Ani's self-titled debut was released seven years ago on her own independent label, Righteous Babe Records. Since that landmark recording in 1990, she's released six other records, not including a project with folk legend Utah Phillips. She's also garnered massive amounts of critical praise and sold over 100,000 records. Her accompaniment is sparse; usually just her guitar, her incredible voice and enough venom to kill a hundred men. Ani's most recent release is a double-live set called Living in Clip that contains more power than Kiss' Alive and more music than anyone knows what to do with. Luckily for everyone, she'll be on tour with Bob Dylan later this year. DiFranco phoned Pitchfork stafflady Holly Day to talk about everything under the sun, but ended up talking instead about her career. Well, it's what we wanted to know, isn't it?
Pitchfork: I wanted to ask you, first off... Do you have any particular artist you consider to be a main or major influence on yourself or your music?
Ani: Well, I guess there's Utah Phillips. I don't know if you know who he is... I sort of made a collaboration album with him...
Pitchfork: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that.
Ani: Yeah. Well, he's kind of somebody that's known in the world of folk music and some political circles, but the big, bad world outside of those small communities don't really know about him. In my mind, he's kind of a national treasure, right on the level with some of the people who are more well-known like Pete Seeger and Leadbelly. But Utah is very much in the folk-singing activist/ anarchist/ trainhopping/ storytelling vein.
Pitchfork: How did you come up with the idea to make the album?
Ani: I had this idea for a long time to make an album of his stories. When he plays, he's a folk singer. He plays songs, but he has a penchant to prattle on and talk and just shoot the shit. In between playing union songs and old folk ballads he would tell the most revelating stories. He has albums of all of his songs, as musicians are wont to do. I just wanted to make an album of him talking and sort of put music to it so it was at least somewhat accessible to, let's say, my audience, so that maybe some of them would sit down and listen to him. He gave me reams and reams of cassette tapes, which was basically his whole career documented on these one-of-a-kind, motley cassettes that people had handed him over the years. I had them all put onto digital audio tape and went from there.
Pitchfork: How did the music on the record come about? It's not really like anything you've recorded before.
Ani: I think the basic reason why it sounds different than, like, an Ani D. album is because it sounds more trip-hoppy. Because, well, it's drum loops. Basically I did the album by myself, so Andy [Stochansky, drummer] wasn't around. Because I was alone and not such a good drummer, [laughs] I used drum loops and improvised all the instruments on top of that. It has a different sound because of that basis, but basically it's just me, you know, wanking.
Pitchfork: Do you have any other plans for Righteous Babe besides just music, like books or films or anything like that?
Ani: Funny you should ask that. People have been asking me personally, for instance, for a book of poetry for a long time. So I'm thinking of making a book of poetry. But that's still all about little me and what I really want to do soon is make a sort of a documentary film. Those seem like big words to use even. What I want to do is drive around all summer with a couple of other pinch hit drivers and people who know how to run cameras and go to folk festivals. I wanna make a movie about folk music as seen through the lens of folk festivals. I've spent so many years at them. There's this incredible wealth of music that the general public doesn't have any exposure to, period. It's a strange crowd of hippies and beads and they're all out in a field flailing their arms and meanwhile, the music that happens on the stage is all... it's really incredible, folk and roots and world music. [phone beeps] Are you still there?
Ani: I was just wondering to myself: how long could I go on before the phone hangs up? [phone beeps again] But, yeah, I guess me being ultimately fascinated with people and community-based group music, it's just like, the ultimate scene.
Pitchfork: That sounds like a great project.
Ani: Yeah. Righteous Babe films. It's in the scheming stage.
Pitchfork: I've also heard that you do a lot of art and painting: frescoes and stuff like that.
Ani: Yeah. Well, I went to art school for a couple of years but this folk music thing sort of takes over one's whole life and, you know, it's kind of like whenever you become known for being one thing, then I'm Ani D. the chick singer, whatever. So sometimes all our identities become pushed into the background as we, I don't know, grow up and get jobs or something. So painting and also dancing... my first love was dancing, I did that from when I was, I don't know, single-digit until I was twenty in little regional companies. But, so these are the sacrifices that you make to try to work on one thing, say things goodbye. But I still get to... I don't get to dance so much, but I still get to paint when I go home for a few days.
Pitchfork: Yeah, John Cougar Mellancamp is doing the art thing right now and is starting to get some recognition for that now.
Ani: Huh. Yeah, I think that there are all kinds of... I mean, I just spent a month with Bob Dylan and, you know, he draws a lot. My friend Greg Brown, he draws a lot.
Pitchfork: Have you done any shows for your art?
Ani: When I was much younger, before I became a folk singer, I used to have little paintings... I've never had a show of my own, but I've had paintings in shows in Buffalo, many years ago.
Pitchfork: Maybe that's something else to think about for the future.
Ani: Yeah. I'm just at a point in my life where I've been doing this one thing for long enough and vehemently enough that I'm kind of ready to start exploring other settings.