Features, Print February 4, 2020

Ani DiFranco: Still Righteous After All These Years

by Valerie Vampola

Since the 90’s, Ani DiFranco has been steadily creating a legacy for herself. She released 20 albums under her own record label Righteous Babe, and inspired an entire movement of women artists and industry professionals to push society’s definition of what they can achieve. Now the year is 2020, and the industry has changed once again. But Ani’s message hasn’t.

“I think there’s many people who think ‘whatever, feminism is not important and doesn’t seem urgent,’ but you can’t prevent imbalance without addressing it,” said DiFranco in a phone interview for BandWagon.

Pioneering independent artist Ani DiFranco tours Colorado on the heels of her memoir No Walls and the Recurring Dream Photo by GMD Three

Today, DiFranco remains a strong feminist activist, finding ways to address inequality and stand up to (literally, in this case) “the man.” In 1990, it meant starting her own record label.

DiFranco didn’t feel like a part of a scene. She was an independent girl with her guitar driving around playing shows. But she always believed society placed this idea that being a “real” musician meant signing to a label. On the surface, that seemed like a great opportunity to get noticed, but when DiFranco analyzed the industry, she realized a label wasn’t something that aligned with her purpose. A label meant molding her image to fit someone else’s definition of her music.

“F–k all of that,” she said while recalling those formative years.

DiFranco went on to found Righteous Babe Records, where she began self-distributing her own music at the age of 19. Since then, other artists, including women, have started their own labels and more women have actively taken charge of their careers. Often, those who she inspired feel compelled to relay it back to DiFranco herself.

“My favorite thing is when people tell me their story: ‘Because of you, I did this,’” DiFranco said.

DiFranco continues to inspire artists of all genders to defy boundaries set in place by the status quo, releasing content directly to fans. Photo by GMD Three

An icon, prolific writer, instrumentalist and a seasoned business veteran who’s lived by her own rules, DiFranco still has to make adjustments, though many work both in her favor and for her die-hard fans. Patreon, a content subscription service through which she releases music and more, allows her a home life with her two children while satisfying her audience with new content monthly and every new full moon via a “forget the Roman calendar” option.

She still gets out of the house, including her upcoming Colorado tour stops in Fort Collins, Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs this month, because she still wants to get her activism message out there with the use of live music and artistic expression.

 While she is putting together material for a new record and stoking the Patreon fire, her most recent musical project includes collaborations with folk musician Zoe Boekbinder on an album called The Prison Music Project, a collection of songs, poetry, and rap written by current and former incarcerated artists of New Folsom Prison. The project involves many musicians and producers, having begun a decade ago, with the intention of illuminating the humanity of people and creating a conversation about mass incarceration.

Photo by GMD Three

DiFranco, however, doesn’t limit herself to music as a way of artistic expression. Last May, she released a memoir: No Walls and the Recurring Dream. To DiFranco, writing a memoir was a new artistic challenge – another opportunity to practice transparency and welcome the nakedness of telling her own story. The memoir evolved from a retelling of her life stories to rekindling the fire that burns within her.

And telling stories is what DiFranco does best. Well, that and playing guitar. When she comes through Colorado and plays her favorite songs from her extensive catalog, she comes in pursuit of social healing and attaining equality.

“When you bring women to the table, we begin on the path towards healing and achieving peace,” DiFranco said.

Ani DiFranco performs on February 8 at Washington’s in Fort Collins, a Sold Out show. Tickets are still available for her February 7 appearance at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge and February 9 at Strings Music Pavilion in Steamboat Springs. More at anidifranco.com