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Michael Franti Gives Back On Tour

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Remember that video for "Say Hey (I Love You)" last year where Michael Franti runs through the flavellas in Brazil spreading his message of oneness? Well, the singer, who hasn't worn shoes in 10 years, is now doing it on the road as he launches his The Sound of Sunshine Tour and partners with Soles4Souls on 9 of the dates. Hoping to reach the goal of sponsoring 100,000 pairs of shoes and marking the 10 millionth pair of shoes the org has given to people in need (check out how here).

Franti also chatted with about his new album (The Sound Of Sunshine, out September 21) and his lack of footwear.

Oh, and want to see Franti on the road? Click here for tour dates. You formed your band Spearhead in the mid-'90s. You've gone from a punk band to hip-hop. What would you classify it as?

Michael Franti: I came up playing in both punk rock bands and hip-hop bands and I found a more universal way of reaching people, especially with music that has a message to it. I'd play music on the street, especially in developing nations where a lot of kids couldn't wear shoes. In order to relate with kids that would be following me barefoot, I would take off my shoes and they would all laugh at me because I couldn't go three steps without wincing. I decided when I got home, I was going to go three days to see if I could toughen up my feet. Those three days have now stretched into 10 years of being barefoot, apart from hotel lobbies, planes and restaurants.

US: How did you initially hear about Soles4Souls?

MF: I read a story about it and we'd been looking for a way to do what they were doing on our own. When we discovered them I said, "Let's create a partnership here." I'm really excited because in addition to being a group that provides shoes, they partner with different aid organizations in developing countries. The goal is not just to hand out shoes to people who need them, but to help people break the cycle of poverty.

US: You've been going without shoes for 10 years and they are just celebrating giving away their 10 millionth pair. What do you think about the significance of all that?

MF: When I heard that they were giving away their 10 millionth pair, I thought, "This is really good synchronicity." I've always been quite quiet about the fact that I've been barefoot, but since it was 10 years I was thinking maybe we'll do a special show and raise some money for shoes.

US: Do you come across people who question why you aren't wearing shoes?

MF: All the time. One time I was doing this interview at VH1 and this woman said, "Michael, I noticed you don't have a wedding ring on." I said, "Yea." She said, "Is that because you don't wear shoes?" People often come up to me on the street and say, "You know you're not wearing shoes?" People have questions and it's just something I've grown to be really comfortable with.

US: Are you getting excited for touring again?

MF: We've been out most of the summer and we just had four days off at home. But we're really excited because we have a new record that comes out on September 21, so it's fun to be out on the road and play all these new songs for people who have never heard them before.

US: Your single, "The Sound of Sunshine," is already moving up on the charts. How do you feel about that?

MF: Really excited. We've been playing music as a band since 1994 and we've never had a song in the top 40 or maybe even the top 40,000, and then last year we had a hit with "Say Hey (I Love You)" and this summer it's "The Sound of Sunshine." We feel really grateful to be at this stage of our career, having songs that people want to hear on the radio everyday.

US: Your last album really hit it big. Did you expect that kind of success?

MF: Not at all. We put the record out in September of 2008 and it already had a little run at radio and it kind of went away. And then in the summer of 2009, while we were starting to record a new album, the single "Say Hey" went into the Top 40. It was actually the same week that my appendix ruptured and I ended up in the hospital having surgery. That hit songs are great but my health and my family and the people that I love and who are around me are really the most important things in my life.

US: Do you think that's inspired you in any way in your upcoming album?

MF: Most of this new record was written after my experience of being in the hospital. Everyday I'd look out the window and see if the sun was shining, and if it was, I'd get this optimism that it would be a great day. I wrote all these songs about that feeling and seeing the sun for the first time, of being around family, being around friends and finding ways to get through difficult times.

US: What do you think makes your upcoming album different than all the other work you've done?

MF: This album is much more upbeat than anything that we've ever done. There are songs about overcoming hard times but they also go into what it feels like to be down. The music is really optimistic and will hopefully help people get through their day.

US: I read that you would record songs and then play them for your audiences later. How do you think that affected how your album turned out?

MF: We would play songs live on stage and then we'd watch their reaction we were receiving immediately, if people were dancing and singing along. If they weren't, then we'd go into the dressing rooms of the different NBA teams that we were playing in their arenas and we'd change the songs right there. We'd rerecord them and  set up the drums in the shower rooms of the Chicago Bulls or something and we would record the beat of the song there. The fans had a real direct influence on this record.

US: You've recorded in different places, like Jamaica and Bali. Why those places?

MF: In Bali, I travel there a lot. I just opened up a yoga retreat center in Bali. In Jamaica, we've been working on the last three records with this great production team of Sly and Robbie. It's really great recording in Jamaica because the studio door is always wide open and people will come in off the street and you'll see immediately their response to the song.

US: You've done a lot of humanitarian work and you have an award-winning documentary I Know I'm Not Alone. Tell me about your experience with that.

MF: I took a trip in 2004, a year after the war started in Iraq. I played music on the streets of Baghdad for Iraqi civilians. I'd also play for U.S. soldiers at night when they were off duty in the bars. Then I would talk to people and I would film them and ask them about their life and the conflict. I also went to Israel and the Palestinian territories and Gaza and talked to people on both sides of that conflict and what their life is like there.

US: How do you think that experience affected how you view things now?

MF: I saw people on all sides: Iraqis, U.S. soldiers, Israelis and Palestinians who are all willing to take incredible risks to achieve peace. My perception before going there was that I was going to meet people who hated each other. And everywhere I went I met people who said, more than anything else, "We want to achieve peace and we want to live side-by-side." I was really encouraged by that.

US: Is there anything else I should know?

MF: We have a kind of informal "Spearhead Idol" competition that we do where we invite fans to write to us on Facebook a song that they'd like to sing on stage before our show. Every night, we have five fans come up before the show and sing a cover song and then we video tape them. We're going to be putting them up on our website so people can vote for the winner.

By Ian Drew for To read more of Ian's blog, click here, and don't forget to follow him on Twitter.

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