Don’t bother telling Michael Franti about the latest disturbing headlines — he’s uninterested in the bad news of the world these days. He can’t be bothered by the gnarly details or redundant TV news chit-chat. He’s on a love cloud, too immersed in optimism to be distracted.
“There was a time when I was a real news junkie,” the songwriter and bandleader says on the eve of his current Do it for the Love! Tour. “I wanted to keep up with every story that was on every news channel. I wanted to be able to talk and argue about it. Then I started to go to stations like Fox or CNN, and I noticed that they were all ‘making’ the news or selecting the news. I started to extract myself from that obsession, and I got more into personalities and feelings from people on the street.”
Since Franti and his band Spearhead released the acclaimed 2008 album All Rebel Rockers, the frontman has journeyed from a role as an optimistic songwriter to becoming a worried protester and fervent revolutionary before circling back to his natural idealism.
“I definitely feel more clear-headed these days,” Franti says. “I’ve been making music now for 25 years. When I first started out, there wasn’t a specific reason why I did it. But there was a point where I thought maybe I could change the world in some political sense. In 2004, I went to play music on the street. When I was there, none of the Iraqis wanted to hear protest songs. They wanted me to play music that made them feel happy, songs that would make them cry and dance. That’s what my goal is today.”
Born and raised in Oakland, Calif., Franti sang and rapped in California punk bands and hip-hop groups before assembling Spearhead in 1994. Since the mid ’90s, he’s tweaked the band’s soulful rock/funk/reggae sound. The current roster features Franti on vocals and acoustic guitar with backing from bassist Carl Young, drummer/percussionist Manas Itiene, keyboardist Raliegh J. Neal, and guitarist Jason Bowman.
The band’s 2010 album The Sound of Sunshine picked up where 2008’s All Rebel Rockers left off. On Sunshine, Franti and his main songwriting partner Bowman aimed for a more fluid and consistent tone and message when they recorded the songs in Jamaica. The smooth rhythms and upbeat themes reflected a sophisticated chemistry and consolidation between Franti and his bandmates. If All Rebel Rockers was like a feisty celebration of revolution, Sunshine was nothing but good vibrations.
“I always have a message throughout all my songs to respect and care for each other on this planet,” Franti says. “I want to do songs that make you feel something about life and about the people you’re surrounded by. When you look at earth from outer space, you just see this organism that’s floating there, and there are no lines to divide countries. We’re just one people on the planet. When you zoom in closer, you see the lines that are drawn. And you get closer notice that it’s a relationship between one person to the next, and you see that there’s really no line there. I want to make music that helps to bridge those fences.”
This spring, Franti and the band are finishing up a new album between performances. The lengthy Do it for the Love! Tour launched on May 5 in West Palm Beach, Fla., with a concert at SunFest. It continues through August.
“We brainstormed over what we were going to call this tour, and we thought about everything we’d been through early on,” Franti says of the band’s collective decision. “We thought about the times when we were sleeping in the van, and the kind people who’d put us up for the night in their living rooms. We now have songs on the radio and big shows, but when we hit the stage, we still have the same feelings we always did about sharing the love and doing it for the love.”
“Do it for the Love” is one of many new tunes in a set that Franti and Spearhead have tracked this year. They’re almost finished with final mixes of a yet-be-titled collection (their 12th full-length album), which is tentatively due for release in September.
“We’re playing a lot of the new songs on stage at shows this month,” Franti says. “That’s always an exciting thing for us because it brings us back into the beginner’s mind. It’s like we’re at old rehearsals where I bring a song idea into the room, and we work on it to make it sound great live — and then it doesn’t quite sound great live. Overall, it’s about my experience growing up and making music, and it’s about my parents telling me I should try to do something more.”
Maybe some news team will capture high-action footage of Franti’s musical adventures on the road this season. If any of it ends up on a evening newscast, however, Franti and his bandmates will probably miss it.