Ani DiFranco has just put her 1-year-old daughter, Petah Lucia, down for a nap, after spending the morning running errands and grocery shopping. Pretty tame for an outspoken songwriter who has fought the record industry, faux-democratic politics and gender inequality, using her poetic lyrics and punchy, punky folk-rock as weapons. Well, it's been a long time coming. With the release of her new double-CD retrospective Canon, DiFranco has finally begun to slow down from the warp-speed career she's been riding since 1990, throughout which she toured constantly and released a record about once a year. And though her passion to right social wrongs still rages, a new baby has allowed her to see the importance of just playing in the grass. She spoke with CP by phone from her home in Buffalo, N.Y.
You released your debut when you were only 20. How did music affect you growing up?
Music, for me, was not something I bought so much as something I did. We didn't have a stereo in my house as a kid: The line my parents gave me was that my older brother broke it. So I was exposed to the music that my friends played and the shows we went to. The effect it had was just total release. It was the way I found peace and let out all the shit that was bottled up inside me. Music had a medicinal effect.
Along with that debut, you also started what would become your label, Righteous Babe Records. How did you learn the business side of music?
I was living on my own from the time I was 15, so I learned really early on how to pay bills and take care of myself. Music business began as simple stuff -- 50 bucks gig money and 75 bucks tape money in two separate envelopes. Eventually, friends helped me with the nuts and bolts of running a business. Righteous Babe was just something I wrote on tapes that I sold at shows, but it slowly turned from my joke into a reality.
It was a way to make records without signing a record deal. I always thought it was a drag that musicians would jump in bed with business people as a necessity for a successful career.
Why is now the right time to release Canon?
Well, that pile of 20 records just seemed a bit daunting, especially for someone just checking out my music -- where do you begin? So when I took time off to have a baby last year, I promised myself that I'd finally realize the projects that were on my back burner. Also, it seemed that it was the beginning of a new era for me. It was the right time to sit down and look back and just make that mix tape of my own music.
After having a daughter, have you mellowed out?
I've definitely learned how to chill out. Hanging out with a baby, you can't get anything done. And I'm a doer, a little worker. So that was an adjustment, like, "Now I'm just going to sit around and play in the grass with you, and that's my day." It's brought out my Zen side. But on any political level, I'll never mellow out.
So what are you looking for in our next president?
A Democrat. Beyond that, I think what's most exciting is that people are getting involved. We just don't have a fuckin' democracy if you don't. I don't care if TV turns this election into the next episode of Survivor -- whatever turns people on, because this is real. For people to vote for president for a change instead of just the next American Idol, that's a good step for our country.
When was the last time you felt really lucky?
This'll sound really corny, but it happens all the time now. It happens every time I look at my lover [producer Mike Napolitano]. We've been together for three years now, and he changed my life in many wonderful ways. We wake up and the baby's crying her face off and there's no food in the house and somebody's got a headache and I still think, "Oh my God, I'm so lucky. I hope he doesn't notice that I'm an asshole."
If you can boil it down, why are you a musician?
We are who we are in this life, and self-expression is necessary for my mental health. I'm a musician so I don't explode.
Ani DiFranco with Over the Rhine. 7:30 p.m. Sun., March 2 (doors at 6:30 p.m.). Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead, 510 E. 10th Ave., Munhall. $38.75. 412-462-3444 or www.homesteadlibrary.org