Ani DiFranco, Then and Now
My first interview with Ani DiFranco was back in 1995 and ran in the debut issue of Monkey Magnet, a little music zine I'd started as a side project down in Santa Cruz, California—which says something about her. It wasn't like DiFranco needed small-time publicity. She was a fast-rising star, shaking up the folk circuit with her aggressive fingerpicking and smart, in-your-face feminism; this was during the Not a Pretty Girl period, and her press kit was overflowing with lengthy clips from the New York Times, Ms., Interview, Guitar Player, and more. She was selling hundreds of thousands of albums (her own) on an indie label called Righteous Babe (also her own) launched some five years earlier. Onstage, she was a hip badass—a funny, tough, sexy character with clever lyrics who completely owned the stage. Alternately assaulting and milking sweetness out of her acoustic guitar, she captivated her audiences—as far as I could tell, everyone in the halls, regardless of gender, was smitten.
By 1999, when I spoke with her again on behalf of Mother Jones, she'd graduated from playing 500-person halls to venues that held thousands—and was beginning to branch out, collaborating with the late labor organizer/storyteller Utah Phillips. She continued pumping out albums and touring relentlessly until a few years ago, when she slowed things down a bit—kind of necessary when you have a baby to raise. But DiFranco is getting back into it in earnest, working on material for a new CD. Besides her 20 albums to date, Righteous Babe now offers releases from more than a dozen other artists. Recently, I asked her to name a few of her own favorite things to listen to—and just for fun, I've included some vintage exchanges from that very first interview.
Mother Jones: What's your favorite new or upcoming release?
Ani DiFranco: Animal Prufock's new album Congratulations, Thank You + I'm Sorry on Righteous Babe. Animal is formerly one-half of the duo Bitch and Animal, and this is her first solo release since then. The album is just chock full of cool songs with a political backbone and an indie edge, and I had a blast working on it with her.