Ani DiFranco: The most radical thing we can do is listen
Carrie Lyell talks to the iconic artist about 25 years of songwriting and feminism in the age of Trump
For more than 25 years, Ani DiFranco has been an iconic name in music, in politics, and in feminism. We caught up with her ahead of her London Palladium gig on 2 July to find out more about her 20th studio album, Binary, and the challenges of being a woman in the age of Trump.
DIVA: What was the thinking behind the album title?
Ani DiFranco: I guess I've been thinking a lot about the nature of the universe which is relationships. That track, that title, that concept underlies a lot of the songs on the record. That idea that we know each other and we know ourselves through each other. We know that consciousness is resonant and it's an energy and that's how it works. It has to flow in a loop. It's hard to say in such a few words, but if you look around... our brains, the inside of our heads, the design of the human body, the earth in darkness and in light. It's a very old concept really. It's the Ying/Yang that underlies everything. Certainly not an idea that I came up with, but my version.
This is your 20th studio album, which is an incredibly impressive body of work. Looking back over those albums, over your career, over those years, how do you think you've grown as an artist and as a person?
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. 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 so I feel in some ways it's more challenging because I have to stay new in it. Writing new songs takes a large amount of inspiration. It's not just like digging a hole – it's challenging to stay inspired. But conversely, I have so much more skill now to draw from. Sometimes the songs still come right from the spleen and they go unfettered into the world, but I don't always stop there now.
One article I read about the new album described you, described the sound, as softer and more mature. Would you agree with that?
Well, I guess if I wasn't more mature than 20 albums ago there would be something very wrong! [laughs] So that I'll accept and hope it's true. Softer? Well, I do... yeah, for sure when I was young and so eager and I think my expression was often shrill to an unreceptive ear. The sound of a young woman trying to make room for themselves in this world is not always pretty. “Step the fuck back” is not always the prettiest thing to hear. As I get older my will to find my own community or find myself in this world is surpassed by my desire to build bridges amongst people. So for instance, when I was writing Play God, an anthem of reproduction freedom, I tried to imagine myself singing to my sister-in-law who is anti-choice. And I try to sing in a way that she can hear me because I very much think supporting each other and lifting each other and pulling each other up out of the gutter is so important.
Could you pick a favourite track from the new album?
If I had to pick, maybe Play God. When I was writing that song I had this moment with myself where I sort of paused and thought, 'Can I say that?' about what I had just written. And I liked that moment because it reminded me of former me [laughs] that has come and gone. It feels like it's been a few years since I had that moment where I was like ‘Holy shit. Can I say that without getting shot?’ And I thought that was a good sign.
The current political climate has left many people feeling scared and profoundly sad. Do you think dialogue and bridge building is what we need now?
I feel like in America right now the most radical thing you can do is listen. It's a culture of combat and dirty, dirty fighting. There's no dialogue and that doesn't help. In one sense they 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 [laughs] about something like patriarchy, for example, than ever before. The energy of resistance, the energy of activation is everywhere, given the dire circumstance, so I hope that that will be the stronger energy in the end.
Read the full-length interview with Ani in our August issue, on sale from 21 July.
Binary is out now.
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