Ani Difranco has been a personal hero of mine since I first heard her in 1998. I was delivering pizza, listening to WOXY and all of a sudden the song "Little Plastic Castle" was speaking to me over my Geo Metro speakers. I drove around the block a few extra times in order to hear the full song. Easily, I can say my life changed that day. After I got off work, I went to Phil's Records and bought up every Ani album preceding Little Plastic Castle. I spent the next few weeks eating up her words. I had felt so out of place in the world I was trying to adapt to for such a long time. Ani made me feel like I had a compadre, someone who felt as I did but was brave enough to speak her mind. I began to speak my mind after being influenced by Ani and I haven't stopped since. I believe Ani helped me to come out of my shell. Within my suburb of Cincinnati, I was able to finally be my true self.
Ani Difranco has been in the music business for over 20 years and has released more than 20 albums. The music on her albums span from folk, soul, spoken word, electronica, funk, jazz and beyond. Early in her career, she made the bold decision to say no to every record label offer that came her way. These days it may not seem so out of the box, but think back and recall even 5 years ago, what a bold choice that is for an artist. Ani in turn created her own record label, Righteous Babe Records in 1990 on her terms. Since then RBR has been signing other like minded artists such as Hamell on Trial, Andrew Bird, Anais Mitchell and Drums and Tuba, to name a few. Righteous Babe Records operates out of a renovated church coined Babeville. Babeville is also an entertainment venue containing a 1200 seat concert hall. I got to talk to the self described little folksinger recently and here is what she had to share...
CincyMusic: When did you realize that you wanted to be a musician?
Ani DiFranco: Um, well, jeez the question sort of sounds like I had some vision of a career as a youngster, I don’t think I ever had a moment like that. Like hey yeah, I think I’ll be a rock star or something (laughs). But when I was young I decided I wanted a guitar and I can’t really remember why I wanted to play the guitar. It wasn’t really a dream of being on stage or anything. Just wanted another way to express myself, to let my childhood angst out. A release from a miserable little family. And then I just started playing and I took great joy out of it. By the time I was a teenager, starting to folk sing, going in that direction, playing a lot of music and gigs around town. You know even then I don’t know that I had a long term vision, it was just something I really loved to do.
CM: What tips do you have for local musicians for finding their own way? (on their own terms)
AD: Hum, well I mean it sounds maybe corny but just practice your craft and get out to wherever you can in your own home town. I know it seems like, and maybe according to some magazines along the way, I was some sort of an overnight sensation. But I started playing what I was in single digits and by the time I was 14, I was gigging in Buffalo (NY) . I did that for 10 years before anybody noticed and I really am grateful for the time to work on my craft. Whether it’s playing out locally or being out on a tour bus, I think that what it’s really about is the joy connecting with your audience, sharing. The beautiful connecting power of music. I found that has brought the joy.
CM: Do you have a song writing process?
AD: Oh, well yeah I mean I have found I can’t force it or calculate it. I guess the most I can do in terms of discipline.It’s been kind of hard lately, I’m a mom, I have a 5 year old, and that is an all exclusive thing and kind of exhausting. So, it’s hard to find the creative energy to make songs when all you do is hang out with your kid all day and focus on her. So actually going on tour these days is a really good. It’s like my songwriting workshop now. You know I get a little space from my family and get to get back into that thing that I love to do. It’s cool for me to be able to go on the road and dedicate myself to writing a little more.
CM: I consider you to be an amazing role model. Who are your role models?
AD: I have had a lot of them in different ways. My mom was my first big one, I got a lot of my snick from her. There was a fella named Michael Meldrum in my hometown of Buffalo that took my under his wing when I was very young. He is the one who started bringing me to his gigs. I’ve had role models in so many ways, feminist role models, political activist role models. I’ve been lucky to have so many teachers, there are almost to many to name.
CM: How you feel Obama has done and thoughts on the upcoming election?
AD: Like many progressives, I sort of fantasied that there was going to be fireworks. He entered office and what we have been witnessing the past 4 years is that he has had the hardest, tallest wall of opposition between him and getting the good work done. It’s been frustrating to witness but there is no way I’m going to let my frustration make me sit on my ass all day, because that would be a crime. I just really hope that us progressive folks in this country will get out and vote this November. I think that it’s an important endeavor even as frustrating as the process is. I think Obama, if he is guilty of anything, it’s trying too hard to work with people who show no signs of wanting to work with him. The republican party has a strategy, as they have stated outwardly, to prevent Obama from being able to do anything. Which I think to be an impeachable offense for somebody in public office. Their job is not to prevent government, it is to try to work together for the best interest of the most people. I think Obama represents as much as you can, right-headedness in terms of trying to collaborate, trying to create, trying to participate in the democratic process instead of obstructing it. But many people on the left also have new fantasies of the second term, the second term is when he is going to unleash the fury, he’s not going to take no for an answer! But what we all have to admit to is that one man cannot save us. Unless we start energizing ourselves, all standing behind him with all of the force of our collective power then we can’t expect mountains to be moved. And that is not exactly happening, we are a very comfortable population. I hope that we can all get more inspired to really make that change happen. In all of my shows on this tour we are going to have voter registration presence, so anybody who is not registered to vote can get registered at my show!
CM: At Righteous Babe how is it determined which new artists to sign?
AD: People and projects just organically come my way, it’s like an extended family. It’s not just a box of mail and somebody in A&R listening to demo tapes. It’s a different scenario.
CM: Plans for the future?
AD: This tour I have a new drummer, Terence Higgins from New Orleans (of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band), he is a super funky New Orleans drummer, so that’s a exciting thing for me to have a new band situation going on. I’m just starting to make demos towards a new record, I have a bunch of new songs that I will probably be pulling out on stage to play this month. Oh, and I’m pregnant so I have that going on. At the tender age of 42, I’m doing this again. You are the first I’ve told, there is no official disclosure plan so there it is, you’re the first. I mean I have told my people in my personal life, but since you asked future plans, I’m somebody who never likes to leave anything out.
Ani has always come across to me, in her music, as to be the most honest of artists and now I am convinced.
Come witness for yourself the amazing little folksinger and her new band at the Madison Theatre on Friday September 28th!