The thought that first sprung to my mind when I listened to Ani DiFranco's new album Red Letter Year was that she sounded... happy. The outspoken singer has certainly switched gears since becoming a mother and wife. The angst is near gone. But there are still plenty of subjects she gets worked up about. Buffalo's righteous babe, who comes to Seattle on October 24, gives us a piece of her mind per below conversation.
Ani DiFranco plays at the Paramount on Saturday, October 24.
Hello, Ani! I'm going to give full disclosure before we get started. You, however unintentional it was, helped me get through high school.
Do a lot of women tell you that?
[Laughs.] Yes. I think it's because my early songs came from a young woman trying to become herself. Other young women doing the same found good company and even comfort in that.
Judging from the sound of your new album, Red Letter Year, you've finally reached a pretty comfortable place in life.
It speaks to a turning point in my life. I have something to go home too now - good love and a family. I think you can hear it in the tone of my voice that I've got stronger footing than I used to.A lot of fans miss angst-ridden Ani. Do you ever feel pigeonholed?
Oh sure. I think for every place I've been at, there's someone who wants me to stay there. [Laughs.] But even if I wanted to satisfy some sort of public expectation, I couldn't. it It comes in too many forms. My job is to just stay on top of my game and stay as honest and present as I can.
Now's a tougher time than ever to do that, given that you run a small record label in the midst of a recession. How has Righteous Babe Records been faring?
A small business definitely feels the pinch. Unfortunately, there's no bail out for the little guys. Just the big guys. It's sort of sickening. Music was imploding before the recession. But now people are spending even less money on records and shows.
Yet you've vowed never to allow your music to be used in advertisements. Why is that?
I'm on old fashioned girl. I feel like the last person left that questions using their art to sell products. I'm grossed out by the effect of capitalism on art. I know I'm going to make less money this way. But I'm also going to be secure that I'm contributing to the world I want to live in.
More and more so-called "independent" artists are certainly taking the commercial route these days though.
Young artists don't question it as much. When you're born into it, you learn to swallow a level of hyper commercialism. You do your grocery shopping at a mega chain store, get your music at a mega chain store, you listen to a radio station that plays the same stuff across the country... It takes a great deal of individual inspiration to wake up from that and see its damaging effects.
It's unfortunate all these people are desperately trying to get to the next level. That's a trap anyone can get into, thinking that if you get the record deal or the big house or the promotion, you'll be happy. Meanwhile, I've really enjoyed my life in music from the beginning. Even in obscurity.
Your business decisions certainly haven't hurt your career as an artist. You've got a ridiculously large song catalog. Do you have any favorites?
I don't. All the songs to me are verses to one long song that is my life. Extracting any one of them feels artificial.
Well, what happens at this point in the game? You've recorded 20 albums in less than 20 years. Is there anything left to do?
I imagine that I will keep going... but at a less furious page than I did as a young pup. [Laughs.] It's amazing how nearing 40 changes things. I can't physically keep up that pace. Plus I've got a kid now. I just hope I can always retain enough energy to keep touring and keep making music. It exhausts me, but at the same time it feeds me.