Ani DiFranco is one of those rare musicians who has chosen the road less traveled.
She has released more than 20 albums on her own label, Righteous Babe Records. Her critically acclaimed music can be described as political, feminist, and grass roots. She has covered topics from abortion to gay rights and doesn't show signs of stopping, even though in her personal life she has settled down with a husband and child in New Orleans. She hits the road again this fall traveling to our neck of the woods.
DiFranco talked about hurricanes and politics before her arrival.
Windy City Times: Hi, Ani. You are up early.
Ani DiFranco Yes, I am stuck in mommy world.
WCT: Is your daughter in school?
Ani DiFranco: She started kindergarten.
WCT: So this is a big year!
Ani DiFranco: It is. It's brutal, fucking miserable. In a word: misery! [Laughs]
WCT: Is it hard going on tour, then?
Ani DiFranco: It is a radical gearshift these days, from the time of day to the mindset. Hopefully, I can still remember how to play music. I have been deep in mommy world for months now.
WCT: I am so glad you survived the hurricane down there.
Ani DiFranco: You may hear some circular saws in the background. That is my house being fixed post-hurricane. We are a little worse for wear here.
WCT: Was it major damage?
Ani DiFranco: I guess not major, considering I have gone past houses with trees on them. We just took in a lot of water. We have some mold going on and shit to fix.
WCT: I always wondered that with such a lengthy independent music career, what would have happened if you had joined a major label?
Ani DiFranco: I haven't thought of that "what-if" in a long time. I have been on my own horse riding into my own sunset for so long that I can't fathom the other path. I made a choice when I was pretty young to go down this path, meaning my life would be populated with these people and I think I was smart for it. My life as Indie Girl USA has brought me to some pretty cool places. I have met people that I never would have met in the major label world.
WCT: This is my first concert of yours. Can you go over what a typical show is like for new concert attendees?
Ani DiFranco: I would like to think they are all different. This time, I will be working with a little trio. I have Todd Sickafoose on bass. I have been playing with him for a bunch of years. He's one of my favorite people in the world. I have a new drummer Terence Higgins who is from New Orleans where I live. I just hooked up with him so we are going to rehearse our ass this week and just hit it this tour. It will be exciting to be working with him and have a whole new game going on.
WCT: After listening to "Which Side Are You On?", the song "Mariachi" is my favoriteso I hope you do that one.
Ani DiFranco: I will try to throw it on the set list for you. There is a long bass line in the song where Todd is playing that was supposed to be Willie Nelson playing guitar on that track. I asked him to play on it and he said, "Sure," so I went to his show and made him red beans and rice with cornbread. I watched the concert, then brought him the food outside. The tour bus pulled away when I stepped outside the door. So not only did I not make his acquaintance, but he didn't play on the track! I eventually left a big hole in the song where the ghost of Willie is flying through. Next time you listen to that tune just imagine Willie Nelson playing a cool guitar riff.
WCT: I will. He's coming to Chicago soon.
Ani DiFranco: Well, send him my regards. [Laughs]
WCT: Another person you worked with, Prince, is playing here in concert.
Ani DiFranco: Oh, cool. I heard he is back out and about. He puts on an awesome shownever a dull moment.
WCT: How did you wind up working with him?
Ani DiFranco: Back in the era when he was writing slave on his cheek and was trying to get out of his Warner Bros. record deal, he started talking about me in the media and saying he wanted to be on Righteous Babe. I was in Minneapolis playing a show and he came. We met and he invited me back to Paisley Park.
It was actually that night that I recorded a little bit on the record he was working on at the time. In an artistic exchange I asked him to sing on my record, so we did a little tit for tat. I have seen him a few times since and he is really an amazing artist. We jammed together, and just watching him bounce from piano to drums to guitar was really fun.
WCT: Do you feel like New Orleans has influenced your latest album?
Ani DiFranco: Yeah, I have been living here pushing 10 years. I made that record with my husband who was born and bred here. There are all kinds of local artists on it. I guess my recordings are taking on the flavor of where I live and work.
WCT: Do you play "32 Flavors" in concert?
Ani DiFranco: It comes on as an encore a lot. I will try to remember these for Chicago: "Mariachi" and "32 Flavors!"
WCT: Some artists have the same set list every show.
Ani DiFranco: No, that is not me. I am a performer first. Every night is a different adventure. It is not about releasing the record and promoting it. That is the commercial model. I am somebody who is always touring and performing. The show is an end to itself. It may or may not have to do with whatever record is new. It more has to do with what I am thinking about and feeling. I try to change it up as much as I can. I have people that come to every show, so it is a high-pressure situation. I am looking at the same faces in the front row, so I can't do what I did [the previous] night.
WCT: I am sure it is a big LGBT following in the front.
Ani DiFranco: Oh, good. I don't know who those front-row people are anymore! [Laughs]
WCT: Do people hound you after the show?
Ani DiFranco: A little bit but not like the bad ol' days, when I was at the peak of my notoriety. Things have mellowed out, which is nice.
WCT: You have been so political with your music. Have things changed since you have a family now?
Ani DiFranco: No, I am political as I ever was. The news has been reduced to a contest of personality meanwhile there is a world of things happening. As far as the election I am praying, in the loose sense of that word, for a second term of Obama. I really hope that the progressive people of America will get off their ass and vote once again.
People wanted fireworks when he got elected and now they see a man struggling against a brick wall of ignorance and hatred. On this tour we will have HeadCount, which [is about] voter registration. People can register to vote right at the shows. Exercise that right in November and beyond!
Don't miss DiFranco at The Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield Ave., on Tuesday, Sept. 25. Purchase tickets at www.jamusa.com and for more on her music try www.righteousbabe.com .