Over the course of 17 studio albums and a whole lot of touring, Ani DiFranco has finally decided to stop beating herself up.
"For most of my life," says the singer-songwriter, "I'd get off stage and I have this sort of tortured side to my personality where I'd just relive all the things that I did wrong. Sometimes it comes out right and sometimes it comes out sideways, and then I have to dissect every moment. I've done a lot of beating myself up and worrying over the years about not being good enough.
"Now I really consciously try not to do that, so I stay more at peace. I think it sort of helps me to walk out on stage with a more relaxed, ready-to-have-fun version of myself."
That emerging inner peace as a performer emerges from an overall sense of contentment that DiFranco has been experiencing of late. Following a long period of romantic and personal disappointments — including the dissolution of a five-year marriage with long-time musical partner, Andrew Gilchrist — DiFranco met her second husband and co-producer Mike Napolitano. The couple have a daughter, Petah Lucia, who recently turned 5.
"Now that I have a balance in my life, it's not life or death," says DiFranco. "I just feel very lucky to be where I'm at, to have a job that I love, to have a family that I love that's supportive."
But that happy home life doesn't keep DiFranco from commenting on what she sees wrong in the world at large.
Last month, DiFranco released her new album, ¿Which Side Are You On?, which contains its fair share of topical songs. Among them is the title track, a pro-union protest song made famous by folk legend Pete Seeger, who plays banjo on the track. Written in 1931 by Florence Reece, the wife of a coal miner and union organizer, the song's lyrics got updated for this new version.
"I wrote a lot of new words to have it reflect the political now," DiFranco said. "As I worked on this album, over the last few years, that rose to be the title track just because, I guess, it's an urgent question that I'm asking the world around me. We're faced with a lot of crises and it's not getting any simpler. So it's sort of a cry for action. It's this big rabble-rousing show closer on a lot of nights."
While the album also addresses issues like environmentalism and corporate greed, DiFranco points out that the songs aren't all weighty and political. "It's a pretty wide scope on this record," she says. "That trend is carrying through from [2008's] Red Letter."
Or, as DiFranco puts it on the new album's opening track, "If you're not getting happier as you get older, then you're fucking up." The current tour finds her drawing upon her deep catalogue, all released on her own Righteous Babe Records, as well as a new attitude to go with the new songs.
"I think I'm in such a good place now," she declares, "that my health has improved! There's nothing like inner peace for medicine."