In the first two weeks of December, Michael Franti was recording in Miami -- the same time as protests were breaking out around the country over the lack of indictments for police killing unarmed black men.
In response, he was inspired to write the song "Same as I Ever Was (Start Today)" -- a one-off that Franti is releasing on iTunes outside of a record label. A video -- which he shot in California just last week -- will air on rollingstone.com exclusively today, and then on YouTube.
[New Times was tipped off by our copyeditor, Keith Hollar, a longtime friend of Franti's who was hanging out with him in the studio when he wrote the song.]
Franti -- a mixed-race artist who has long been involved in social justice issues -- spoke to us from San Francisco about the song right before its release.
What's the message of the song. Is it, like, "Fuck the police"?
No, it's like, "When we all see justice, then we'll see peace." Like most people, I was shocked and bewildered and in a state of grief and anger when I saw the grand jury did not indict the officers in the Eric Garner case. I saw the video [of the cop choking him]. I thought, "How could this not go to a courtroom?" I can't determine guilt or innocence of everyone, but it should be debated in public -- not behind the closed doors of a grand jury.
Between that and the Michael Brown case and the lack of indictments, I've been wondering how we seek justice in this country. This is not a song that blames police -- I have a lot of friends and family who are honest, hardworking, and supporting families who are in law enforcement. And most of them act within the lines, but when there is a police officer who cats outside of those lines, just like any of us in society, they need to be held accountable for our actions. How do you have justice if you don't have a trial where the case is argued from both sides?
Were you in Miami when this started to blow up?
I was at Circle House Studios in North Miami recording with Da Genius -- son of reggae's Freddie McGregor. He's just 24 years old, but I think his name suits him. We were in the studio that day watching the news. I think that was on the 6th [of December].
Were you still here the week of Art Basel? There were protests here -- protesters blocked the highway -- and a kid writing graffiti was also killed by police that week, so that played into the anger here.
I was there during that time, but I never saw anything outside the walls of the studio. I knew they shut down the highway, but I didn't see that element of it. I was in Miami when the Eric Garner one broke out; then I was in L.A. -- this last Sunday there was big march in San Francisco that I went to.
Tell me about how the song came about.
We just hadn't heard voices in the music community -- well, we'd heard people's voices but haven't heard any music about it. I really feel music is a way to allow people to have a safe forum to feel emotions about things and also to have a dialogue, have a conversation.
[The song is] not one that comes from a place of anger. Although it doesn't back down from justice, it puts what's happening today into a historical context, things that have happened along the way between the police and the African-American community.
Is it a ballad, or an anthem...?
It starts off very quiet, a piano-driven hip-hop song, and then builds into a triumphant song. At the end of it, I have the choir from the Agape church in Los Angeles. It's a very uplifting song. This is a polarizing issue, so I'm not expecting everyone to like it. I'm fine with that, but I want it to be a dialogue starter.
Spoken like a true California hippie! I think I saw you on the cover of Yoga Journal.
[chuckles] I've been a yogi for 13 years; it informs my life, and it informs my music. I believe in the power of mindfulness. We don't always have to be driven by our first emotional impulses. It's possible to have an open heart -- to feel, to let it out -- the sadness, the anger, the pain, or whatever. But the goal should not be to live a life of sadness, anger, or pain; the goal should be to pass through those things so we can live that much more empathetically, more just more beautifully, more creatively.
How do you make a video so quickly and without a record company? These days, do you just lie, make it with a GoPro, and edit it on iMovie?
I just self-financed it. I have a lot of people -- just finished a film called 11:59 -- it's a one-hour documentary about ordinary people who have done extraordinary things that inspired me and changed my life. The guy that filmed that and edited that, John Roderick, he's a filmmaker who comes from the action sports film world; he has the latest and greatest equipment. From time to time, I'll call him and say, "Let's make a music video."
How does this factor in to the big picture? Are you touring now? Recording?
I'm in the midst of recording a new album and we'll be touring through the new year. I'll be back in Miami more recording for this record.
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