Ani DiFranco brings fall tour through Nashville

Her career and influence has spanned two decades, and Ani DiFranco brings that influence to Nashville in support of her 17th studio album, Which Side Are You On?, September 24 at Marathon Music Works. O&AN caught up with Ani to chat about motherhood, the progress and evolution of equality over her career, and whether or not the illustrious performer has ever considered a memoir.

So Ani, you’re getting back out on the road after the birth of your son this year. I wonder, has motherhood changed your activist nature? Has it made it more determined because this is the world that they will be living in?

No. I hear that experience echoed from a lot of parents, but I think I was always on that tip. What is the future going to be like for our kids even when I didn’t have one. That’s kind of the same. If anything a kid almost gives me a little more balance in life. Between worrying and trying to help this world that I live in and just sort of being and enjoying the simple things. A kid is a good excuse to just turn off the nightly news and just play.


You get to be present and be there.

Right. Totally and just flourish, make yourself believe is going to be all right, somehow.


Ani, you’re touring in support of your 2012 album, Which Side Are You On?.  The backdrop of New Orleans is very evident from the subject matter to musicians you worked with. Was moving to New Orleans kind of rebirth of music for you?

Definitely, yeah. It’s a very powerful musical place, as anybody knows. Relocating here was like a real shot in the arm. It’s very inspiring. Although, I’m not out and about as much as I wish these days, walking a five month old, but there’s there’s a lot of really inspiring musicians to rub elbows with here and call up and say, 'hey you want to come play on my record or come to a gig with me.' I’ve done a few kind of low key things around town just for fun, because there’s just so much fun to be had in New Orleans.

And yeah, you can hear the sort of change in the sound of my records since I started making music down here. I just figure as long as I’m really close to all this incredible musicality, why not harness it for the power of folk music (laughs).


Do you split your time with New Orleans and New York? Or-

No, I used to, but now I’m just here. I don’t see much of Buffalo anymore.


You've always had a huge LGBT following, so what it’s been like for you to witness the evolution of equality over your career?

Super cool. Some things are very life affirming and you can actually point at and say, 'look progress.' I mean even just starting with my experience as a female, a sort of feminist evolution that continues despite of itself or despite us. Just the fact that I think when I started playing guitar I was the only girl in the music store and it was very much a boys’ club. Now, it’s just doesn’t feel like that anymore.

I think the same thing with queer rights. Just visibility and … what’s the word? Not acceptance, it goes bigger than that. Like when a society as a whole understands more about the- accepts another member as a family- really understands the gay population to be part of the family.

I think that’s sort of the social revolution and then of course, legal rights are another and trickier matter. I think marriage rights are going to come like dominos soon. The tide has shifted. It’s pretty cool, but it’s interesting too like having just come in. I don’t know. I think maybe to glimpse the end of an era when gays and lesbians were so oppressed and so marginalized that there was a strong community kind of vibe. There were the certain bars, the certain meeting places, the certain festivals, the certain- you had your own goddamn section in the music store.When I started making records, I was in women’s music section, like dyke music.

It’s funny because with acceptance and assimilation, there’s a little something you lose too that I'm vaguely aware of, having glimpsed it, having been a part of it. Now, it’s like, where’s our bars? I mean, it’s cool that everybody just hangs out together. I don’t know. Of course, what I’m saying may be true and it’s also complete false because here I am in New Orleans, kind of a hubbub of gay culture and neighborhoods and stuffs. It’s not like we don’t have community anymore.


In the early parts of your career, you were basically releasing an album every year and now you've had children and life has kind of slowed down a little, but you must always be creating. How much material are you sitting on?

A lot. These days it is hard to finish songs, you know. It's that phase of life. When I was young and full of myself, it was so easy somehow. I know I am right and here it is: the truth according to me. Now it is just like everything is so grey, not that it is all muddy and complicated. It is just harder to be sure of anything and now I am more aware of the weight of my songs and how they stick around, like them or not. Maybe I am becoming a better editor but also I guess it just gets harder interestingly rather than easier to write.


Speaking of progress, you released To The Teeth, calling for gun control and debate, 14 years ago but we're still having those debates today and arguing over it as a society. What do you feel when that happens? Are you like, 'Hey I have been talking about this for over a decade,' or is that one of those things where you are talking about how grey it is getting and trying to understand everything?

Now, I mean that is just one of those try not to let it bum you out things. I mean it is hard to even call it progress. Has there been progress? I do not really think so in terms of gun control or even understanding you know whatever- this is kind of random but I was just flashed to that moment in Bowling for Columbine you know where they are standing in the missile factory in Columbine. It is huge whatever military industrial complex, lots of that industry there I guess. There is some dude standing in front of the huge bomb saying I just do not where these children get the idea for this violence. We need to step back from all of it and look at what role they play in our society.

But that song talks about a very complicated, unraveling of many mistruths and cultural habits. This idea of us as Americans as we are all cowboys on horses with guns, it is like mythologies have to be unwritten. It is a big task but shit … you think we define ourselves better in that way.

And you know politics, it is exhausting and it is debilitating. I have a friend who works at the U.N. and I have friends who work for a congressman and it is really kind of burns you out to try and work within the system which I find very depressing because we need those people. We need progressive people, running for office. Let alone voting for them when they do so (pause).

Like I said, it is nice to have a kid to balance it all out and feel hopeful again because sometimes it is overwhelming.


It’s funny because you talked about the gay and lesbian section and the women’s section of music. Many gay male singer-songwriters credit you as influence. Do you realize the extent of your inspiration on other performers?

Well, it’s nice to hear you say it. Only in my little experiential way which is like cute boys with their boyfriends down in the front rows of shows saying that to my face, which is so awesome.


I’ve always really enjoyed your bootleg collection. Do you have any plans to record any shows from this tour?

Yeah, I think we’re going to record stuff this fall and I got a really cool little touring outfit going right now with Todd Sickafoose playing bass and a fellow … a New Orleans’ drummer named Terrence Higgins and so maybe I can get myself a bootleg with the Teetee and Tata Show, as I call them. I don’t have one of those yet.


You’ve done poetry books and really if you listen to your catalogue, it’s kind of a memoir, but have you ever considered writing a memoir of sorts?

Yeah, we actually endeavored to but I can’t picture myself writing consecutive, complete sentences and it adding up to anything. But we did it and even employed, for a minute or two, our friends in Buffalo who are writers. This was many years ago. We thought it could be part memoir but also handbook for sort of creating a path or career in music independently without record companies and such. It never manifested, this book.  Now, we're all just told too old and tired. So, I do not know. It may never happen but I have my memories.

Actually, the bummer thing is that I kind of do not remember much, which strikes me as kind of sucky sometimes because I think I have had a great journey. It has been like incredibly fun, incredibly fortunate and I wish I remembered more.


A couple of songs that are personal to me and I am just curious of maybe the inspiration. "Grey" is one of them. I absolutely love that song.

Cool. Yes, I think that is one of my better songs. I do not know about the recording. I was deeply in my conflicted period- which gave birth to so many records. I think maybe I have over represented that part of myself in music but I do like that song too.


Also, "Both Hands." I am wondering what that song means to you.

Wow, that is so super old that it is hard to even put myself back in the head of that girl but I can picture the window that I was sitting in on East 12th Street in the East Village in New York. It is funny, I know I can picture the view out that tenement window where I was living at that time, but I can't picture the head space necessarily.


Well, Ani, we're really excited about the Nashville show. I cannot wait to see you again and it is actually the show the day after your birthday, so happy early birthday- 

Oh yes, thanks. I am always touring and working on my birthday which is nice and I have a nice big party every year.


You have thousands of people to sing you happy birthday.

Yes (laughs).

Additional Reporting by Jessi Coggins

photo credit: Shervin Lainez


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