Michael Franti has enthralled audiences at many previous Bluesfests.
Michael Franti has enthralled audiences at many previous Bluesfests.

For Franti, co-writing songs can be like sex

IF YOU ever ask Michael Franti to write a song with you and he can't quite meet your eye, there is a reason.

Franti has been making music with Spearhead for 20 years come next year.

And in that time he has written songs on his own or with other band members.

So when he decided to break the mould for his 10th studio album, All People, he made sure he learnt something from everyone.

"I just wanted to try new things," Franti says from the United States. "I wanted to learn from other people about the way they write songs. I wanted to create different beats, different sounds.

"When I first started working with other writers I was scared. I thought it was going to be not as much from my heart.

"I thought it's going to be from their heart, or where ever they write from; their head. What I found was the opposite, that it didn't take anything away from what I was thinking or feeling.

"It's just that when I got stuck, there was someone there to un-stuck me."

But, that's not to say he didn't find the experience confronting.

"When I write a song it's like really opening up my heart," he says. "It comes from a really emotional place and I really bare my soul. Which is why I'd always done it by myself. So when you're writing with someone who's brand new, it's like you're speed dating.

"You walk into this room and there's a man or a woman there with a guitar or piano, and they're like, 'Hi, let's write a song together'.

"For me, that's like someone saying, 'Let's have sex'.

"It's very much that personal for me. And sometimes it works. Sometimes it takes a little more effort. It's all about connection."

All People is a celebratory album which Franti explains asks a classic existential question.

"If I only had X amount of days to live my life, what do I want to do? Who do I want to spend them with? What's the mark that I want to leave?"

And that joy comes through in a dancier sounding record than we've heard from the renowned San Francisco activist.

But that doesn't mean he's left his political voice.

He cherishes every day on the first single, I'm Alive (Life Sounds Like) before he expresses his outrage on 11:59 and Say Goodbye, about the Trayvon Martin shooting.

"I really feel like it's important to express the full rainbow of human emotion. If you just do one thing it gets boring. I feel like when you express the fullness of what's in your heart, those are the artists that I most liked that I kept going back to, that's what they did."

Michael Franti returns to Australia in April to help celebrate 25 years of Bluesfest, and as he does every time, his own birthday.

"We're just so grateful to be coming back," he says. "But you're right, it is always my birthday, I hadn't even thought about that, so we'll be keen to party."

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