming by the studio and listening in, so you got to see immediately how people were responding. But 90% of the recording was done when we were out on the road with John Mayer. We brought our portable recording studio along and we would play all the new songs for 15,000 people every night. Then we would go back into the locker room of whatever NBA arena we were at and we would change the songs based upon the audiences’ reaction to them.

“I wasn’t that familiar with the band U2, so after the first week of touring, Bono came up to me and said, “Hey Michael, you know my guitar player? His name is ‘The Edge’, not ‘Ed’.”
– Michael Franti on touring with U2 in 1993

What can fans expect from the recording and how does it compare, personally, to your past releases?

This is a spiritual party record. It’s a great record to dance to from the first song to the last, but the main message in the songs is about overcoming adversity and appreciating the journey more than the destination. I think on this record there’s more loud guitars than we’ve ever had before and more uptempo music and more romance.

You started as a DIY punk band and now are experiencing commercial success on a sustainable level. I was wondering if you could to us about what you love the most about each of those polar worlds?

Actually I’ve found that the two worlds are pretty much the same. In order to be successful on a mass level you have to have a DIY spirit, and be able to create a plan and work incredibly hard and tenaciously to get to where you want to be. I would say the only difference is that there is a lot more luck involved in mainstream commercial success.

Did you feel that you made a move towards a larger audience or that a larger audience made a move towards you?

Both. I’ve always tried to make my songs be more danceable than the last one, more easy to sing along to, and have stronger melodies. When you do those things, more people can embrace your music.

What was your most bizarre memory from the 1993 ZooTV U2 Tour?

I wasn’t that familiar with the band U2, so after the first week of touring, Bono came up to me and said, “Hey Michael, you know my guitar player? His name is “The Edge” not “Ed”.

Can you tell us the strangest request a club owner as ever approached you with?

Early on in my career there was always a presumption that I took loads of drugs, which I never have, so there were many nights when I would walk into the office of a club owner at the end of the night and it would be like a scene from Scarface with stacks of cash and small plates full of cocaine or other drugs, that they would automatically presume I would be wanting to indulge in. | Solar Flare