Ani DiFranco has a career few musicians from any era can rival. Since 1990, she has released more than 20 albums, from the intense, agitated folk-punk of her early years to her more funk and jazz-influenced recent albums.
She has toured relentlessly and operated her own label, Righteous Babe, which distributes her own work, as well as the work of acclaimed bands and musicians, such as Andrew Bird, Hamell on Trial and Drums & Tuba.
She has found time to remain politically active, get married and have a baby, too. And she’s not even 40 yet.
While DiFranco herself might balk at someone calling her a hero, her track record makes her seem nothing short of just that.
She will play two shows in Maine this weekend: at 8 p.m. Friday at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland, and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Skowhegan Opera House, with Joshua James and Maine’s own Emilia Dahlin opening the Skowhegan show. She’ll also play a rare, free in-store appearance at 1 p.m. Friday at the Scarborough Bull Moose Music, in celebration of Record Store Day.
She took time out from recording in her studio in New Orleans to chat with the Bangor Daily News about touring, politics and motherhood.
You live in New Orleans, after years spent in Buffalo and New York City. How has the city influenced you, Katrina or otherwise?
The actual storm didn’t have any literal effect on me. We had a broken window in our apartment, but that’s it. But, of course, it affected me in other ways. We were surrounded by total government neglect and masses of poor, very hot and thirsty, confused, abandoned people. It was really shocking to me, and I’m someone who thinks they understand the depths of racism and classism in this country. I honor Katrina as a really eye-opening moment for all of America. That’s what the title track from my last album, “Red Letter Year,” really talks about.
Do you still tour just as much as you used to, or have you scaled back a bit? You’re very much a success story, in as far as independent music goes. How will the proposed merger of LiveNation and Ticketmaster affect your ability to tour?
It’s almost impossible for someone at my level of touring to be outside of the whole Ticketmaster situation. They have so many of the best venues locked down. We can’t go to the Grand Ole Opry or the Fillmore in San Francisco. I try to stay away from them as much as possible and work with indie promoters, but sometimes we have to compromise and do a show with a LiveNation promoter. It’s getting harder and harder to buck this corporate system. Which is why it’s so awesome that there are people and communities out there that will take an old building, like the Skowhegan Opera House, and renovate it and use it for its intended purpose. Buildings like that are our wealth as a society. [Having] old rooms like that means lots of nights of music and art and coming together as a community. I couldn’t do what I do without those.
Over the course of your career you’ve had such a rich assortment of styles and instrumentation in your songs. Who’s someone you’d love to work with, if given the opportunity?
I guess I don’t know! There are so many inspiring people out there. I don’t really spend time thinking about it. I’m one of those people who looks right around them and picks up someone around there and uses them. It’s the same kind of mentality that made me never call a producer and do it all myself. I mean, I’d call Prince up again [DiFranco worked with him on her album “To The Teeth”]. I have some funky new tunes. I need some deep funk going on. Otherwise, I’m just not really sure.
You were very vocal in your support of Dennis Kucinich. How do you feel about Barack Obama?
I think he’s awesome, to use an overused word. You just don’t get to be president with a name like that and a skin tone such as his without being an immensely exceptional person. We have a lot of holes to climb out of, in this country, and he’s a very smart person who can put together a very smart team. After this election, I think people feel like they can actually make a difference again, and that democracy still exists.
There are a lot of people who find a lot of inspiration in your lyrics and outspoken support for the poor and oppressed. What would you say to a teenager who looks up to you?
I wouldn’t say anything other than what I’d say to anyone else. The most effective kind of teaching is by example, so by trying to be a self-realized person I can hopefully be an encouragement for people. I accept myself, I believe in myself, and I allow myself to think differently from the status quo. Those are things that are very useful for young people.
You’ve got a 2-year-old baby. How do you handle motherhood on tour?
Well, you know, on tour it’s really not so bad. In a way, it’s easier than being home. I have a nanny with me, so the baby isn’t wandering off into traffic when I go onstage. I’ve got all kinds of people around for entertainment, so I can pass her off to people. The food just appears, and I don’t have to make it! You know, that expression that it takes a village to raise a child really is true. I have a little village. It’s really great.
For more information about this weekend’s shows, visit www.liveattheoperahouse.com.