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Ani DiFranco: An Interview

Ani DiFranco, a force to be reckoned with in the music world, is much more than just a singer. This American-Canadian musician, with over 20 albums under her belt, is a genre-bending artist known for her powerful folk-rock sound with influences from punk, funk, and even hip-hop. She’s not just about the music though; DiFranco is a true independent, running her own record label Righteous Babe Records, and actively advocating for social justice causes.

Actively participating in at least three separate projects now is not a duty she takes lightly. So, what is this vaunted performer – a Grammy winner, the recipient of the 2021 John Lennon Real Love Award, and New York Times bestselling author (No Walls and the Recurring Dream) – plate juggling in 2024? Project one is her starring role as “Persephone” in the Broadway production of Hadestown. This is a role she first inhabited back in 2010 when the musical was first released as a concept album, which then went onto the stage and in its original iteration, won eight Tony Awards in 2016.

“It’s absolutely in the foreground and everything else has to fit itself around that,” she reports from New York City. Asked what the biggest surprises have been making the transition to the Broadway stage, she admitted, “There’s a lot more acting and dancing involved. It just couldn’t be more different from the last 30 years of being on stage and singing in many ways.

“It was a big learning curve for me. I showed up for my first Tuesday show, and the audience was pretty dead. And I was thrown. I’ve been acclimating to just getting in the wig and the dress and the heels. I would have all these moments of crisis of identity until I got accustomed to, ‘Okay, goodbye, Ani. See you in the dressing room afterwards. Hello, Persephone! Let’s do this’.”

One of the incentives to join the Hadestown company is the behind-the-scenes development of a commissioned musical theater piece by DiFranco and “because I don’t know anything about musical theater, I thought, ‘Well, this is well-timed.’ Let me show up and get my crash course’.”

DiFranco has fortunately spent the better part of 30+ years in the public realm, beginning with her self-titled debut in 1990. Related to this aspect, project two is the release of Unprecedented Sh!t, an 11-track statement full of minimalist (bare instrumentation) musings and understated (vocally up-front) essays on themes of guilt, honky-tonk fiction and breaking through global darkness with humor. DiFranco touched on the metaphysical aspects of this album as she had been looking very, very tired, to say the least.

“I actually was up all night last night because my brain is a raving lunatic. I just saw dawn coming up while I was busy thinking about things that people are out there saying about me and saying that I should or should not do, and how I should or should not do them. As an artist and a public person, I’m subject to that and it’s really crucial for me to try to not let that suffocate me or terrify me or weigh me down too much. I need to just keep telling myself all you can be is you. All you can do is follow your heart. The rest is a mistake. But still, I stay up all night, fretting, in that process.”

Project three is her children’s picture book coming out August 27, Show Up and Vote, illustrated by Rochelle Baker. While the demographics are skewing to ages 3-6 years, DiFranco, with her activist hat firmly on, has strong and pointed commentary on why this tale about a young girl accompanying her mother to a polling station is especially relevant this year.

“I believe that young people in this country are the answer. Their overcoming of disillusionment and disengagement. Their re-engaging as voters is going to be the difference between democracy and fascism.” DiFranco minced no words when the subject of who she deemed “The Old Guard” could do with themselves.

“Bless them. They have to die off for this to become possible. And their ideas with them! The young people have to pick up the mantle. In that essence, I wanted to make a book that helped parents and children bond over the idea of voting – the power of it, the joy of it, the excitement of it.”

While she may not get the chance to spread Unprecedented Sh!t around the world (“As I’m knee deep in this Broadway world,” she remarked), DiFranco did reflect on the importance her songs and her presence has had over the course of her 30 year journey.

“People have often said to me, ‘Do you consider it a responsibility? With this microphone in front of your face and this platform that you have?’ I think somewhere embedded in that question is a forgetting that we all have immense opportunity to affect each other. Either uplift or push down each other, either include or marginalize each other. You bring what you can do to have huge effects on the people around you.”

-Amy Hughes

Photo: Ani DiFranco, 2008 (Rtsanderson via Wikimedia Commons)


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