Jul 18, 2019
Doors at 5Show at 7 MountainTrue, french Broad Riverkeeper and 98.1 River present Michael Franti & Spearhead Michael Franti believes that the great battle taking place in the world today is between cynicism and optimism because he feels it in himself. So he made an album to remind himself, and anyone else who’s listening, that...
Doors at 5
Show at 7
MountainTrue, french Broad Riverkeeper and 98.1 River present
Michael Franti & Spearhead
Michael Franti believes that the great battle taking place in the world today is between cynicism and optimism because he feels it in himself. So he made an album to remind himself, and anyone else who’s listening, that there is still good in the world and that it is worth fighting for. The album Stay Human Vol. II, which is an accompaniment to the film Stay Human, is all about how we hold on to our humanity in the challenging times we are living in today, and features 14 uplifting, life-affirming songs that, at their core, are about being your authentic self and standing up for the greater good. “It’s a constant battle for me to stay on the side that believes your goodness will always win, and that there’s goodness within each person,” Franti says. “Sometimes it’s hard to really hold onto that as my moral compass, but I really do believe in that.” The songs on Stay Human Vol. II were inspired by Franti’s new self-directed documentary Stay Human, which won the RWJ Barnabas Health Award at the 2018 Asbury Park Music & Film Festival, audience awards at the 2018 Nashville Film Festival and the 2018 ILLUMINATE Film Festival, the Voice for Humanity Award at the 2018 ILLUMINATE Film Festival, the Inspiration Award at the 2018 Tahoe Film Fest and the Soul in Cinema Award at the 2018 Maui Film Festival. Stay Human features “heroic everyday people” whose stories have inspired the singer, activist and yoga practitioner during his travels around the world. Stay Human Vol. II is the 10th LP from Michael Franti & Spearhead, featuring the group’s signature sound. It follows three consecutive albums that climbed into the top 5 on the Billboard Rock Albums Chart. He’s also charted five singles in the top 30 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart and had eight songs reach the top 25 on the Triple-A Chart. His hit, “Say Hey” has accumulated more than 2 million downloads worldwide. Franti also had a No. 1 hit single with his 2010 song, “The Sound of Sunshine.” Co-produced by Franti with Niko Moon (Zac Brown Band), Ben Simonetti (Zac Brown Band, Shemekia Copeland, Blake Shelton), Kevin Bard (Fitz & the Tantrums), Don Corleone (Rihanna, Migos) and more, Stay Human Vol. II shows the breadth of Franti’s musical talents while working with a group of acclaimed writers including Johan Carlsson (Ariana Grande, Meghan Trainor, Flo Rida) and Ross Golan (Lady Antebellum, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj). The album’s cornerstone song, “The Flower,” combines the pain of gun violence and inequality with the positive message that “we can be the healing” and that change is possible. Franti shares, “‘The Flower’ is a song that is really important to me. It’s a song about healing, standing up for what you believe in and helping others to do the same. It’s about unity, being your authentic self in the face of bullying, fighting for female empowerment and bringing an end to violence, in particular the crisis of gun violence that we see touching every community in America today. I wrote the song with Victoria Canal, Niko Moon and Ben Simonetti with the belief that no matter what our walk of life or political viewpoint may be, all of us have an opportunity to play a role in the healing that is needed in our world today.” Franti muses over what really makes the world go ‘round on the opener, “Little Things,” alternately rapping and singing over an Eastern-sounding riff. He is living in the moment over a reggaeton beat and baritone sax on “Every Second,” with an assist from AGoddess. And he turns in an achingly soulful performance over piano and a deep rhythmic groove on “Nobody Cries Alone,” which Franti wrote in the studio after receiving bad news. “My mom had just had a stroke and my son’s kidney disease had worsened to the point where he was going to need a new kidney. And I walk in the studio, and I’m like, ‘OK, guys, let’s get started,’ and then I just burst into tears,” Franti says. The album and film are both part of a multi-pronged effort to spread positivity through Franti’s music, Soulshine Bali hotel that he built as a home for yoga destination retreats, and Do It For The Love, a non-profit he and his wife, Sara Agah Franti, founded in 2013 to bring people living with life-threatening illnesses, children with severe challenges and wounded veterans to live concerts. To date, Do It For The Love has granted more than 2,000 wishes with the support of more than 100 artists. Prior to forming the band in 1994, Franti was a member of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, a politically-minded group that blended hip-hop and industrial sounds and toured with U2 on their Zoo TV World Tour. He got started in music as part of the San Francisco industrial-punk quintet, The Beatnigs, in the mid-’80s. What’s the connection between the new album and your documentary Stay Human? The film is all about the power of human connection and how these days it seems like things are such a shit show in the world. I wake up every day feeling anxiety and I’m somebody who’s prone to depression. Over the last five years I’ve traveled around the world and covered stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make a difference, reminding myself what it means to me personally to be human. The album is really an accompaniment to the film, it’s not a literal soundtrack. The songs are inspired by the belief that it’s important to love fully, and to stand up for what you believe in, and to cry when you need to, and dance and to connect with other people. How did these songs take shape? Originally, I just started writing instrumental music for the film. So much of the music we were creating for the background of the film was very powerful and beautiful. I said, “Why don’t I craft songs around these ideas?” We really started recording in the fall of 2017. You did a lot of co-writing on this album. What did that process teach you about yourself? It’s challenging when you get in the studio with any writer because you don’t want to lose you. As the performer, you’re the storyteller. If the story doesn’t have any personal connection to you, it’s hard to deliver it with the passion required. When you go into a session with another writer you’ve got to make yourself vulnerable. You have to have strength and sweetness at the same time to walk out feeling like you’ve created something that you can go onstage every night and sing your heart out with. Is Stay Human Vol. II a sequel to the Stay Human album that you released back in 2001? Not a direct one. The album I did in 2001 was a narrative record about the death penalty. That idea was about how we hold onto our humanity when we’re thinking of killing other people. This record is like, how do we hold onto our humanity in this world we’re in? With all the political division we see in the world, climate change, natural disasters, all these things, how do we hold onto what it is that makes us human? I feel like the phrase “stay human” has taken on more weight today than it did even when I used it for that first album. How have earlier projects like the Beatnigs or the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy influenced what you do now? From the Beatnigs to today, I’ve always had that DIY punk rock spirit. I believe that as a musician you’ve got to work hard. As a band and crew and everybody who works in our touring family, we’re about spreading optimism and positivity. We have to embody that from the minute we step off the bus to the doorman at the hotel, the janitor at the nightclub as the last person is leaving. Also, I believe in the power of music. I did then and I do more so today. I think maybe one way that I’ve changed is back then, I thought music can change the world overnight. Today, I don’t know if it can change the world overnight but I know it can help someone make it through a difficult night. Does that same idea tie into yoga and your Soulshine retreat in Bali? Yoga is something that I found in 2001, September 12th, the day after the attacks of 9/11. I was super stressed out, as everybody in the country was, and I walked into a yoga studio. When I left I felt transformed. Ever since then, yoga has been something that helps me to really look at what’s real for me, what my beliefs are, and to act on them, and to be able to just let go of unnecessary attachments so that I can show up as a full person for my kids, my wife, my community, for people who come to our concerts. Is there a balance that you have to strike between your DIY sensibility and the collaborative nature of making a film? I think DIY is a bit of a misnomer: it’s really do it ourselves. When a group of people say, “Let’s start a band and get in a white van and tour across the country,” and don’t let anybody stop them, they’re on a musical mission. There’s only so much you can do on your own, you learn that quickly in music, and believe me, you learn it even more quickly in film. You started Do It For The Love as a result of making the film. How did that happen? We met this couple, Steve and Hope Dezember, on Twitter. Hope asked if they could come to a concert because it might be Steve’s last concert; he’s in the advanced stages of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. They came and it was a really powerful experience for us. Steve was in his wheelchair and his body was completely stiff, and he whispers to Hope, “I want to get up and dance.” She lifts him up out of the chair and it was a beautiful dance in front of 20,000 cheering, crying fans. Afterward I said to my wife, “Let’s do this for as many families as we can.” We’re five years in now and have sent more than 8,000 people to see everything from Garth Brooks to Kanye West. I never imagined in my life I would have ever bought as many Taylor Swift tickets as I have; she’s the most popular request at the moment. We do it because we believe in the power of music.
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