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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ani DiFranco on Rush Limbaugh, Protest Songs, and Being a Mom

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 at 8:39 AM

Ani DiFranco - RHEA ANNA
  • Rhea Anna
  • Ani DiFranco

If you thought Ani DiFranco has mellowed out and gone away just because she got all jazzy, became a mom, and won a Grammy for Best Recording Package, then you haven't heard ¿Which Side Are You

On?, her best and most politically-charged album in many a year. In conversation she's no less artfully articulate on parenthood, the death of protest music, or why the middle of the road these days is still "fucking fascist." Do not underestimate the 41-year-old, O.G. folk-punk's ability to kick your ass when she plays the Fillmore on March 27.

You're one of the most prolific artists of  our time,

but you took three years before releasing ¿Which Side Are You

On?. Why take such a long break now?

That was all about being a mom, you know? Dedicating my time

to my kid. Yup, she slows me down quite a bit. [laughs]

Slowed down my average pace, which is terrific. It never would've occurred to

me to slow down to a reasonable pace, but because I've been forced

to it's actually been very useful I think. Taking a little more time making a


Did your songwriting process change?

Just more stepping back, I guess. I used to have like,

free reign to go deep inside my shit and stay there. But a kid forces you out

into the very real, sometimes boring, world around you, and it's great. I

appreciate my job more, I appreciate being on stage more. I cut back on that,

too. And making records, when I step away from the desk, I come back, I've got

some perspective. That's been a missing ingredient along the way I think.

Do you think being a parent also affected it being a more

explicitly political album than you've made in a long time?

Yeah, maybe. Being comfortable in one's own life means

you have more time and energy to look outward, right? I guess having my shit

dialed in at home means I can really dedicate myself to y'know, things like

political change or whatever. More outward-looking songs again.

Why do you think protest songs have all but dried up

during these fucking crazy political times?

I don't know, man. I'm really heartened by all this energy around the

Occupations, even though we do indeed live in a fricking police state. And boy,

out where you are it's been especially brutal! But just being out there, making

people talk about the disparity, let alone changing it ... it's part of a whole

cultural moment where artists are gonna get inspired to get involved. I'd love

to see a renaissance of political music. It's like you said, there's no

shortage of fucking shit to write about these days.

I've read criticisms that they "date too quickly," which is insane; no one

thinks of Bob Dylan and says "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" or

"Hurricane" didn't date well.

That the political song dates itself or something? Yeah,

what the fuck is wrong with that? I mean, I just titled my new record after a

song that dates back to the 1930s. I rewrote the verses so it's changed to the

struggle today. The original verses were very much about the labor strike and

the coal mining in fucking West Virginia or Kentucky or something... but the song

itself is timeless, the sentiment is timeless. It's a call to action, and

that's a whole process. Take the shit and update it and continually evolve it

just like the political situation evolves. But if nobody puts it out there to

begin with ... then there's no cultural legacy of rabble-rousing, revolutionary

music to draw from, to reinvent.

Had Pete Seeger heard of you before you worked with him

on that song?

Oh yeah, yeah. I've played his Clearwater festival since

I was 18.

You were honored by the National Organization of Women a few years ago, so

naturally I want to know your thoughts on Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh.

The only bad thing about that is, the more crazies the

better in the Republican race. You know, he's a dark-hearted and dark-minded

person, so, I wish all those kind of people didn't get so much airtime. I guess

everybody understands Rush Limbaugh to be pretty far on the right, but what

passes for the middle of the road these days is fucking fascist if you ask me.

I think our whole perspective has gotten pretty skewed anyway, with Rush being

just a symptom.

"Dude could be FDR right now/ Instead he's just shifting his weight" is one of

the most quotable lines on the new album. What's been Obama's biggest failing?

Do you think he'll be more gutsy in his next term?

That is the hope isn't it? I'm as disappointed as the

next guy that Obama didn't enact change that was more sweeping and radical. But

I try to shift focus away from him and the cult of celebrity that America is so

invested in and really look at what stopped him from realizing all the good

things that were attempted.  Campaign

financing, the tax structure is all wrong ... and then I think how Obama is failed

is not answering to the people who rallied and got him elected in the first

place. Is it his failing or is it ours? Because if we as a populace were really

pressuring him, were really making our voice and our wishes known, so that he

had somebody to point to when he's trying to make shit happen.... It's all of us

together. That's the frustrating thing about democracy, you don't have a

superhero to come and save you.

Another one that stands out is "Chicks got it good now/ They

can almost be president." How close do you think are we?

The problem with feminism is it hasn't evolved. You see

women as CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, you see women as Secretary of State and

this and that. So you have a veil of equality, and you have way more equality

than most places on the globe, so that's something to celebrate. But meanwhile,

you have women in high places within a patriarchal system. And that's different

from addressing patriarchy, which hurts men just as much as women. That's the

way our legal system and our social culture is designed. Then you're still

going to have all these unchecked manifestations of unchecked patriarchy: war,

environmental destruction, blah blah blah.

On your jazzier albums of the last decade, were the

lyrics intended to be less important and more abstract to blend in with the

denser music?

Well, uh, there's lots of things going on in the last

decade or so for me, concurrent and contradictory things. There's certainly

been plenty of political content; it's not like I had some long gap of

abstractism, really. But yeah, I guess none of it has a strategy, I don't

intellectualize it other than just as an artist who's changing -- I've written

like, 200 songs -- and I'm just trying to find new stuff to write about, or a new

way to write about stuff, or, you know, something. [laughs]

You've always been on your own label, so I wanted to know, has the collapse the

music industry been something you just kind of watched from afar, or have you

felt it? The new album debuted at No. 26 or something on Billboard,

which is impressive for an artist of your longevity.

In terms of the overall economy

and the music industry being sort of exacerbated there, the whole thing fell

apart and the new thing is being born. We have felt it at Righteous Babe, but

the thing about me is I have a live audience that I've built

over decades of endless work, so I still have a job. Whereas somebody else

who's suddenly selling a tenth of the records they used to, they might not be

the same kind of working musician. I think music in its essence is a social

act, and what I do onstage will always be most important to me.

Do you think it's viable for a lot of other people to

have the same career model as you?

Absolutely! Anybody else who can fucking play! And that's

the way it should be. There's nothing wrong with smoke and mirrors and making

records with machines and exploring all those possibilities, but with the whole

music industry like that, it's like a house of cards. If you can't really sing

and you can't really put on a show, when the marketing muscle starts failing,

so does your gig. I mean, I don't think it's the worst thing in the world that

the music industry has been contracting and distilling down to its most

passionate and dedicated people.

Do you think there will ever be a time when what's

considered corporate will grow to mean compassionate as well?

Yeah, absolutely could be! You reminded me of Japan. It's

a different flavor over there, you have these huge corporations, and they have

a different relationship with their workers. There's honor and longevity. If

you get a job at Sony you're gonna have it the rest of your life, and you're

gonna be treated with respect. There's a different, not just

chew-them-up-and-spit-them-out modus operandi. Like we talked about earlier, if

you come at it with a different intention, you can use all of these tools for

good. I mean, I own a corporation; you're talking to a CEO. So there's nothing

wrong with capitalism really, if you have the right spirit.

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