Diva (UK) - - Contents -

On how mu­sic’s changed in 30 years

I’m 17 and I’m in love. Hope­lessly, ridicu­lously, sick­en­ingly so. We’re ly­ing in bed in my girl­friend’s dingy room in stu­dent halls, light stream­ing in through the sheet we’re us­ing as a makeshift cur­tain and bounc­ing off the dis­carded pop cans and take­away boxes that lit­ter ev­ery avail­able sur­face. It’s hardly par­adise. But here, in her arms, it feels like it. And then a song comes on. It’s Both Hands by Ani Difranco, and some­thing about the way she sings makes this per­fect mo­ment even more so.

That was 14 years ago and, spoiler alert, we’re no longer to­gether. We’re good friends though – the best – and it seems ab­surd that we ever dated. It was a life­time ago. But one thing that al­ways takes me right back there, to that dingy room all those years ago, is Ani. So when I pick up the phone and I’m greeted with a soft hello from none other than Ms Difranco her­self, it’s a lit­tle odd.

The iconic singer-song­writer is talk­ing to me to­day from her home in New Or­leans, pro­mot­ing her new record, Bi­nary. It’s her 20th stu­dio al­bum, and while her sound is cer­tainly more ma­ture than it was when she started mak­ing mu­sic 30 years ago, it feels as ur­gent and as po­lit­i­cal as ever. No won­der: be­ing a woman in the age of Trump is some pretty po­tent in­spi­ra­tion.

Ani’s pre­vi­ously de­scribed the US pres­i­dent’s as­cent to leader of the free world as “pa­tri­archy run amok” and dur­ing our in­ter­view laments the “cul­ture of com­bat and dirty, dirty fight­ing” that we’re cur­rently liv­ing in. What’s the an­ti­dote? Is there one? “In Amer­ica right now the most rad­i­cal thing you can do is lis­ten,” she tells me. “There’s no di­a­logue and that doesn’t help. In one sense, these are very dire, very re­gres­sive po­lit­i­cal times, and in an­other sense, I feel great hope. I’ve been a po­lit­i­cal artist my whole life and I feel less alone than I’ve ever felt. There are more peo­ple will­ing to talk to me about some­thing like pa­tri­archy, for ex­am­ple, than ever be­fore. The en­ergy of re­sis­tance, the en­ergy of ac­ti­va­tion is ev­ery­where, given the dire cir­cum­stances, so I hope that that will be the stronger en­ergy in the end.”

Pa­tri­archy, Ani says, is “the ele­phant in the room, ev­ery room, in ev­ery coun­try, around the globe”, and for any progress to be made, that’s some­thing we have to ac­knowl­edge. “Where there is im­bal­ance, there is tur­moil. Where there is bal­ance, there is peace. I don’t be­lieve you can start with the fun­da­men­tal pro­found im­bal­ance of pa­tri­archy and ever achieve peace. It’s just against the laws of na­ture. In or­der to heal racism, en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion, these per­pet­ual wars that are hap­pen­ing all over, these so­cial, po­lit­i­cal dis­eases, we have to go back to the source and ad­dress pa­tri­archy to­gether. Now is the time to say the P word, to see if we can re­ally ad­dress it.”

But while there’s much anger here – un­der­stand­ably so – there’s also rich­ness and a depth and nu­ance to Bi­nary that was per­haps lack­ing on ear­lier records. What’s changed? “I feel like in the be­gin­ning songs just came straight from my spleen, out of my mouth, out of this hole in my face, and splat­ted against the world,” Ani laughs. “I learned a lot about the world through that process. Now 30 years have gone by – I started as a teenager and I’m 46 now. Some­times the songs still come right from the spleen and they go un­fet­tered into the world, but I don’t al­ways stop there now.”

We talk about Ani’s chil­dren, Pe­tah and Dante, and the chal­lenges of moth­er­hood. Has bring­ing life into the world changed the kind of mu­sic she makes, I won­der? “I don’t think it’s changed the na­ture of my out­look or the way I write. But many times it has smacked me down,” she chuck­les. “Un­able to write, un­able to work, un­able to do my thing.” Is that frus­trat­ing? “It’s hum­bling, it makes you more pa­tient. Or it makes you crazy. Both. Hav­ing to have taken so much time and en­ergy away from the other things I care about: ac­tivism, mu­sic, trav­el­ling, cre­at­ing art, and try­ing to cre­ate revo­lu­tion through art - these things have been burn­ing in me my whole life. It’s chal­leng­ing to put them down, but I do think that I’m stronger for it. Some­times the last thing you want to do is the thing you should do.” Are her kids fans of her mu­sic? She pon­ders the ques­tion for a minute, turn­ing it over in her mind. “My daugh­ter, I think so. I don’t know if she would put it that way but she has cer­tainly been raised on it. She was in my belly. I toured with her inside me un­til I was seven months preg­nant, so I feel like she came into this world know­ing my whole pal­ette of melody and har­mony and phras­ing. She can sing har­monies with me bet­ter than any­one. She knows my mu­sic in her belly. She ac­tu­ally did sing har­mony with me on this record, on Even More. She’s 10, and she al­ready has a way more so­phis­ti­cated grasp of melody and har­mony than I did when I was that age.”

Ani and I spend a lot of time talk­ing about the past; how she has changed and how the world has changed, and whether 2017 is as she hoped way back when. Have we, as fem­i­nists, made the progress young Ani hoped we would have? “I was never one to try to imag­ine what the goal was in any­thing, re­ally. It’s just about be­ing present ev­ery day in what you think is right. Have we made enough progress? Well, it is what it is. I’m cer­tainly at the age where I’m done feel­ing like it’s not enough. You can’t pour your en­ergy down that hole. Like the song that con­cludes the record, I put it at the end as a kind of el­lip­sis. You don’t fight to win be­cause if that is why then you will hit the wall re­ally quick. You fight be­cause that’s the right thing; and you fight be­cause it con­nects you with other peo­ple who will make your life a bet­ter place to be; and you fight be­cause it feels so good to be ac­count­able to what you be­lieve in. To be fully your­self. So that is an end in it­self and there’s no such thing as win­ning, but that’s the beauty of it.” Our con­ver­sa­tion turns from the last 30 years of Ani’s ca­reer to the next 30. Does she think much about the fu­ture? What does she still want to achieve, and what will her 40th stu­dio al­bum sound like? She laughs and laughs. “I sure don’t think about the fu­ture. I never have. I think it’s a bless­ing to not ever give a fuck about where I’m go­ing. I have more will ev­ery day to live in the now and to try to make it the most sin­cere and en­er­getic and real, if im­per­fect, now that I can.” With that, we say our good­byes and I hang up. Smil­ing, I text my friend: “I just in­ter­viewed Ani Difranco”. Her re­sponse says it all. “<3”

Read more of our in­ter­view with Ani on­line at di­va­ Bi­nary is out now.

ANI DIFRANCO TALKS TO CAR­RIE LYELL ABOUT 30 YEARS OF MAK­ING MU­SIC AND BE­ING A WOMAN IN THE AGE OF TRUMP “The en­ergy of re­sis­tance, the en­ergy of ac­ti­va­tion is ev­ery­where”

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