Armed with a horn section, Ani DiFranco is making the rounds once again following up her 14th album, To the Teeth. Smaller venues are on the menu this tour which means Colorado Springs will finally be blessed with her ass-shakin' serenades this Monday night at the Pikes Peak Center. Political activist, successful independent record label owner, rhythm master, guitar guru, poet -- and still under 30 years old -- DiFranco's work permeates many realms. She's the Houdini of pigeonholes, so, if you don't know who she is then the only worthy introduction is, in a seat at the show.
I caught up with Ani on the road just outside of San Diego.
Indy: You seem to have settled into a band in the past few years. Do you think this has something to do with your progression as a musician?
Ani: I actually just got off of a solo tour, so I'm still doing that. I played solo for many, many years and that was really fun and really cool to be out there on my own. After a number of years, you just want to do something different, you know. I can't do something eternally. Exchanging musical energy and musical ideas with other people is really exciting and so, it's kind of hard now to even contemplate playing solo because I just find myself missing that energy. I'm really happy with my band now and our relationships. I feel like we're starting to build our own history.
Indy: Did you come across any breakthroughs while making To the Teeth?
Ani: I've been making albums for a lot of years, but it feels like only in the last few albums that I've really come into my own sense of aesthetics in the recording studio. It's been really exciting making records and feeling like I have a little bit more of a handle on how to put songs onto tape.
Indy: You seem to use a lot of alternate tunings in your playing. Why do you use them, especially with a band?
Ani: Well, it's kind of impractical. I don't know what I would do without my guitar tech these days. He's very busy. For me, it's just more interesting to have a whole new palette to paint with when I pick up the guitar. I just mess around with the tunings of the strings and then it's like a different instrument.
Indy: You have a new home recording studio, The Dust Bowl. How has that helped you or inspired you in your recordings?
Ani: It's made all the difference. It's changed my life to have a recording studio at home. Basically it means when I'm not on tour, I'm just recording all the time now which is really a luxury. Making music is really what I love to do. It means I can work on ideas all the time.
Indy: Did I hear your song "32 Flavors" on an NFL commercial?
Ani: Yep. It was part of a series of documentaries they were doing on the lives of prominent players. They did it by uniform number. It's so funny, you know, there has been all this kind of reaction to it. I think that the people who have reacted adversely to that are probably white people [laughs]. They're fucking white people with too much time on their hands. I'm not a big football fan myself, but I do recognize that sports and entertainment are the two big avenues in this culture where people other than white people have a chance at advancing themselves and becoming successful and really respected. People who dedicate their lives to anything that is not destructive whether it be sports or whatever, I think is a cool thing. So, these documentaries on these athletes, I don't have a particular problem with it myself.
Indy: Are you planning on coming out with Righteous Babe Books?
Ani: We hope to. It's just that we're so fucking busy. We're just trying to deal with what we're doing now. For me, there's just a million things on my plate. We've talked about putting out books of poetry and whatnot. Also, we're working on a book that's sort of autobiographical about the development of Righteous Babe Records. It's partly instruction manual and sort of just a progressive look at the music industry.
Indy: What's the difference between language and music for you?
Ani: I don't see a real definite distinction between the two. To me language is very musical stuff, and music is a language, as well. The division between the two is very blurry for me. You know, it's all about self-expression and communication and oftentimes, for me, it takes the form of words. I'm a songwriter basically at heart; that's what I do. But also just in the act of making music, you can express so much. The two are one in my mind.
Indy: Righteous Babe is releasing a tribute album to Woody Guthrie this spring. How did that come to be?
Ani: It's from a concert that I did a few years ago with a bunch of performers at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was a benefit to kick off the Woody Guthrie archives which are open in New York now. It was just a bunch of people that got together to play Woody Guthrie songs. It was a weekend full of workshops and whatnot about him. So, the album is live recordings of Woody Guthrie songs done by myself, Billy Bragg, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Bruce Springsteen, Arlo Guthrie, the Indigo Girls, and others.
Indy: Why did you feel the need to release it on your label?
Ani: He's [Woody Guthrie] a hero of mine and kind of one of the forefathers of what I do which is basically community-based music and music that incorporates politics. And writing songs; I'm a songwriter. I draw a lot from the folk tradition. I came up on the folk circuit. All of my experience I owe to that whole kind of underworld. Woody Guthrie is a big figure in that whole world and he just has great songs, songs that I think are still really relevant. And so, we're releasing this album as a kind of introduction, hopefully, to a lot of young listeners who may not know too much about Woody Guthrie or his legacy.
Indy: What is the Righteous Babe Foundation?
Ani: We've established a foundation and we give money to various arts and political endeavors. We do so many things with the money that comes in. One thing is putting out other people's music these days. [We're] releasing records by people like Utah Phillips, Sekou Sundiata, Arto Lindsey, the Woody Guthrie tribute. We do direct activism. We actually have a lawyer that we're funding down in the deep South doing anti-death penalty work that we fund full time. So, basically they're on the Righteous Babe Record staff in a crazy way, but they don't work with music, they work with the criminal justice system. You know we do many, many things.
Indy: Do you feel a larger responsibility to the world now that you have more resources to use?
Ani: No. It doesn't get larger or smaller. It's always huge from day one. You know, I think whatever position you're in in life, it's our jobs as human beings to take responsibility for the world and try and affect some kind of good change in some way. I mean, even if it's just raising a child or whatever way you think you can give back to the world. You know, my responsibility as a human being doesn't come because I have a platform to speak from now; it came long before that.