Music Q&A: Michael Franti & Spearhead

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Michael Franti & Spearhead’s new album Soulrocker adds a new electro element to the band’s hip-hop-folk-rock-reggae-hybrid. The album debuted at number one on the iTunes Alternative album chart. They play Manchester Academy 2 on 18 Oct.

Tell us a bit about your sound and your influences.
I’ve been making records for 25 years while my sound is always evolving. I love artists who can tell stories and make music you can dance too. I’m always in search of beats that inspire me to tell great stories. Every song starts with an acoustic guitar, whether it has bass, electronic elements or an orchestral sound. I don’t have a genre.

How have you evolved as a musician over the years?
Every time I make a new record I try to throw away everything in the past and approach my music as if I’m doing it for the first time. But I always draw back upon experiences throughout my life.

Were there any alternative band names before you arrived at this one?
Yeah, we had a whole list of band names, and they weren’t very good. I think the one that I’m glad I didn’t use was Cleapache. I still think it would be a great name for a female dancehall artist. But unfortunately I’m neither.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
After 25 years of making records I never learned how to play piano. I am currently learning the notes on the keyboard. But as always I am writing new songs.

How do you stand out from the crowd in a saturated industry?
Well, I make music for one reason, which is that all people should be happy, healthy and equal. I try to be my authentic self and I don’t worry about fitting in.

What’s on your rider?
Hummus, fresh veggies, kombucha, lemonade, bottle of tequila, pack of spearmint gum, fresh fruit.

Tell us about your worst live show.
With my previous band, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, we had a song called Television the Drug of the Nation. U2 used the video to the song to open their Zoo TV Tour, and they invited us to tour. So we toured around America opening for U2 in stadiums for 60,000 people. Then when I started Spearhead right after, we did a show in Seattle at the bowling alley and my friend Chris Nova (bass player of Nirvana) called me and said he was gonna come to the show. I offered to put him on the guest list. But he was happy to buy four tickets for the show and when the show started we had sold a grand total of eight tickets, including the eight that Chris just bought, so we played for a whopping eight people. But before the show I told my bandmates: Let’s play as if it was a packed room and this was the only show we would do in our entire life.” And we had the greatest time. So it actually went from what we thought would be our worst show to one of the most memorable.

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