A Conversation with Michael Franti
Mike Ragogna: What gave you the idea to merge music with yoga for your Soulshine tour?
Michael Franti: I started practicing yoga on tour about thirteen years ago as a way to really just take care of myself as I was going in and out of airports and tour busses and doing shows and promotion and staying up late and eating bad restaurant food, et cetera. As I was touring I would practice at a different studio in every city that I went to in the world and I started inviting teachers and fans to come and practice with me before our shows, so we’d do it backstage or in a parking lot or in a park nearby. Last year, we played out at Red Rocks and we invited people to come in the afternoon before the show and practice yoga. We expected about two hundred people would be there and I believe two thousand showed up. We were really overwhelmed by this, so we thought, “This summer, let’s just do this at every one of our shows.” At every show on the Soulshine Tour, myself and some of the other artists will be playing acoustically in the afternoon and there will be a mass yoga class and then it will turn into a proper crazy rock concert after that.
MR: You have Baron Baptiste and Seane Corn as a couple of your yoga teachers. Did you already know them prior to the tour?
MF: I’ve known Seane and Baron for a while, many years now. They’re really inspirational in terms of the way they take yoga off the mat and into the world. I thought they’d be the perfect fit for this because whether you’ve practiced yoga for decades or whether it’s your first time on the yoga mat or whether you just want to come and hear some acoustic music and hear somebody that’s really inspiring speak both Baron and Seane and all of the other teachers really fit that bill.
MR: Is the connection between music and spirituality something you came to intellectually or just something you’ve always felt during your creative process?
MF: I’ve always felt it. I grew up playing music in our church when I was a kid. Most of the time, I didn’t really feel a connection to my heart, my body, my mind and the message that the church was delivering. It always seemed like this dichotomy that was there, but yoga is really the study of the self. We put ourselves into challenging positions and we learn to breathe through it and not become immediately reactive to everything that takes place in our lives. It’s something that really helps me as a father, as an artist, as an advocate for social change in the world, and even as a businessperson. Being able to focus and see the goal that I have ahead of me and be able to not be always in a state of panic and stress is what yoga has taught me.
MR: So far, you’ve had hit singles and albums and overall, an amazing career. Do you feel that it was more about intuition and following your own path as opposed to being molded by music biz standards?
MF: Yeah, for sure. I’ve always been somebody who wrote about the things I felt strongly about and made music because I thought it was exciting and it made a difference in my life. I’ve never really written songs that were just like, “Let’s see, what can we do that’s a hit?” or “What’s going to copy everything that’s out there?” I’ve never done that. Putting this tour together has been sort of the same thing, it’s just been a love of mine and I thought, I’ve loved yoga for so long, I’ve always combined it for the last thirteen years on tour, let’s just do it in a way that hopefully can get it out to more people.
MR: Is your band integrating the yoga as well?
MF: Two of the other members of our band practice yoga regularly, and all the other bands that are on the tour with me have members of the band that practice yoga, too. We’re hoping that through this tour we’ll get the other guys off their butts and onto yoga mats.
MR: I’m imagining guests like Brett Dennen are practicing yoga.
MF: Yeah. Brett is somebody who I’ve seen go through an amazing transformation in his career. He’s still a very young artist, but I met him when he was a teenager and saw him perform, and then for a number of years I think he went through the same thing every artist goes through when you start touring, eating bad food all the time, you’re out on the road all the time, you’re not getting enough sleep, and I remember seeing him and thinking, “Man, Brett.” He’d put on some weight, he wasn’t looking so healthy. Then, the next year I saw him and he’d started working out, changing his nutrition, practicing yoga, he really took it to heart. Now he’s one of the healthiest musicians that I know. It seems like an obvious thing, but it really isn’t. For those of us who didn’t get into music to get rich and retire, but who got into it because we admired John Lee Hooker and we admire the Rolling Stones and the other artists that have gone on and on and perservered, The Grateful Dead and artists like that who evolve and keep growing and changing, in order to do that you’ve got to be alive. I’ve just gone through some really intense times in my own family, my son who’s fifteen was diagnosed with a very rare kidney disorder, he’s lost fifty percent of his kidney function at age fifteen. As a family we’ve all taken it upon ourselves to say, “How can we best support our son?” but also we’ve gained a deeper appreciation for how fragile life is. I think that one of the great things about yoga is how it helps us to really look carefully at all aspects of our lives, the way that we treat other people, the way we take care of ourselves, the way that we treat the world.
MR: It’s almost like the band is having a spiritual experience on stage for the fans. Do you feel like that’s what’s going on?
MF: The word “spiritual” for me and for a lot of people means “religious,” almost, and I’d hate to compare what we do to anything religious because it’s still at the end of the day a rock concert. What I think is that all music, whether it’s mine or anybody else’s, opens a window to the soul. There’s times when our body feels run-down and our mind feels taxed and we feel like we can’t go any further, and it’s our soul that kicks in and goes, “You know what? You can love a little more. You can go a little bit further in this relationship, you can try a little bit harder.” That’s what music does. It’s amazing when you do that with large groups of people. The only other experience I can think of that compares to that is either a sporting event, it’s the World Cup and we’re all cheering for one team, but in the World Cup there’s always a loser. One team’s happy and the other team goes away feeling sad. But in music, everybody comes together in a field–we all dance, we shout, we sing, we throw our hands up and we let go of whatever it is that we carried in. I love to see people walk out looking like they’re standing a little bit taller, they have a little smile on their face, a little more ease in their life. That’s what I love about it most.
MR: With Soulshine, it seems like you’re expanding the concept of a concert with Michael Franti & Spearhead and friends to it being more of a lifestyle thing–you know, like going to a Dead or Jimmy Buffett event.
MF: Yeah, I think so. Just in comparison to when I first started touring twenty five years ago, we’d stop at gas stations on the road and try to find something healthy to eat and there were Slurpees and Big Gulps and burgers. The best thing that we could ever find at a gas station was like Saltine crackers and a can of sardines or something. But now you go all across the country and in every city, you can find independent grocers that are bringing locally grown food. You find people all across the country who are becoming more conscious of what they put into their body, what they consume, and the companies they support doing that. I think that’s the lifestyle that we try to encourage.
MR: Michael, what advice do you have for new artists?
MF: The main thing is to follow your heart and write music that means something to you. The more meaningful it is to you, the deeper it’s going to touch whoever it is that it means something to them. When I was just coming up in punk rock the lead singer of D.O.A, his name was Joey Shithead, we would always stay at people houses and we would ask at the end of the night, “is there some place to stay?” and they would always make us spaghetti or something and cook for us and let us sleep on the floors with our sleeping bags, and Joey said, “No matter whose house you stay at, make sure you always wash the dishes and they’ll always have you back.” I’ve always thought about that in every aspect of my life, no matter if it was the person at the check-in counter at the airport or if it was somebody who was helping us get all our guitars into the hotel or if it was the first fan in line at the show or the last bartender to leave at the end of the night. Always make sure that they felt like you treated them as if you were coming into their home. Leave their home in good shape. That’s what keeps artists able to have a job year after year with their fans, the venues, the labels, radio stations, whoever it is. Treat people with respect.
MR: Do you think picture Soulshine having an even broader reach next time out?
MF: Yeah, we hope that it can grow and that people will have a great experience this year that will take us into years to come.
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Night Ranger’s Kelly Keagy
Mike Ragogna: So is it true? Is Night Ranger truly back with a new studio album called High Road.
Kelly Keagy: What about that!
MR: It seems like you’re “Coming Home” with this one, Kelly