Ani DiFranco plays Sackville tomorrow

When folk-rock heroine Ani DiFranco released her first record in 1990, she did so independently via her own record label, Righteous Babe Records. DiFranco was “indie” before some hipsters even knew the meaning of the word, choosing to pursue her own musical agenda rather than be a puppet on the strings of a record label calling the shots.

While it is not uncommon for musicians to make a substantial name for themselves outside of the shackles of the major label music system, DiFranco chose this path long before other artists including Nine Inch Nails struck out on their own to take control of their destiny.

Call it ESP or call it plain old dumb luck, either way, Ani DiFranco calls it a career and she has had a rather successful go at it over the past two decades.

The fiercely independent DiFranco calls her decision to be an independent artist “a wonderful path for every reason I can think of” but is also not shy about admitting that even she questioned her decision in the earliest days.

“I think I questioned my decision every day in the very beginning,” the jovial DiFranco says from down the line in her adopted home of New Orleans. “It took me a long time to build my audience but looking back, it was alright because it took me a long time to hone my craft. I knew that it would come around eventually.”

DiFranco concedes that there were many instances of doubt concerning her decision cast into her mind in the beginning. She says that seeing fellow musicians open for her one-week and subsequently become huge in the months that followed was a little tough to accept at the start. She says that she actually had to frequently remind herself that she had made the right choice.

“I believe it was instinct that led me down the path of independence. The independence and self-sufficiency I have maintained over my career has made me extremely happy. I knew that the people I would meet down this road would be far more inspiring than the people I might have encountered had I signed on to a big record label. Having a world full of folk festivals and underground roots music, I feel like these are all my people and where I belong.”

The Buffalo, New York-born DiFranco is in the process of putting the finishing touches on a new album, which she anticipates releasing in spring 2011. Recording the album in New Orleans where she has resided for the past seven to eight years, DiFranco says although she was not personally affected, the city continues to recover from the devastation caused by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

“It was definitely a lot of pain to bare witness to but this city is just so vibrant and resilient,” she says. “The city is the musical epicenter of the world; it’s the birth place of jazz for God’s sake! That kind of vitality is still here within the music scene. It is a great place to be.”

DiFranco says that she has been “putzing” away at completing her new record, estimating that it has been a work in progress for a few years now. She actually has a good reason why the record is taking so long to come together, in fact a certain three-year-old little girl named Petah could be seen as the culprit. But like any proud parent, DiFranco doesn’t seem to mind that her time is not completely her own these days. Born to DiFranco and husband Mike Dipolitano in January 2007, DiFranco found a new writing muse in her daughter, something she says is great “after 20 records and hundreds of songs.”

“She has been very good for me. Being a mother has challenged me to keep coming up with new ways to do my thing,” Ani says. “And obviously, I don’t have the opportunity to work on material as much so that when I do, that time spent writing is that much more precious.”

Before her daughter was born, DiFranco was known as a road warrior, playing virtually anywhere that would have her. Over the past few years however, her tour schedule might have slowed down but she continues to play as much as is feasible. Best of all for DiFranco, her daughter is never far from her mother when she is on tour; Petah has been on and off the road since the time she was five months old. The days of mom and daughter being on the road together for extended periods of time will soon be winding down though, DiFranco says.

“Next year, the big change will be that Petah will be starting pre-school, so after this year I am really going to be stepping back from touring.”

DiFranco might be cutting back on the out-of-town travel she will be doing but it doesn’t mean that she has resigned from her career to raise her daughter.

She merely searched out an opportunity that would allow the best of both worlds:

“I decided to go back to basics and take a local gig here in New Orleans. I play every other week at a bar here, playing with no crew and no band just to prove that I can still do what I did 15 years ago. It has been keeping me honest; it has been great.”

Article published in November 5, 2010 edition of the Times & Transcript