One of the real changes in how Ani DiFranco approaches live performing these days may be something that, in a strict sense, isn’t actually part of what she does on stage. But rest assured, as DiFranco indicated during a recent phone interview, it’s making a difference in her performances.
“For most of my life, I’d get off stage, and I have this sort of tortured side to my personality where I just I relive all of the things that I did wrong or didn’t quite say right, because I like to speak off the cuff,” DiFranco said. “And sometimes it comes out right, and sometimes it comes out sideways. And then I have to dissect every moment, and I’ve done a lot of beating myself up and worrying over the years about not being good enough.
“Now I really consciously try not to do that, so I stay more at peace,” she said. “I think it sort of helps me to walk out on stage with a more relaxed, ready-to-have-fun version of myself.”
That emerging inner peace as a performer seems like a part of a bigger overall picture of contentment for DiFranco. After years of romantic and personal disappointments (including the divorce after five years from her first husband and longtime musical partner, Andrew Gilchrist — known affectionately as “Goat Boy”), DiFranco met her second husband (and co-producer), Mike Napolitano. The couple had a daughter, Petah Lucia, in January 2007.
Marriage and motherhood clearly agree with DiFranco, 42, at this point in her life.
“It helps to be a parent,” she said. “I’ve got other things in my life that eclipse my job in importance most of the time.
“I just feel very lucky to be where I’m at, to have a job that I love, to have a family that I love that’s supportive,” DiFranco said.
Don’t think a happy home life keeps DiFranco from noticing things that are wrong in the world, which continues to inspire her to share her thoughts on these issues.
Her latest CD, “Which Side Are You On?” (released in January), has its share of topical songs that take on what she considers some of the major issues of the day.
The current culture-influenced side of the new CD should be apparent enough just from the title. “Which Side Are You On?” is an updated version of the pro-union protest song made famous by folk legend Pete Seeger.
On the CD, Seeger himself plays banjo in the tune, which was written in 1931 by Florence Reece, the wife of a coalminer, and union organizer.
“I wrote a lot of new words for it for the verses to have it reflect the political now,” DiFranco said. “As I worked on this album, over the last few years, that sort of rose to be the title track just because, I guess, it’s an urgent question that I’m asking the world around me. We’re faced with a lot of crises, and it’s not getting any simpler. So we’ve got to really take action. So it’s sort of a cry for action. It’s this big rabble-rousing show-closer on a lot of nights.”
The fate of unions and workers’ rights isn’t the only topic DiFranco tackles on the new CD. She also sings about corporate influence and greed, the environment, how feminism can help political leaders bring a more balanced approach to foreign and domestic policies, how countries relate and co-exist and how people consume the Earth’s resources.
DiFranco assures fans that not everything on “Which Side Are You On?” is weighty and political. On her previous CD, 2008’s “Red Letter Year,” she had a few songs that chronicled the joys of motherhood and marriage, and some of that happier life filters into the new CD.
“It’s pretty wide scope on this record,” DiFranco said.
DiFranco plays a number of the new songs in her live show, as well as a selection from across her entire catalog, which now includes 17 studio CDs, all released on her own label, Righteous Babe Records.
And that happier, less self-critical outlook on her shows, as well as the stability in her personal life, is having a good effect on her frame of mind in general.
“I think I’m in such a good place now that my health has improved,” she said. “I’ve noticed my immune system functions, and all of these nagging problems that I was dealing with in my body, a lot of them have really solved themselves. There’s nothing like inner peace for medicine. So I’ve really been struck by that lately.” ο