Combating Gun Violence And Planting The Seeds Of Love: Michael Franti On His New Single And The Power Of Music

Videos by American Songwriter

Logging onto a Zoom call from a quarantine hotel room in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, Michael Franti had an infectious smile on his face. It was the end of the day in Jakarta, but the beginning of the day stateside, which wasn’t a new phenomenon for him—ever since he began making a name for himself as a songwriter, poet and activist in the late ‘80s, Franti has been operating on a global scale on a couple of different levels.

The first level is obvious—with The Beatnigs, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and his current project, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Franti’s heartfelt, altruistic songs have found their way all over the planet. Known for championing social justice causes, he’s an expert on creating music that’s both inspiring and genuinely uplifting, which has resonated with audiences from all walks of life. But beyond that, Franti has made waves as an activist outright—rallying, raising funds and spreading awareness for a variety of causes, like environmentalism, veganism and, most recently, gun control. 

In 2018, Franti released “The Flower,” a moving song that began his exploration of the topic gun violence in America—an exploration that would ultimately blossom into a years-long journey for the 55-year-old artist. Wanting to address the issue with as much tact as possible, after the release of that tune, he set out to learn the stories for himself. Now, on June 4, he released “You Will Always Hear My Echo” and an accompanying op-ed in SPIN, both of which adamantly speak out against the factors contributing to gun violence with a touching sense of urgency. 

Want to get your songs in front of Michael Franti?

Enter The 2021 Song Contest now to get your songs in front of contest judges like Michael Franti and for your chance to win $10,000 & a co-publishing deal.

But it took the whole “setting out and learning the stories for himself” part to reach such a profound conclusion. In the wake of “The Flower,” Franti traveled throughout the United States speaking to family members and victims of all kinds of gun violence. “It was just so powerful to meet so many different people from every different experience,” Franti tells American Songwriter. “I met people who had been involved in really well-known mass shootings—like the Route 91 festival in Las Vegas or Parkland High School—but I also just talked to folks whose kid was shot while hanging out on a street corner, or someone whose family member took their own life. I even talked to someone who served five years for actually killing someone, who then got out and began working in the community to prevent that from happening to anyone else. So, it was all very sobering. But it also spurred this realization: gun violence doesn’t leave any demographic out.”

This realization may seem like a fairly common-place one, but with news stories of shootings coming out seemingly every week, Americans have become a bit desensitized to the scale of the violence. Putting things back into perspective, Franti was shocked by the sheer statistical reality of it all.

“At the time, there were around 39,000 gun-related deaths a year,” he says. “That’s a huge epidemic. I mean, if 39,000 people were dying every year from something else, we would do everything in our power to stop it. Look at what happened after 9/11 when 3,000 people died, look at the decades and trillions of dollars we spent trying to battle that. So, I wanted to do something proactive, asking, ‘What can we do that can prevent this and lower the numbers on this epidemic?’”

The first step to answering this question came in the form of “You Will Always Hear My Echo,” which Franti began writing after gun violence made its way to the place never expected it would: his own home. “We had a bullet go through my son’s bedroom,” he said. “And I mean it—it went through one wall of his bedroom, passed through the room, went through the other wall and ended up in our living room. When that happened, I mean… we live in a community in San Francisco where there’s a lot of gun violence. But you never expect to get you, you know? I’m not involved in the street activity, but here was this random bullet in our house.”

After that, Franti’s headspace had changed—he began to understand how unescapable this crisis was. So, a few years ago while working on his film Stay Human, he used the opportunity of some downtime to shoot a few shots that would ultimately become the music video for “You Will Always Hear My Echo.” 

“We were out in this field of grass and it looked really beautiful,” he said. “But I was like, ‘Man, I’m so affected by this bullet.’ So, we went up and we shot the scenes for the video… but I hadn’t even written the song yet. I just started editing the scenes together to make something that talks about it, just to get, like, a little piece for social media or something. But then I was like, ‘The best way for me to do this is to write about it.’ That’s where the concept for ‘You Will Always Hear My Echo’ came from. For me, the thing about gun violence is: we always talk about it in terms of statistics, but it’s really hard to get across what these families are feeling. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know so many of these families, and one thing that always comes up is the memories they have of their loved ones. They want the death of their loved one to be used as a rallying cry to end gun violence. That’s the ‘echoing voice’ I was writing about.” 

While filming a music video for a song that hasn’t even been written yet might not always be the best idea, it really worked out for Franti, who used the visual inspiration as the starting-point, musically. In the end, “You Will Always Hear My Echo” is a poignant and beautiful song, taking the personalized experience of these horrific tragedies and channeling them into a vibrant and imperative piece of art. 

“Music isn’t going to change the world overnight, but I know it can help someone make it through a difficult night,” Franti said. “That’s usually my focus. Like, ‘How can I help someone just get through this?’ This song has space for people’s emotions to pass through it. Music has a certain universality that crosses cultural and economic barriers. That’s its power. It lacks the ability to write legislation, but it really connects with folks’ values and affirms them. Or, it can turn people on to thinking about the world in a new way. That’s its strength.” 

While Franti has a point that the impact of one lone song is a far cry from changing legislation or any mass reality, he’s also right about the inspirational power of music on an personal level. Offering everything from solace to healing to simply having a more robust vocabulary for thinking about these wide-spread problems, music can quickly become a wildly impactful thing.

And with “You Will Always Hear My Echo” out and a slew of new projects and tour dates on the horizon—including international gigs and a headlining stint on a cruise—Franti has a lot to be excited about. Between his activism and his artistry, he’s getting the chance to touch lives and make the world a better place, genuinely, which is a blessing he doesn’t take for granted. Wrapping up the Zoom call, he remarked how excited he was to end his five-day quarantine period in Jakarta and get back to his home in Bali.

Want to get your songs in front of Michael Franti?

Enter The 2021 Song Contest now to get your songs in front of contest judges like Michael Franti and for your chance to win $10,000 & a co-publishing deal.

“I get to see my wife and my son, who I haven’t seen in about a month,” he said. “We’re also going out on the road in August and September, which I’m very excited about. So, there’s a feeling of grief after this past year, but there’s also this incredible sense of optimism and renewal. I think one thing we all learned from this past year is: human beings need each other. Let’s try to invite that realization into this new chapter with us—let’s use it to inform every decision we make. We can embody that in our lives, in our families, in our countries and in our planet.” 

Michael Franti is an internationally celebrated songwriter, poet and activist—he’s also serving as a judge for American Songwriter’s 2021 Song Contest, which you can read more about HERE.

Watch the music video for Franti’s new single “You Will Always Hear My Echo” and check out his upcoming tour dates below:

2021 Good Day For A Good Day World Tour dates:

August 18 — Roanoke Island Festival Park+ — Manteo, N.C.
August 19— North Carolina Azalea Festival~ — Wilmington, N.C.
August 21 — Palace Theatre+ — Albany, N.Y.
August 22 — The Ridgefield Playhouse+ — Ridgefield, Conn.
August 24 — Wolf Trap+ — Vienna, Va.
August 25 — Seacrets+ — Ocean City, Md.
August 26 — Seacrets+ — Ocean City, Md.
August 27 — The Coves Amphitheater at Smith Mountain Lake+ — Union Hall, Va.
August 29 — Salvage Station+ — Asheville, N.C.
Sept. 4 — Pavilion at Point of the Bluff Vineyard — Hammondsport, N.Y.
Sept. 5 — Arrowood Farm Brewery+ — Accord, N.Y.
Sept. 10 — Marymoor Park+ — Redmond, Wash.
Sept. 11 — McMenamins Edgefield Amphitheater+ — Troutdale, Ore.
Sept. 14 — The Athletic Club of Bend+ — Bend, Ore.
Sept. 15 — Revolution Concert House+ — Garden City, Idaho
Sept. 16 — Red Butte Garden+ — Salt Lake City, Utah
Sept. 17 — MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa Lake Tahoe+ — Stateline, Nev.
Sept. 18 — Santa Cruz Mountain Sol Festival~ — Felton, Calif.
Sept. 19 — Whale Rock Music & Arts Festival~ — Templeton, Calif.
Sept. 20 — Humphreys Concerts by the bay+~ — San Diego, Calif
Nov. 3-7 — Soulshine at Sea — Miami, Fla.

2022 Good Day For A Good Day World Tour dates: Previously Announced and Moved to 2022

Jan. 27 — Paradiso+ — Amsterdam, Netherlands
Jan. 28 — Doornroosje+ — Nijmegen, Netherlands
Jan. 29 — De Oosterpoort+ — Groningen, Netherlands
Jan. 30 — Maassilo+ — Rotterdam, Netherlands
Feb. 1 — Ancienne Belgique+ — Brussels, Belgium
Feb. 2 — Club Bahnhof Ehrenfeld+ — Cologne, Germany
Feb. 3 — Gretchen+ — Berlin, Germany
Feb. 5 — Circolo Magnolia+ — Milan, Italy
Feb. 6 — Bierhübeli+ — Bern, Switzerland
Feb. 7 — New Morning+ — Paris, France
Feb. 9 — St. Luke’s Music & Arts Venue+ — Glasgow, United Kingdom
Feb. 10 — Academy 2+ — Manchester, United Kingdom
Feb. 11 — O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire+ — London, United Kingdom

+ VIP Experience Offered
~ Previously Announced; On Sale Now
* Trio Format
** Co-headlining with Trombone Shorty (pre-sale/on-sale TBA)

Want to get your songs in front of Michael Franti?

Enter The 2021 Song Contest now to get your songs in front of contest judges like Michael Franti and for your chance to win $10,000 & a co-publishing deal.

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