By Ian Sinclair in Britain:
Feminism‘s passionate advocate
Thursday 2nd October 2014
Singer ANI DIFRANCO tells Ian Sinclair that she’s as committed as ever to promoting the cause of women
HAVING made her name as an independently minded and politically progressive singer-songwriter, Ani DiFranco’s new album Allergic to Water is something of a departure.
“I had another kid so it comes out of a time of going inwards,” the 44-year-old US feminist icon tells me backstage before her show at the Union Chapel in London.
“Kids draw you into yourself and your house and your family, so it’s much less outward looking for those circumstantial reasons.”
DiFranco says that if there is a theme to the album, her 20th, it is “how everything in life that is essential and sustains you is also painful.” As you get older you learn that “the more important and marvellous something is the harder it is.”
Having set up her own independent record label rather than taking the quick corporate buck when she was 18, DiFranco has certainly paid her artistic dues. Since then she has slowly built up a fiercely loyal audience and garnered heaps of critical praise too.
The personal mood of the new album is especially striking when compared to her previous record — 2012’s impressive Which Side Are You On?
The perfect soundtrack to the Occupy movement, the title track is a barnstorming reworking of the old political broadside, including a banjo intro from her folk singer friend Pete Seeger, who died in January.
Turning to the current White House incumbent, she confesses that she was “overly excited” when Obama was elected in 2008. Six years later, she says his presidency has been “frustrating and disappointing,” though perhaps not for the reasons some might expect.
She still believes that he is a “very good man, a very brilliant man” but “he has been surrounded by brick walls and hatred the whole time,” she asserts.
Rather than focusing on the president as an individual, she believes it’s important to focus on the core of the problem — “the extreme Republican right-wing apparatus, the completely corporate-controlled, lobbyist-controlled government in which Obama didn’t stand a chance of effecting any real change.”
She concedes that Obama made an essential error “right out of the gate” in choosing to retain several key members of President Bush’s team: “You can’t change things with the same guys. So when he retained the finance dude and the war dudes it was like: ‘Well, what kind of change are they going to make?’ Obviously very little.”
How does she feel about Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic presidential nominee in 2016? “I would be thrilled if she was elected at this point,” she replies. “Female in the White House. Good Thing. Period.”
Comparing Clinton to Obama, she says that the former’s definitely more “in with the in-crowd in DC, so maybe she can get more done against that brick wall.”
A surprising view — when I interviewed DiFranco for this newspaper in 2007, Clinton was the favourite to be the Democratic presidential candidate and the singer was in London to promote her brilliant 2-disc career retrospective Canon.
Her view on Clinton has changed considerably — “I’m not into Hillary at all, except as a door opener,” she told me seven years ago. She hoped then that Clinton would pave the way for “truly progressive women.”
“She’s very much a politician,” she argued in 2007. “The best I could hope for out of her is not too much damage is done.”
No-one’s politics are static, of course, but this seems a significant change nonetheless.
Fans will be happy to know DiFranco’s passion for feminism is as strong as ever. She is excited to hear that people are talking about the “fourth wave” of feminism in Britain.
“If feminism can lead us out of the ‘me’ generation and the conception of ourselves as consumers back into citizens with purpose that would be awesome,” she declares.
She isn’t aware of a similar feminist resurgence in the US, though admits she isn’t as in touch as she used to be. “I feel very often like the Last of the Mohicans,” she admits. “I hope that there are many other young women out there engaging with the concept and generating momentum but I don’t know. I just feel like I’m the only one in the room talking about patriarchy.”
As she prepares to finish the set list for the night’s show, I ask how she stays hopeful in a world full of war and threatened by climate change.
“It’s a pessimistic time and it’s funny to be out and about this season with a very personal record in such a highly charged and urgent political climate,” she tells me. “But here I am, this is the turn my life has taken,” she adds philosophically.
Allergic to Water is released on October 14 by Righteous Babe Records.