Singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco stops at Charleston Music Hall Oct. 4 on her national tour. She caught up with City Paper while she was at home in New Orleans on a break between shows.
“It feels like I work harder at home,” DiFranco said, laughing. “Tours are the break — it’s hard to explain. The kids kind of tipped the scale,” she said of her 9- and 15-year-old kids. “Like on tour I could even read a book sometimes — like the crazy shit.”
The 52-year-old rock troubadour kicked off her two-month national tour that features an array of female musicians including chamber pop piano-violin duo Gracie and Rachel from Berkeley, California; Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter and visual artist Jocelyn Mackenzie; and prolific alternative multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Pieta Brown.
Queer music icon Bitch will open for DiFranco Oct.4, bringing intricate violin-laden synth pop to the Music Hall.
DiFranco, a human rights and environmental activist, recalled that she hasn’t been back to Holy City since 2015, and the year struck a chord with her: “Pre-2016 — the ‘Age of Innocence,’ right?” she said.
“I hate to even say his name more often than I already hear it ringing in my ears, but Donald Trump, and the like, have brought things into the light that people were in denial of,” she said. “And I think this is a necessary process to address America’s underlying political and social issues. This is the painful process of awakening.”
She said she sees the groundswell of young people voting and women-identified candidates running for and winning political office since 2016 as signs that Americans are not indifferent and that things are changing in great ways. She said she was skeptical and critical of the law in the past, seeing only how it prohibited her (and all women) from having the same rights as a man.
“Since 2016, I feel like, whoa, the law may be imperfect, but, boy, it’s all we got in the face of fascism,” she said. “It is now or never, if we ever want to vote again. Finally we are seeing more candidates of color [and] women, the real faces of us as a people, showing up not just to vote but to run for office. This is where America begins. It’s easy to feel hopeless when hard-fought rights are rolled back. I think part of the tactic is to exhaust the will of the people.”
For DiFranco, growing old is fascinating and revelatory.
“I think getting old is really cool — which I’m embarking on for sure, my body tells me every day now. It’s so incredible to be so changed by life. Life is just watching people grow. I know now: Don’t write people off. Look at my aversion to people as something happening in me. Don’t assume it’s them.”
She has recently embarked on writing a children’s book, the knowing, to be released March 2023. She has three decades worth of songs and a 2019 memoir, No Walls and the Recurring Dream: A Memoir, but writing the children’s book was a divergent path for DiFranco.
“It put me in connection with the fact that my writing all the tricks that I employ, all the things that I get off on in writing — like cultural references and cliches and turning cliches on their head or double entendre or messing with connotations up against definitions with all these cultural references — that means nothing to kids. It’s not the world they live in, and so I have to express myself in a totally different way.”
Another gift of age for DiFranco is being ready to delegate. She said that had she attempted a children’s book when she was 20, she would have insisted on doing the illustrations herself and missed out on an integral experience.
“When I was young, I didn’t have the time or the patience to delegate, let alone the bravery to allow somebody else in. I was recording and mixing and producing all my records. And now as I get older — what a thrill it is to bring a genius f***ing mixer into the process and have the creativity amped and be able to kick back and let somebody else’s inspiration kick in.”
Visual artist Julia Mathew painted the illustrations for the new book based on scenes from her own childhood in her native eastern India.
“Here’s this family and the character in the book, and the culture that they’re growing up in is totally different from mine — and that’s beautiful,” DiFranco said. “It’s very much a book about the essential oneness of people underneath all of the cultural and social signifiers.”
Although DiFranco is celebrating the 25th anniversary of her iconic 1997 album Living in Clip, she feels lightyears away from the girl who made that record. Her 2021 album Revolutionary Love marked the evolution in her expression of rebellion by revealing it with a humility she’s practiced over time.
“That is one of the tenets of revolutionary love: staying curious about your opponent [and] asking questions is an act of love. It’s a show of respect. It is the quicker way to building bridges and having dialogue. We have to truly love ourselves before we can bestow that on others. So that’s the trickiest part. But it’s where you begin for sure.”
Visit charlestonmusichall.com for tickets to DiFranco’s Oct 4. show at 8 p.m.
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