Michael Franti has recorded music for decades, and even had a Top 20 hit with the song "Say Hey (I Love You)."
But Franti hadn't collaborated with writers from outside his band until he began working on his new album, "All People," which will be released July 30.
Before his show Friday at Jiffy Lube Live, Franti talked about how current events influence his writing, and his household sayings.
You're touring with Train this summer. How did that come about?
I'm super excited traveling with them. We've known each other for a long time and we've only done one show together. I'm also a fan of Gavin DeGraw, and I'm looking forward to, hopefully, doing some collaborating. And it came about through timing and some phone calls.
How is 'All People' different from your previous work?
With this record, it's is the first time I worked with writers who were not in my band and I had a great experience working with a guy named Adrian Newman and we just got together and wrote some great songs for the record. I had such a great experience out of it, I decided to call up a bunch of other songwriters. Ironically, throughout all the many years — I started making records in 1987 — up until now, I always thought writing with somebody else, a song would take on less of what was in my heart and shared experience. Ironically, I found that, working with somebody else, the song took on a more vivid expression of what was in my heart.
Moments when I was lost for words or I had to change something, the other person would chime in and go, 'Hey, I've got a great idea,' or 'Maybe you can say that in way that's a little different, more precise in what your point is trying to get across.' I found the collaboration help me to write songs with even more connection.
The Trayvon Martin shooting influenced "Say Goodbye." Can you tell me about that?
It's really influenced by the emotion of the loss in the interview with Trayvon's mother. I have a teenage son, and seeing the interview with her, I was so moved with the loss that she experienced. And I've witnessed that throughout my travels — Iraq, Israel, Palestine, even in the neighborhood where I live in Hunters Point, San Francisco, where we have a lot of community crime. So much of it is about the opening of your heart, which requires you to say goodbye to somebody, and that's what that song is really about. It's about letting go of those emotions that are inside and learning to say goodbye to someone you love.
Why is it important for you to incorporate your social activism and social issues into your music?
My mother birthed three children and she adopted myself and another African-American son. My adoptive parents were Finnish. I grew up in a white picket neighborhood. My mother, she made sure all of us were treated the same and had the same opportunity to grow and develop, so that when we left the house, we could fly on our own. And she also knew when we got out into the world, we'd treat others that we came across with that same treatment and respect. So it's part of my upbringing and who I am to speak up when I see things aren't going well in the world.
How do you measure success?
I guess the way I measure it is, first of all, am I happy? And am I contributing to the lives of those around me? We have a saying in my house, my kids and my girlfriend. We say, 'Be your best for the greater good and rock out wherever you are.' After I see them every day, what can we do to try to improve our lives and position, be a better parent and family member, partner to my lover? And for the greater good, the world beyond our home. And then to rock out — be in the moment, whatever life brings. Hold that gratitude and spirit of celebration even when times are rough.
Do you have any connections to Baltimore?
Well my birth father lived in Baltimore for a very long time. When I first met him when I was 22 years old, he was living in the Baltimore area. So it means a lot to me every time I come back there.
If you go
Michael Franti and Spearhead perform with Train Friday at Jiffy Lube Live, 7800 Cellar Door Dr. in Bristow, Va. Tickets are $32-$89.70. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.