Catching up with Michael Franti before Elevation Beaver Creek appearance
Last Word Features
These days, Michael Franti knows that every summertime means a long tour across America. The music he plays with his longest-standing band, Spearhead, is perfect for the warmer season, but he’s also got a lot of non-musical responsibilities on his plate.
Not many musicians, for example, can claim business interests in Bali, but Franti’s one of them. Not content to just dabble in investments there, he’s committed a chunk of his creative life to an ever-growing hotel and service industry role in Bali.
Bouncing between “being an artist and an entrepreneur,” as he puts it, is a challenge.
“We have a hotel in Bali that I started in 2008. We started with five rooms and we’ve gotten to 32 rooms, two restaurants and a nightclub there,” Franti said in a recent phone interview. “I shift gears between everything that has to do with the hotel and everything else I do in music and film. And now, with media and writing. With the hotel we have over 100 employees now and a lot of what I do is working with the team there. It’s incredible to work with people and empowering them to use their own creativity to find solutions to problems we’re facing at the hotel. My job there is to do the big picture stuff, to think about what’s next.”
In-person attendance at Elevation is limited and will only be open to invited industry guests, including music supervisors, radio programmers, label executives and corporate partners. In addition to the Elevation main events, private VIP performances are exclusively held for select groups.
For more information about Elevation, visit LiveInTheVineyard.com/elevation.
On the surface, it may seem that Franti’s roles in his pursuits would call for him to switch between very different headspace through the course of a day. And that’s true to an extent. But there are overlaps.
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“With music,” he suggested, “it’s different. It’s about how I’m connecting with my own heart, my own feelings. It’s very internal, while finding an outward expression in that. It’s a very different process of showing vulnerability.”
Running the hotel, he said, “is a very much different thing than sitting down with a guitar in a room, where there’s no thinking, but a feeling of something emerging from my heart.” Still, the jobs “do cross over.”
The retreat that he and his family run is called Soulshine Bali, and the vibe is definitely in line with the messages that Franti and Spearhead have been channeling over the past number of years, a positive approach to life and the human connection.
His live shows, he said, are intended to hit a sweet spot with the audience, no matter how familiar they may be with the band’s material. Of course, many will be super-fans. Others will leave as fans.
“I’m super passionate about both,” Franti said. “I do feel that the ultimate pinnacle of music, where the rubber meets the road, is when the music is played to an audience and you see the reaction and feel the reaction. It’s humbling. Sometimes you completely miss with a song that you think will land emotionally, but it’s also humbling when someone’s moved to tears when you play a song and it really hits them. It’s meaningful. Every time I’m writing a song, I’m thinking about how it will be played live. There’s the draw.”
Franti says that despite the amount of time spent on the road, there’s always time for a bit of remote studio work, even if it’s just plugging in his guitar to a simple recorder.
“I love the studio,” he said, estimating he puts thoughts and music down some 250 days a year, each and every year.
Nothing competes with the live setting, though. “It’s one of the great passions of my life,” Franti said. “I went from touring half the year, to mostly the summer months, to not being able to tour at all with COVID. That was a very emotional time for me. I have this thing that I always thought would be there and is so integral to who I am as a person and suddenly it was pulled out from under my feet. It really made me think about who I am in the world. I’ve always known why I do what I do. I love connecting with people and seeing them bring their emotions to the joy of our music. I always thought that would be there. But when it was taken away, I went into a dark place for a while. Now on the other side of that, I have this incredible gratitude to do this thing we do. There’s a renewed sense of purpose because we all, at some point, go into a dark place.”
Franti’s music has taken him through a variety of settings, from early punk and industrial bands (like the Beatnigs, 1986-90), to hip-hop (notably the short-lived Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, 1991-93) to Spearhead, which brings in a host of influences, though a soul/rock/reggae amalgam characterizes much of the group’s shimmering, summery sound. The current group has been around in various forms since 1994 and has introduced Franti to a large swath of his worldwide fan base.
All of those experiences, Franti said, have allowed him to travel the planet in a way that few get to experience. He’s tried to find his people in their places. Though big touring in the U.S. makes up much of his summer, he’s seen a wider chunk of the world than most human beings.
Franti joked at one point in a relaxed, unrushed phone conversation that he got well into adulthood before ever buying a plane ticket, and he’d never allowed himself the opportunity to enjoy the idea of a vacation. Travel was work and work was travel and that’s something he knew from an age at which a lot of young folks are just a year, or two removed from high school.
“I’ve always had a lust for finding a new corner of the world, meeting people and experiencing new cultures,” he said. “Architecture, art and natural wonders. … I’ve had an incredible opportunity to see these places and play. There are things that have made it challenging. I’ve loved people and missed them. The hardest part of touring is that I started at age 20 and was 21 when my first son was born. I had just started touring and half my life was spent away from my children. As I’ve grown older, I’ve tried to curtail it, keep it to briefer windows. There’s a general wear and tear on your body and on your mind. Physically, you get tired. And as many people as you play for in an evening, you’ll always end up alone in a hotel room or your bunk on the bus. Loneliness can be a real thing.”
When not on the road, Franti maintains a steady pace of work. The hotel and the accompanying businesses in Bali are a big part of that. But there’s media work, too, be it podcasting or working in film. Often that’s meant doing his own projects, but he’s lately teamed up with some new folks. For example, the day of our chat, he’d been in the studio doing voice work for a documentary on redwood forests.
Interestingly, as someone known to voice an opinion in song, Franti believes that a life on the road has made him less certain of some things.
“The more places I’ve gone to,” he said, ” the more questions I have.”