Michael Franti & Spearhead
Wednesday, July 27, with doors at 6:30 p.m.
Saenger Theatre, 6 S. Joachim St.,www.mobilesaenger.com
Tickets: $29.27-$36.55, available at the Saenger box office and through Ticketmaster
Shows like this are one of the many reasons locals chose the Saenger Theatre as the “Best Venue to See Live Music (non-bar).” Even before they made their Gulf Coast debut at Hangout Fest, Michael Franti & Spearhead could boast of a healthy regional fanbase. When he returns to Mobile, Franti will perform before an audience of extremely dedicated fans. Their listeners are not only inspired by the music’s upbeat, positive vibe, but also its message.
Additionally, Franti is an artist who practices what he preaches. As a musician, documentarian and activist, he has traveled the world in an effort to make it a better place and Franti’s most recent effort is his latest album “Soulrocker.”
Before bringing his new material to the Saenger, Franti offered Lagniappe readers some insight into his new album and his efforts to bring positivity to a world currently riddled with negativity.
Stephen Centanni: You’re returning for another show on the Alabama Gulf Coast. You’ve got a ton of extremely dedicated fans here. How does it feel to return to a place that loves you so much?
Michael Franti: [laughing] Well, it feels great. It’s one of my favorite parts of the whole country. We really hadn’t played Alabama much during my life in music. When we started playing the Hangout Fest, it was my first time spending any time down that way. There are so many beautiful people and so many caring people. There are people who are really concerned with what’s happening in the world and people who love music. I always look forward to coming back.
Centanni: I think my first Spearhead show was at one of the first Bonnaroos. I’ve watched your listening audience evolve. You go to Spearhead shows now, and it’s such a diverse group. You even have folks bringing their kids to your shows. What do you think when you look over the crowd and see such diversity, as far as age and background? Did you expect that to happen?
Franti: To me, that’s the greatest compliment ever. A wide span of people enjoy my music, especially when I see children at our shows who are there with their parents. Then, they bring their parents. We want our shows to be something that celebrates people coming together. I really feel like right now that’s something our country and our our planet need — opportunities where people can come together.
Centanni: You’ve never limited your activism to America. You recently performed at a United Nations humanitarian event in Turkey. What did you take away from that experience?
Franti: We were there, and there were people representing every country in the world. It was inspiring to be around that. I learned there that there are 103 million people who are in need of direct aid as a result of wars and being forcibly removed or pushed out of their countries, and from climate change. So, there’s an incredible crisis. There are more people now than at the end of World War II. At the same time, I met so many people from around the world who are so committed to making the change that we need.
I think that’s the inspiring thing about going on tour right now. As hard as it seems the world is or as messed up as our country seems right now, I meet people every day from all walks of life who are dedicated and committed to making our country and the planet a better place.
Centanni: For your new album “Soulrocker” you tapped Jamaican producers Dwayne Chin-Quee and Stephen McGregor. I was expecting this to be an album heavy in dancehall reggae, but it wasn’t. You still managed to mix a variety of genres equally, which is a Spearhead trademark. What was it like mapping out this album with them?
Franti: Those guys are both musical geniuses. Dwayne is like an incredible drum and beat and sound guy. He gets the overall sound happening. Stephen is like literally a musical genius. He can pick up any instrument and play any melody. Anything that you can think of, he can do. If I was like, “Let’s do a reggae track” or “Let’s do a dance track” or “Let’s do an acoustic song,” he can do anything. That left me some mind-space I really feel like I can focus on, which is writing the words that mean something to me and playing acoustic guitar.
Centanni: One thing that was new to this album is there was a lot more electronic elements to it, but it’s very subtle. It didn’t overpower this album. Was this something you wanted or did it come from production?
Franti: Well, it was something I wanted. I’ve always loved electronic music. It’s something I’ve always sort of dabbled in, ever since my first record with Disposable Heroes [of Hiphoprisy]. It’s always part of what I play around with at my house. Working with those guys, they’re really masters of that musical space. So, it just came natural. I wanted the story of the words to be the primary focus. Wherever there is some kind of electronic element, we tried to keep in some kind of organic elements, whether it’s horns or acoustic guitar or live drums. We always tried to keep the texture broken.
Centanni: It goes without saying that you are an artist who wants to change the world through the power of music. With that said, what is the one song on this album you wish everyone in the world could hear and take to heart?
Franti: I think “Good to Be Alive Today.” It calls out a lot of things that we see happening in the world right now, but it does it with the voice of optimism and a voice of gratitude. I feel like that’s really what we need right now. We need people to be approaching and getting up every day thinking, “What can I do to be a difference maker?” With all the incredibly challenging things that are happening in the world right now, all of us have an opportunity to make a difference every day.
Centanni: You’re into music, film and activism. What’s next on your agenda?
Franti: We’ve got a film I’ve been working that’s about four people who have inspired my life. None of them are actually musicians. They’re ordinary people who have done extraordinary things to make a difference. Apart from that, we’re really just focused on touring. We’re going to be out for another three months of touring in the States and then Europe and then Australia. We’re really focused in on keeping the music great on stage and making the show better every day, and also getting out there every day and connecting with those fans in as many ways as we can.