Michael Franti Comes Full Circle

- Jul 12, 2011

Michael Franti began his career on Capitol/EMI, then left the label, and now he's back with the release of last year's The Sound Of Sunshine.

Franti's been making music for over 20 years now, and his career's gone through tons of metamorphoses. He's also watched the music business change rapidly over those two-plus decades.

Franti called CHARTattack from a tour stop in Ann Arbor, Mich. We spoke about why he chose to work with producers Sly and Robbie again for The Sound Of Sunshine, and how he thinks young artists can succeed in the music business.

CHARTattack: So this is your first record on a major label in a while, isn't it?
Michael Franti: Yeah, actually, my last record, we put out in Anti-, and when "Say Hey (I Love You)" started going crazy on the radio, Anti- licensed it to Universal.

But we had been with Capitol/EMI with the very first Spearhead album in 1994. We actually did two records and then we started our own thing, and it's interesting how much the record business as a whole has changed, from being really about selling CDs to now things being more about iTunes than actual hard CDs, just how people are getting music trading more than they're into buying actual CDs.

So you know, a record label like Capitol, which has been around forever, through Frank Sinatra and The Beatles and Beach Boys and everything else, it's been a time of great change, and I really see the difference from the first time I was there to this time now.

So as somebody who's seen the music business change so much, what advice would you have for a youngster wanting to make it or somebody who's just getting into the music business?
Make sure that every person that you meet along the way — be it the person that you bought your first guitar from, or the first fan who came to see you at a bar and there was three people there, or the person who let you sleep on their floor when you were at your first gig in a van, all the way up to when you're playing in arenas or working with record labels — make sure that everybody goes away with the feeling that you spent an evening at your house, and when you were done eating dinner with their family, you went into the kitchen and washed the dishes.

Make sure everybody goes away from you feeling that way, and if they do, you'll be successful.

I know this might seem like a silly question, but why keep using Sly & Robbie?
First of all, they're my heroes. When it first came up to work with them, I was scared to call them. It's like calling Martin Luther King, Jr. or Nelson Mandela and saying, 'Will you do my wedding?' or something like that, you know? So for me, it was really just a thrill just to have them say yes to working with me.

The reason I wanted to work with them [in the first place] was because they've made so many records with a diverse group of artists - everything from Bob Marley and Peter Tosh all the way through working with Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, to contemporary artists like No Doubt and all the great dancehall artists from today like Beanie Man.

So they have this unique ability to take any kind of song and make it something you can dance to. That's what I had with this handful of songs written on my acoustic guitar, and I went there and said, "Can you help me make these things have a rhythm to them?"

That's what we'd do; we'd sit in the studio and we'd start to play a song acoustically and Sly would say, "Oh, we should try this kind of drum beat on it," and Robbie would come in and he would take the bass and make it be the thing that gets you from the rhythm up to the melody, and he's a master at that.

The other great thing about working with them is that they are really teachers. They don't just say, "Oh, we're going to make a rhythm track for you." They really have a lot of wisdom over the ages to impart, and that's really an amazing gift that they give to people to work with.

What advice do you have for people about how to make the world better?
You know, people ask me if music can help change the world, and I don't know if it can help change it overnight, but it can at least help us make it through a difficult night. That's what I try to do. It's usually my advice to people. I just say, "Do what you can."

I met this woman in Denver and she had this hair salon, and she asked what she could do to help. One day, a woman came into her place who was going through chemotherapy and she sat with this woman and talked to her and she cried as they shaved her remaining hair off. So she decided that from that day on, for one night a week she was going to open her hair salon to take care of the beauty needs of woman who are going through chemotherapy.

So I thought that was an amazing example of somebody who was just like, "What can I do to help?" and then she just did what she could. It was awesome and beautiful.

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