Montana Public Radio

Ani DiFranco's Musical Feminism Is More Prescient Than Ever

Sep 3, 2019


With her twentieth studio album, Binary, singer/songwriter/activist/poet/DIY trendsetter Ani DiFranco returns to territory that brought her to the world’s attention more than twenty-five years ago. One of the first artists to create her own label in 1990, she has been recognized among the feminist pantheon for her entrepreneurship, social activism, and outspoken political lyrics. At a time of global chaos and confusion, DiFranco's punk edge remains sharp, her writing clear.

“My last record was very inward-looking,” says DiFranco. “I was pregnant and then raising a screaming infant. But now that kid is about to turn four, so I got out of the weeds of personal space and started looking outward again, being more engaged, more big ‘P’ Political. As an artist, I like to be out in the world, and what initially compelled me was to try to push society to a better place. So when I’m not in heartbreak or motherhood mode, that’s where you’ll naturally find me.”

On Binary, DiFranco tackles the challenge and necessity of teaching non- violence with “Pacifist’s Lament” and the need for empathy in “Terrifying Sight.” Remarkably, though, these songs—recorded, in her usual fashion, in a couple of short full-sprint sessions spread across several years—were all written prior to the 2016 elections and attendant political turmoil.

“I’m not surprised,” says DiFranco. “Over twenty-five years, I’ve found that my songwriting is often full of premonition. It shows me, in a deep and spooky way, how we know things on levels below consciousness. I write songs and then they happen, and later I realize what they’re about. I’m just happy to have some good tools in my toolbox to address what’s happening now—the feminist diatribes are turned up nice and high on this record!”

She notes that Binary’s title track is key to her intention on this project. “I always title a record from the song that seems to be at its core,” she says. “An underlying theme in the songs, and in the feminism I want to engage society with, is the idea that autonomy is a fallacy—nothing exists except in relationship to something else. We are, in some senses individuals with individual liberties and unique powers, but that’s only a surface story.”

Though this concept is closely tied up in our present-day obsession with technology (“Sitting alone at home, staring at a screen, you can’t really know anything, because knowing is engaging,” she says), DiFranco also reveals a growing connection to nature and the physical world.

“Every year on Goddess’ Green Earth, I understand my relationship to it more,” she says. “My early songs were all human drama. I don’t think I noticed the bigger picture at all—I was transfixed by power dynamics between people. Now I see that it’s largely the providence of women to really embody nature, so I do think I’m getting back to basics, and it’s a shift for me.”

 

(Broadcast: Musician's Spotlight,  9/3/19 and 1/7/20. Listen on the radio Tuesdays, 7 p.m., or via podcast.)

Ani DiFranco plays "Names and Dates & Times."