In the ’90s, forthright, folkie, feminist US singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco was adored by a generation for her mix of the political and personal across 17 albums and thousands of intimate live shows. Having taken several years off to start a family, the 41-year-old returns with new album Which Side Are You On? We found out more.
Motherhood had an extreme impact on her work.
‘It completely stopped it. I was pretty freaked initially, like any first-time mother, thinking: ‘Oh no, my life is over.’ But of course it’s not – full-time mothering only lasts a few years, then they move further from your bosom and you’re stuck by yourself again.’
Her advice to new parents is unequivocal.
‘Give over. Just give over. Resistance is futile! It’s a radical change and everything you enjoyed doing is out of the window. But as with anything, acceptance is the key. Spending the first few years not writings songs or performing means that when I do find myself on stage, I feel more grateful than ever to be there.’
Being asked to cover ’30s protest song ‘Which Side Are You On?’ was the genesis behind her new album.
‘I was given the song to sing at Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration and started tinkering with it. I ended up radically rewriting the verses and it’s become the linchpin of my live sets. I feel like it’s a call to arms. It’s exactly the sentiment I want to express these days: get up, get involved, we need you!’
She’s adamant that musicians shouldn’t simply ignore politics…
‘Its funny to me this idea that musicians should shut up about politics and stick to music. Politics and music seems like a match made in heaven. I crave more political discourse of the sane and creative kind, rather than the BS on the mainstream media. All musicians are citizens and should care. Whatever your job is, you should certainly have an opinion and be engaged as much as possible, else democracy dies.’
…not that she lives in a leftie bubble.
‘I’m living in the real world, dammit! My mother-in-law considers herself anti-abortion, for instance, so she’ll use phrases like “right to life”, which is just language that the right has brilliantly constructed to divide people with common interests. The way they keep American workers from uniting against corporate elites is by making them fight over things like the right to choose. With my new song “Amendment”, I was thinking of my family members who are pro-choice but don’t know it, and trying to plant a seed in their mind.’
She has a love/hate relationship with Barack Obama.
‘People do nothing but talk him down these days because the right are angry and crazy and the left are disappointed and frustrated. We elected him on the basis that we needed to end these unjust wars and the fact that it didn’t happen right away was frustrating. Luckily, the Republican field is insane and comically weak. I hope that the left will realise that Obama is far and away the best option we have.’
The Occupy movement has given her hope.
‘People are finally talking about the disparities in society. There’s dialogue in the mainstream media now – unsophisticated as it is – and we’ve got people talking. Now we need to present an alternate vision. I’ve been in dialogue with the people at Occupy DC and we’re planning some action for the early spring which I’m hugely excited about.’ Interview: Oliver Keens