Michael Franti & Spearhead

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Michael Franti & Spearhead


Spearhead was formed in 1994 as a more ‘musical’ outlet for Franti who had just left The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy. Spearhead’s current lineup is the longest running so far with Michael Franti – voice, Carl Young – bass, Dave Shul – guitar, Manas Itiene – drums, and Raliegh Neal – keys.

“The five of us have been playing together for a long time. When we come to Byron for Bluesfest it is going to be close to Michael Franti and Spearhead’s 20th anniversary – I can’t wait because we are in such a good place at the moment as a band. Recently Carl [Young] and I had a rehearsal and he looked at me and we both said at the same time, ‘That was really fun’ and he added, ‘I think that was the most fun I have had since we started playing’,” tells an enthusiastic Franti.

Franti now reveals that when the band performs there is no need for the members to talk to each other throughout a set because they are so tight. “It’s super intuitive for us, just a glance or I will put my hand up or there will be a certain drum roll and we’ll know that we’re going into breakdown or a different song or an interlude. It’s really exciting when you get to that place as a band.”

As alluded to before, Franti is very definite in stating that an emotional connection between band members is more important than a professional connection. “The the way to get to a tacit point of communication is not necessarily playing together a lot,” Franti explains, “it’s spending time together off stage and going through the crisis and turmoil that comes up in each of our lives. We support each other, we lean on each other and that is the key to creating that synchronicity onstage.”

When pushed to be specific on what those hard times are, Franti is more than happy to get specific. “Three years ago I almost died. My appendix ruptured on tour and my whole body became septic – I wasn’t sure if I was going to live. We were in the middle of a tour and had to stop for three and half weeks. It put everything in perspective, as much time as I spend with those guys playing music it’s more important to me that we’re all healthy.

“We don’t say, ‘Hey remember that guitar solo at Madison Square Gardens?’ It’s more like, ‘Remember the taxi ride home from the show where we’re all kicking each other in the back seat of the taxi?’ They’re the sort of things you bond over and remember,” concludes Franti.

Franti now discusses Bluesfest 2014, that is happening in Byron Bay on the Easter long-weekend where Spearhead will be joined by John Mayer, John Butler Trio, Edward Shape & The Magnetic Zeros plus many more. “We might be the band that has played it more than any other band. I think that we have played it seven or eight times. If we don’t hold the record we’re close to it,” says Franti.

The unofficial record begs the question, why do they keep heading back? “The first reason is that I love the bands that I have discovered. That’s where I stumbled into a tent and saw Blue King Brown for the first time, John Butler for the first time and so many other bands that have become my friends. All that just from walking around the festival. And then the other thing is that when we’re on tour around the States, we play like six times a week and it’s a different city every night. When we go to Byron it is one of the most beautiful places in the world to just hang out on the beach, get some bikes and ride around town and surf. We always have a great time there.”

When asked, Franti racks his brain to remember the most memorable time from their many Bluesfest shows. “I think the most fun ever had there was playing a gig in front of a little store on the street. So many people crowded around that it stopped traffic and the cops came and told us to stop – that was probably my most fun in Byron.”

Franti ends the interview by sending a message to all his Australian fans. “The main thing I want to express is my gratitude, because we have been so lucky over the years to come down to Australia and fans have be so generous and kind. We are super excited be coming back next year for Bluesfest.”