This story originally appeared as an online exlcusive in the fall of 2009.
By JESSICA A. BOTELHO
After playing at Bonnaroo, Rothbury, and Mile High Music festivals this summer, Ani DiFranco began a fall U.S. tour in September and will take the stage at New Bedford’s Zeiterion Performing Arts Center on Nov. 14th. If you’re familiar with her music, it should be no surprise her new album, “Red Letter Year,” is filled with political rants and love songs, but it is also one of her most joyous records yet.
“There’s a certain kind of contentment underlying the whole album,” said DiFranco. “The place that I have to sing from now is on more stable grounds than before.”
The album starts out with the events of Hurricane Katrina and how she feels there have been many positive changes in America since the disastrous storm.
“There’s been this huge transformation going on in society,” DiFranco said. “Now we have Barrack Obama in the White House as opposed to George Bush. It sort of represents the return of democracy to the American people.”
DiFranco said her personal life has undergone several transformations as well, as she moved to a new city, got married, and had a daughter.
“I live in New Orleans now and have a family now,” she said. “I think whenever I feel a resonance between my personal life and the life of my society, a lot of songs come out of that.”
Interestingly enough, her husband, Mike Napolitano, co-produced her new album.
“Working with him is terrific,” said DiFranco. “A big part of the sound of ‘Red Letter Year’ has to do with him and his production prowess.”
DiFranco said it’s a rare luxury for her to have someone in the studio with her producing her music.
“Usually I’m on my own making records, so it was really terrific for me to have somebody better than me at recording and production,” she said. “He’s someone I really trust and rely on in the studio and I can just focus on being the artist and not have to sit back and be objective at the same time.”
DiFranco wasn’t kidding when she said she is used to making records on her own. In fact, she started her very own record label, Righteous Babe Records, when she first began her music career.
“That decision came along very early on for me because I was always a very idealist person,” DiFranco said. “When I was very young, I started to get interest from labels because I was kind of getting a thing going on my own and I was building an audience and creating a buzz.”
DiFranco said small labels approached her at first and then major labels began contacting her.
“I met some of these people and I talked to them and I realized very early that I have a deep seeded loathing for capitalism and what it does to society and art,” DiFranco said.
She said not signing with a label was about not participating in a hyper capitalistic society.
“I find it dehumanizing and numbing.” DiFranco said. “Beyond that, I didn’t have a grand plan of how I was going to do it. I was just taking it a day at a time.”
DiFranco said she still takes life one day at a time and one show at a time.
“I stay present and in the moment,” she said. “I don’t regurgitate my banter, I just walk out on stage and I react to the moment. That for me is what performance is about.”
She said it’s hard to tell her fans what they can expect from her at a show because it changes from night to night.
“I change my set list up as often as I can,” she said. “I’ve got a bunch of new songs that are unrecorded songs I’ve been work-shopping onstage.”
Sharing her music with her fans is very important to her and she said she feels very fulfilled by aveling town to town, giving her songs to people.
“Music is a social act and I find it very inspiring,” she said. “To get together with a bunch of strangers in a room and make that connection through music is very profound. It uplifts us all and makes me feel less alienated and less alone. ”
DiFranco said she has received many letters over the years saying how her music has helped fans through hard times.
“It’s always striking for me because it does that for me too,” she said.
After over 20 years of making music, DiFranco said she continues to love what she does.
“I have the coolest job going and I’m lucky to have it,” she said. “I still have the will to write poetry and figure out my world and my place in it. I just try to stay grateful. As long as I am, people will meet me there.”