Catching Up With… Ani DiFranco

Music Features Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco is happy and she’s not afraid to sing about it. The media may have long ago labeled her a sad, depressing feminist poet, but that’s not stopping her from writing what her label is calling her “most joyous record to date.” Guess that’s what happens when you fall in love and have a baby.

Paste caught up with DiFranco as she was kicking off her fall tour. Red Letter Year hit record store shelves Sept. 30.

Paste: So you’re on the road right now?
Ani DiFranco: Yes.

Paste: Is this a full tour? What’s it called?
DiFranco: I would say full. Well, I don’t know…I guess it’s the “Red Letter Year Tour,” if anything. I’m touring all this Fall, but my record, which is officially coming out in a couple of weeks, is already with us. We sold them last night for the first time at our first show.

Paste: Nice. Were you were worried about Bitch magazine for a second there?
DiFranco: Yeah, it’s sad but it’s a sign of the times. Nothing is outside of the computer anymore.

Paste: True enough. So, what is a “red letter year”?
DiFranco: Well, it’s a special year in which remarkable things happen.

Paste: What does this album mean to you in comparison to your work as a whole?
DiFranco: It means to me the beginning of a new era, in a way. I have a lot of newness in my life, which the title speaks to. I have a new family and a new place to live and a new band and a big part of my new family is my partner, Mike. He co-produced this album and so had a big influence on its sound.

Paste: What was it like working with such a big team of people on this album?
DiFranco: It was great. It was really fun to incorporate lots of different players and really get more elaborate with the production than I have, maybe ever.

Paste: Did it help taking two years to complete an album?
DiFranco: That was mainly a factor of becoming a mom a year and eight months ago. I’ve been spending most of my time with my kid and that means I just can’t dedicate as much time as I’m used to to my work, so that made the record take long. I was doing other stuff but I’m glad I took all the time with it that I did because I think all of that time away from…the sort of prolonged process, means that you have more prospective along the way and that’s really useful.

Paste: You’ve said that when you listen to the album you hear a very relaxed you. Why is that?
DiFranco: Because most of it was made at home with my lover behind the board and what’s a more comfortable place to be?

Paste: How did your daughter influence your work?
DiFranco: She made me step away from it constantly and hang out with her. She influences it in that she slowed it down and then that, in turn, influenced it in all the ways you can imagine.

Paste: The buzz song among the press with this album seems to be “The Atom.” What does the song mean to you?
DiFranco: It’s kind of like a vision for what could be an alternative for fundamentalist Christians in this country, which is a very powerful group of people and very energized. This is a vision of maybe where that energy could be channeled in a way that makes just as much if not more sense than trying to control women’s reproductive freedom.

Paste: You’re known for your extensive touring. What do you like so much about it?
DiFranco: Well, for one thing, it pays my bills. These days people don’t buy records anymore so even if I wanted to stay home, its not really possible. I have to make a living like everyone else and so I am a working musician. I tour because that’s what I have to do and that’s my job and playing for people… I love it as well. I love to travel and I love to be engaged with my society and move through it and… I feel lucky.

Paste: What are some of your favorite places to go?
DiFranco: I love touring in Europe. There is a slightly different sort of way that I’m framed there than in the U.S. which is really refreshing and cool and really… just the further out the place gets the more interesting and fun. I’ve been to Japan and Brazil and that’s of course the most fun, to have a true adventure like that.

Paste: How do you think you’re framed differently in Europe?
DiFranco: People…they don’t have this long history or media stereotype for me, so they really just take my work as it is. In that sense, I feel a lot of sides of me affirmed there that are sort of ignored here. Here, the stereotype of feminist songwriter is above all else and there I’m just a musician and people ask me and react to my purely musical elements and treat me as a writer without the “grrrrl” in front of it. There’s just a different vibe connected to my music.

Paste: What was it like working on your first collection of poetry and why did you decide to put that out there?
DiFranco: I’ve always written poetry and it has always been a part of my art and somewhat distinguishable from my songs along the way. I’d never made a collection of just poetry before and getting pregnant and taking some time off the road seemed like finally the right time to put it together. People have been asking for it for a long time and so that was part of my pregnancy homework.

Paste: What inspires you to write?
DiFranco: The same thing that inspires my music and my life and myself to get up in the morning. Love, society, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Paste: What music are you into lately?
DiFranco: It’s hard to say. A lot of music that my friends are making. My bass player is a composer and just all around amazing musician that recently released a new record that I’ve been listening to a lot called Tiny Resistors. Anais Mitchell…we are promoting her at Righteous Babe now and she is working on an opera that we’re going to release and I’m going to be playing a voice in it. A really amazing project. My friend Mike Dylan…has a lot to do with the music scene in New Orleans. Etc., etc., etc.

Paste: Do you read your own reviews? A lot of them seem to be pleasantly shocked that this new disc is so upbeat.
DiFranco: Nope, I don’t. But, it would make sense since I am more happy than I’ve been in a lot of years, that you could hear it.

Paste: The packaging on this CD is awesome. Do you have much to do with that?
DiFranco: For years now it’s a been a collaboration between a graphic designer named Brian and I. We worked on it together as we have my last bunch of records and that’s fun for me because he’s a cool person in my life.

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