Taken from NewsTimes (February 16, 2010)
Michael Franti riding high with new album, spot on Mayer tour
by Sean Spillane, STAFF WRITER
In an era of pop music that far too often focuses on style over substance, the recent success of Michael Franti is refreshing.
The Oakland, Calif., native didn't compete on a reality show and doesn't pull any outrageous stunts to call attention to himself. His slow rise has been accomplished by good old-fashioned hard work.
"The last year has been kind of a tipping point for us," Franti said in a recent phone conversation from Detroit, where he and his backing band, Spearhead, are on tour supporting John Mayer. "We've been out there on the road for a long time -- traveling in a van from place to place and playing music -- but every year, our fan base would increase just from our live shows.
"While CD sales (throughout the music industry) have steadily declined, ours have kept going up and up. And now, with this song on the radio, we've kind of hit the mainstream.
"So, yeah, it has been kind of gratifying to know that it works. If you put hard work into it, it pays off."
The song Franti referred to is "Say Hey (I Love You)," which cracked the Top 20 on Billboard's singles chart and helped his latest record, "All Rebel Rockers," debut at No. 38 on the album chart.
"We were really surprised at how well the record had done," he said. "We never had an album in the Top 100 before and we never had a song in the Top 40. When `Say Hey' broke into the Top 40, it was really an amazing thing for us."
Just as amazing, albeit in a bad way, was the misfortune that struck Franti just as he was starting to reap the rewards of more than two decades plying his trade.
"That same week (`Say Hey') went into the Top 40, my appendix ruptured and I ended up being in the hospital and close to death," Franti recalled. "That was a reminder that even with all of the success that you're having after 20 years of making music, the most important things you have in life are still your family and your friends and your health and the health of the people that you love."
Fully recovered, Michael Franti and Spearhead is looking to build on its recent good fortune with the opening slot on Mayer's Battle Studies tour, which plays the Mohegan Sun Arena Friday night.
"We're with the same booking agency, so when John was planning the tour, someone there had mentioned to him that we might be a good support act," Franti said. "I've been a fan of John's music for a long time and it turns out he's a fan of my music, as well, so it just turned out to be a good fit.
"And it's been going great. It's been a really great opportunity for us to reach a new group of people."
Franti's career has seen him perform in a punk band (The Beatnigs) and a hip-hop project (The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy) before setting out on his own. His solo music touches on several elements, such as hip-hop, reggae, funk, jazz and rock.
"All Rebel Rockers" is Franti's most reggae-heavy effort yet, recorded entirely in Jamaica and co-produced by reggae veterans Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare.
"We had been playing a lot of reggae music out on tour for years, but we never really recorded an album that was so based on that type of music," Franti said. "When you record in Jamaica, it's a unique experience. People come in off the street and will just listen to what you're doing and you can see immediately the response that people have to the sound of the music and the words that are being said. It's a great place to record."
And it doesn't get much better than Sly and Robbie when you're trying to capture a reggae vibe.
"You learn so much from them every day," Franti said. "They are so skilled at what they do and they're so open and willing to share their knowledge and experience with whoever they're working with. It's like going to a music university."
His musical styles may have changed and matured through the years, but one thing that hasn't is Franti's belief in using his songs to get his message out there. And, following the lead of some of his idols -- Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder -- Franti knows that his words won't get through if they are conveyed through heavy-handed songs.
"I don't want to just slam people over the head with a message, because my message is about bringing people together," he said. "I believe that the only way we can solve the problems that we see in the world today is by people collaborating, working together.
"If people aren't dancing to the music and they're not singing along to the song, then they're never going to get to the point where they understand what it is I'm talking about."