Two of the most pivotal and event-filled years in the life of lauded singer/songwriter Michael Franti will culminate in June with the simultaneous release of a new studio disc with Spearhead and a doc
Two of the most pivotal and event-filled years in the life of lauded singer/songwriter Michael Franti will culminate in June with the simultaneous release of a new studio disc with Spearhead and a documentary DVD and book chronicling his recent trip to Iraq. All three will carry the name "I Know I'm Not Alone."
"There's been times in recent years, where I felt like maybe I was the only person in this country who thought we should think twice before going off to war," Franti tells Billboard.com, explaining the shared title. "And there's been times when I've thought, 'Am I the only person who's concerned about the environment?' or, 'Am I the only person who thinks maybe we should be thinking beyond oil in terms of our energy needs?' But as I've traveled around the country and the world, I've realized that I'm not the only one who wants to move forward."
The CD will be the debut Franti/Spearhead release for Epitaph's Anti- label under a new worldwide deal and includes appearances by Pink and reggae riddim kings Sly & Robbie. The agreement with Anti- excludes Australia, where his work is licensed through Liberation Records; he will also continue to release material on his own Boo Boo Wax label, through which he has issued remix, acoustic and live efforts.
"Epitaph is a label that I've admired for a long time," Franti tells Billboard.com. "It's kind of like a record label that would be my own personal record collection at home: punk rock, hip-hop, and great, classic, creative music."
Produced by Franti and Mario Caldato Jr. (Beastie Boys, Jack Johnson) and mixed by Mark Needham (the Killers), the album completes Franti's evolution from hip-hop-rooted MC to guitar-slinging singer/songwriter, a transition that was in progress on Franti & Spearhead's 2003 Boo Boo Wax/iMusic set "Everyone Deserves Music."
The artist cut several of the tracks with Sly & Robbie last year in Jamaica, while Pink adds her vocals to the ballad "One Step Closer." All of the material was inspired by people he met in the Middle East and the emotions they've experienced while enduring war and terrorism.
The trip ignited such a spree of songwriting that he's planning to release a collection of acoustic reggae songs next year as "Cool Water," although it hasn't yet been determined through what label.
The documentary, subtitled "A Musician's Journey Through War in the Middle East," was directed by Franti and screened at the 2005 Slamdance Film Festival. In it he's seen performing with an acoustic guitar for children on the streets of Baghdad, dining in the homes of war-battered families, visiting U.S. soldiers, sitting in on a rehearsal by an Iraqi metal band and visiting double-amputees in a children's hospital.
"I went to Iraq as a listener," Franti says. "I just got tired of watching the news every night and hearing generals and politicians talking about the economics and the politics of the war, and never explaining the human cost of the war. I just wanted to go there and listen to people."
The film also follows Franti as he travels to Israel and the Gaza Strip, where he speaks with current and former Israeli soldiers; Palestinians who've had their homes bulldozed; and mothers of terrorism victims. The book, to be published by Los Angeles-based Palace Press, further documents the journey.
This year marks Franti's 20th year as a musician, having gotten his start as an MC -- first with the Beatnigs and later with Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, before founding Spearhead.
"It's been important for me that my music have direct experiences to quote from," he says. "When I first started, every song was angry, and every song was like F- the system. And now I want to write songs that reflect the whole rainbow of human emotions."