Earlier this month, the opportunity presented itself for me to interview iconic vocalist and songwriter Michael Franks.
Needless to say, I was a wee bit nervous about the whole thing. Taking into consideration that I was a random blogger that he had never heard of, I decided to keep the interview on the short side.
My line of inquiry is of a different vibe than most of the interviews I've heard and read so far regarding the new album Time Together.
I asked Mr. Franks about his initial foray into music, who influenced his worldview - that sort of thing. Why did I take this approach? Well, after really listening to Michael Franks lyrics (disclosure: I was not a Michael Franks fan in the past even though I was aware of his musical legacy), My curiosity was piqued about the man that was behind the music. What made him tick? What path did he take to become the human that he is today?
A complete picture of who Michael Franks is cannot be painted with a brief interview but it does give us a glimpse. I admit that it's a quirky approach but I hope that fans of Michael Franks will discover something here about him that they've never read before.
The Michael Franks Interview
EoJ: Looking back on your career thus far, do you feel that it has been a blessing or hindrance that you didn't formally study music? Were there any challenges when working with other artists on your albums (particularly in the early years) or was it a non-issue?
MF: Although I never studied music formally, I did spend endless hours studying it informally. Antonio Carlos Jobim, who was so well educated musically, once told me: "The ear is the best teacher." I have many musicians to thank for allowing me to learn, almost by osmosis, complicated harmonic ideas. On my early records, I'm especially grateful to Larry Carlton and Joe Sample, who were so helpful in translating the musical shorthand of my demos into the enduring shapes on The Art of Tea and Sleeping Gypsy. Thanks to them and to all the other great studio musicians it has been my pleasure to work with over the years, I can honestly say my lack of formal musical education has never been a hindrance.
EoJ: In the song Now That The Summer's Here, you wrote the lyric "...hung in my hammock reading Kurt". Are you referring to writer Kurt Vonnegut? I see that you dedicated the song Charlie Chan in Egypt to him. What about Mr. Vonnegut's life or writing resonates with you? Could you elaborate more on how (the book) Man Without A Country is an exceptional read for you?
MF: Yes, I am referring to Kurt Vonnegut, my favorite author. I share many of the opinions he described in Man Without a Country. My favorite Kurt Vonnegut books, the ones I read and reread are: Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five, Deadeye Dick, Galapagos, and Breakfast of Champions.
EoJ: What is your philosophy about living life to its fullest? How do you feel that you've done so far in your own life and what advice would you give others?
MF: I've been a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda for the past 31 years and meditation is an important part of my daily routine. I try and aspire to live my life with gratitude and a compassionate heart. I'm reluctant to give advice but I think everyone could benefit from some "quiet time" each day, in an effort to hear the always elusive inner silence. I really would Rather Be Happy Than Right.
EoJ: Would you consider (guitarist) Chuck Loeb a kindred spirit musically? (I asked because of their collabs on past projects) What other artists have you worked with that it just "clicked" for you during a collaboration? Could you share one or two examples?
MF: Yes, I think Chuck Loeb and I are kindred spirits, both musically and personally. We toured together many years ago with the Yellowjackets, and, whenever possible, played a lot of tennis. I feel musically connected with the entire Loeb family--his wife, Carmen Cuesta, and his daughter Lizzy both sang on this record.
EoJ: I heard you mention during a recent interview that you have published poetry in the past and had the book available on your website. Will you ever make that available again so that people who are just discovering you can buy it?
MF: I did publish a book, Poems from the Road, a collection of verse I'd written over the years, mostly while traveling. I sold it on my website and donated the profits to Hearts United for Animals, a charity near and dear to my heart. We have adopted three rescued dachshunds from them. I still have some inventory in storage and may decide to sell them again.
Of course, if you know me, you know that anything to do with animals will get my attention. :) Mr. Franks supports both his local Humane Society and is an advocate for the national no-kill shelter, sanctuary and animal welfare organization Hearts United For Animals dedicated to the relief of suffering.
The album's title song Time Together is a "poignant reflection of a familial man-woman-canine trinity and a moving dedication to his faithful dachshund, Flora, that passed during the recording of the new album. Simultaneously, the title refers to the art of making music communally with friends; all in the same room as well as the communal aspect of sharing the songs live with fans, all in the same room. It is time together well spent." [press release]
Do you have this album? What do you think of it? I really got into it and it's on rotation on my iPod. I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. The album has such a understated but multi-layered flow to it. I was listening to it one day when nothing I was doing was going right and it quickly put me in a much better frame of mind.
That's the power of music. I encourage you to check out what's on Mr. Frank's mind. This album maybe a little too contemporary for a lot of hardcore jazzheads, though. Consider yourself forewarned. :)
In memory of PLG (1961 - 2006)
The inspiration for the blog and my reason for getting into jazz.