Ani DiFranco exclusive interview
Ani DiFranco has become a name increasingly synonymous with artistic expression, political involvement, independent thought and freedom of personal choice. Breaking away from the major record label industry in the early '90s, the then-starving artist started Righteous Babe Records and began releasing album after album of independent music. Almost two decades later, Ani finds herself with an arsenal of studio albums, hundreds of poignant songs, thousands of cheering fans and a smile on her face.
A self-proclaimed folksinger by day and a mother, wife, friend, comrade, musician, activist and conqueror by night – the hardened little feminist from Buffalo New York is a softer, gentler, happier self who still rips on the gee-tar and speaks her mind. No stranger to adversity, Ani has taken her victories in stride – not only for herself, but to strengthen the tide for those around her.
Launching her summer tour in Southern California, Ani greeted the crowd with open arms and a barrage of new songs from her upcoming album. The singer/songwriter continues to awe audiences by articulating the ironies of life through the laughter and tears of her lyrical verse. Among the mix were some favorites – Anticipate, Shameless, Evolve, Present/Infant, Little Plastic Castle and Both Hands.
Taking some time from her home-based recording studio in New Orleans, Ani spoke with SheKnows about being inspired, her daughter's love/hate relationship with her guitar and being brave. Now enjoy.
Red-hot New Orleans
SheKnows: So, you are in the thick of a hot and humid New Orleans summer right now. Aside from the heat, how is the city treating you?
Ani DiFranco: New Orleans just fills me up personally and musically – it is such a rich place culturally, spiritually, and architecturally – all the things that I love. I've been telling people that living here got me on the kick of writing my joy into my music more intentionally. Some of the best, joyful party music comes out of this place – even though the folks here know trouble like nobody knows trouble. It got me inspired to do the same. For a musician; it's one of the best places in the world to live.
SheKnows: What a little haven – a perfect place to be creative. You are currently working on recording a new album, is that correct?
Ani DiFranco: Yup. I always wondered in all the years of doing this, what pre-production really meant. It means, take your time. I was so used to – go in the studio, blah – okay, there's a record. Go in the studio, blah – okay, there's a record. Now it's like, all right, let's make some demos, see what these songs are about and see where it leads.
SheKnows: Recording your album Red Letter Year was a new kind of experience for you in the sense that you actually took a breath during the process. It sounds like that approach is being applied in this album as well. To you, how is the sound different from your other recordings?
Ani DiFranco: Well, taking your time with a record just means that you get it right. It's one thing to get it right on stage every night – which is an environment that I am much more accustomed to and a skill that I've honed over the years – as opposed to making a record. It is really a whole different type of endeavor than performing and is something I have gotten a lot less practice at. Over the years I have made records, not just quickly, but alone. (laughs) I mean totally alone. And it is like, "Okay Ani, how was that? Okay Ani, what do you think?" I've worn all kinds of hats through performing and in having objectivity when it comes to my work and my records. It is really hard sometimes – so it helps to step away, take some time, come back to it and see if you still respect yourself in the morning. Certainly having other trustworthy ears in the room really helps. Overall, it means a lot less regret in the long run.
Baby talk & mix tapes
SheKnows: Recording this way is a different experience – physically, mentally and musically, I'm sure.
Ani DiFranco: Yeah, much more relaxing really. I mean, all of my deadlines along the way have been self-imposed.
Ani DiFranco: Oh, I have a little baby.
SheKnows: You do have a little baby. Is that Petah? She is about three-years-old now, right?
Ani DiFranco: Almost. She's two-and-a-half.
SheKnows: Has she received any mix tapes from her mom yet?
Ani DiFranco: Ummm, well geez, she gets plenty of live mix tapes along the way. Her life is full of music and, of course music takes me away from her a lot. While we are on tour I get real busy. She's not as bad as some kids I think, but she definitely has a low tolerance for the guitar. When the guitar comes out, she's like, "no, no, no…I want your undivided attention, thank you very much." Music is a bit of a competition for her these days. She's pretty cool with it though. She likes to do it herself – sing and wail on her xylophone. We have some good times…good jams together.
SheKnows: Do you practice new material on her?
Ani DiFranco: When she was a baby, I could play with her around and she would just hang out, but now she's not into that.
A new day
SheKnows: I know you love having new material to play live, but in visiting your body of work – do you think about certain periods of time like, "those were the Reckoning years" or "that was when Little Plastic Castles was released?" Is there a specific time that really stands out to you or was it all a progression of growing and just being in life?
Ani DiFranco: Well, in retrospect, I think there are certain albums that stand out as more successful than others. But, when a certain period of time really clicked with where I was and whom I was with, it just so happened that it resonated through my recordings. Other times, I was flailing and in less conducive situations. For me it was more like you described it, as a progression – a growing. All the records are like a documentation of me growing up musically. I feel like my most recent records were more satisfying to make – more fun to make. I have a pretty solid crew these days and a really relaxed environment where I can record at home with some incredibly talented people at my side. It serves as a much better environment than the bad 'ol days when I was this shaved headed little feminist, alone in these metal head dudes' studios recording my songs with some stranger of an engineer looking at me sideways, like "what the hell." These days I feel like I have a lot of things stacked on my side right now. Not against me but for me.
Up next…Ani speaks about her new husband, Righteous Babe Records and being brave.