From the moment Michael Franti entered the Paste Studio on a recent afternoon, it was impossible not to catch his contagious, positive energy. Of course, the 51-year-old singer, poet, and leader of Spearhead was actively spreading it around. In between soulful renditions of songs from his new album, SOULROCKER, as well as the hit “Life Is Better With You,” from 2013’s All People, Franti talked about his charity, Do It For The Love, his tips for staying positive during trying times, and the role of protest music today.
Sporting his trademark dreadlocks and beat-up acoustic guitar, Franti acknowledged how difficult it can be to keep one’s head up in times like these. The key, he said, is to work through your actions and emotions like they’re skills to hone.
“Positivity is something that you’ve got to practice,” he said. “You have to think positive thoughts, say positive things, do positive actions. You start to notice that whatever funk you get in, you’re able to snap out of it more quickly. Not to say that I don’t get in funks, because I do. On a daily basis, like anybody, I have my bio and emotional rhythms. The second thing I do is grieve. I cry. If I’m feeling really frustrated, I let it out, and then you move on to the next thing. I find that if I hold it in, I get really depressed and stuck. Music is one of those things that on a daily basis helps me to do that.”
Watch Michael Franti & Spearhead play “Say Hey (I Love You),” which he wrote “in Woody Harrelson’s bathroom”:
Franti also spoke to the ways that connecting with fans and hearing their stories and serves as inspiration for him and all the artists who participate in Do It For The Love, a nonprofit that brings people with special needs to see live concerts. “We’ve sent people to everything from Drake and Beyoncé to Garth Brooks and Céline Dion, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Foo Fighters, whoever they want to see,” he said. “We’ve got artists, people like Ed Sheeran—he’s done over 30 meet-and-greets for us. He shows up every time. That inspires me to see how other artists have taken it on, and it brings out the best in everybody.”
When asked about the transition in tone from some of his more overtly political songs on albums like 2006’s Yell Fire! to his more recent work, Franti emphasized the valuable role that artists can play in fostering discussions around the issues that they’re passionate about, as well as the importance of hearing out the other side and being willing to come together to collaborate.
“Positivity is something that you’ve got to practice. You have to think positive thoughts, say positive things, do positive actions. You start to notice that whatever funk you get in, you’re able to snap out of it more quickly.”
“I think it’s more important than ever that we have songs that give voice to what’s happening in the world,” he said. “Songs really do make a difference, and if we’re waiting for politicians to be the great inspirers of optimism, we’re going to wait for a long time. So we have to have music and other forms of art to be that optimistic voice in the world, but first we have to give voice to the truth about what’s happening in the world.”
Referencing his song “Yell Fire,” he elaborated, “There’s a time when you have to sound that bell and ring the alarm and say, ‘Yo, this is what’s going on.’ But then we don’t want to just go to the protest with this voice of anger, hatred or resentment; we want to come to the action with solutions and be a voice that’s listening to the other side.”
Check out Michael Franti & Spearhead’s full Paste session below.