Pay It Forward

Oakland singer Michael Franti believes you harvest the fruit of the attitude you sow

Michael Franti has made a living out of his love for the world and his ability to put those thoughts into song. Because Franti’s reggae-pop music is a mash up of political idealism and party songs, his fans are led to think as often as they dance. Almost always brandishing a colossal smile, he’s the sort of lovable and accessible artist people clamor for.

Ahead of his upcoming appearance at the Knitting Factory, The Inlander caught up with the singer and learned a little bit more about what makes him tick.

INLANDER: Let’s start with where you came from. How did your upbringing help shape you into who you are today?

FRANTI: I was adopted. My birth parents, for whatever reason, didn’t think they were able to raise me and gave me to another family. It gave me empathy for people who are different, people who raise a child in a same sex or mixed race home, or speak a different language at home than they do at school.

What stands out to you when you think about your adopted parents?

My mom was a very loving, very strong woman. She also raised three of her own children. She tried to teach us right and wrong, knowing that we were gonna go out and do whatever we wanted. But also knowing that book smarts, street smarts and a moral compass would get us out of our messes and with hard work we could accomplish whatever we wanted.

In college, you started creating music out of your poetry. Had you always planned to make that transition?

When I decided to become a musician it wasn’t something I set out to do. I liked the creativity of it. I liked having a way to express what I felt about the world and conflict between nations. So to have that outlet for me was really important.

Since a music career wasn’t initially on your radar, how did the reality of the industry impact you?

You’re never prepared for a life in rock ‘n’ roll. Once you start doing it on a professional level there all these things that go along with it, like how are you going to pay rent? Put gas in the vehicle? Get the word out about shows? Things we had no idea about. We always said: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could tour and play music all the time?” But when you do, you leave behind the people you care about the most. That’s the hardest part — maintaining those connections.

So, what has kept you going then? What makes a career in music worth the trouble?

I believe in the power of positivity. I want to be a spreader of positivity and inspire others to think beyond their sphere. Right now is a really amazing time on the planet. You see all these problems that we face today and yet millions of people who are concerned and want to address them. When you think positive thoughts it all tends to start rolling in the right direction. Like supporting kids so they don’t push down the next kid to feel better.

You tend to write a lot of songs about social issues but from time to time throw in some fun stuff about day-to-day life. Do you have a different writing process depending on what it is you want a song to say?

Not really… the craft is the same. I want to write something that people can remember with a melody that sticks in their head and that they want to turn on again and again. I have expanded who I’m thinking about as listening to my music though. Before I didn’t care, it was just for me. But now I think about it. I want my music to be enjoyed by families not just the 24 fist-pumping protest kids at my shows. The important thing is do we love. That’s where I write my songs from. It’s what’s in my heart. 

Michael Franti & Spearhead, with Ethan Tucker • Wed, Aug. 29, at 8 pm • Knitting Factory • $28-$31 • All-ages • • 244-3279

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