When Ani DiFranco visited the Paste Studio back in November 2016, three days after the presidential election, the room felt bleak. Shock had yet to subside, heads were down, and even the sanctuary of music felt marginal and useless compared to new questions and concerns about our country’s future.
DiFranco returned to Paste on Friday to mark the release of her 20th studio album, Binary,” and play us some tracks from the record. Along the way, she talked about how she was feeling compared to that last performance. In one word, she said: “Hopeful.”
Ever since she released her self-titled debut and began her own record label, Righteous Babe Records, at just 18 years old, DiFranco has been committed to social activism through songwriting. From her forceful feminism in the ‘90s with hits like “Not a Pretty Girl,” to her outspoken voice on police violence and climate change, DiFranco has long used her voice for more than just music.
“I think the lesson that we’re all confronted with and rising to is, ‘Okay, it’s us. We have to do this.’ Pulling out of the Paris Accord? Okay, we are going to stick with it. The mayor coalition, the governors, the grassroots, the people, we are not only going to resist regression from above, but we are going to take care of business.”
Binary was written prior to the 2016 election, but the songs are as political as ever. “Pacifist’s Lament” pleads for nonviolent solutions to our issues. “Terrifying Sight” is a call for empathy. “Play God” is a rallying cry for reproductive rights. As for the title track—which Paste premiered exclusively back in May— DiFranco has said that the “binary principle is echoed throughout our bodies. With one ear, we ‘hear’ but only with two ears can we perceive the full spectrum of depth and position. This idea that refuses now to let me go; that nothing can truly exist except in relationship with something else, is where this song and this album are coming from.”
On Friday, DiFranco played three songs, unaccompanied, from Binary. “Alrighty” was both poetic and sarcastic; “Binary” was stripped back from its funky studio incarnation to a spare acoustic format, but with all the vibrancy coursing through it; and “Zizzing,” a track featuring Justin Vernon on the record, served as a quiet and haunting way to cap the performance.
Between songs, DiFranco elaborated on her hopefulness for the country’s future, how it has affected the way she raises her children, whom she brings to vote and attend protests. Modeling, she said, was a form of activism that everyone can participate in: “The more in our daily life that we can model these little solutions to each other, the more we can embody them.”
It is the people’s duty to solve the country’s problems, she said. “I think the lesson that we’re all confronted with and rising to is, ‘Okay, it’s us. We have to do this.’ Pulling out of the Paris Accord? Okay, we are going to stick with it. The mayor coalition, the governors, the grassroots, the people, we are not only going to resist regression from above, but we are going to take care of business. I think that’s also a lot of what you’re seeing around the globe. A lot of it is quite feminist, and it’s not just a chick’s game anymore, the men are right there with us. It’s hopeful in many ways.”
Check out Ani DiFranco’s performance of “Alrighty,” “Binary” and “Zizzing” below.