Now, on a break from the road, she's just moved into a new place in her second home—New Orleans, Lousiana—which, she says, is slowly "pulling itself back up." We chatted briefly about the state of New Orleans (I asked her how New Orleans is doing, and her response: “There are so many answers to that question … all of which are true. Much of the town is still devastated … but the one-year anniversary of Katrina was like New Years”). Hearing Difranco tick off the neighborhoods that fared alright – the “sliver by the river” (the French Quarter), the Garden District, Uptown – made my chest tighten a little bit, so I moved the interview to talk of her recent release …
Kim Ruehl: You were recording Reprieve when you had to evacuate, right? Or that’s what I heard.
Ani Difranco: Um … yeah. We had recorded the bed tracks for that record in July, and the storm would be in August, of course. So yeah, I had the outline of a record [laughs] when I made for the hills
Did that change the goal of the record at all?
Um …. I think it changed it in practical terms, radically. I guess the basic story is: I evacuated and ended up in Buffalo – my hometown – with this hard drive with a bunch of songs recorded on it, you know just guitar, voice, and bass; and no gear to speak of. All my cool s**t I had brought down to New Orleans, so I was just sort of stranded in Buffalo without much access to other people, musicians, or, you know, things … so I sort of realized the record with the little bits I had lying around my little place in Buffalo. So most of the orchestrations or arrangements were done on this cheesy keyboard that I had left behind. It was fun. I was just by myself and using this inherently un-cool tool to try to make something cool, which was challenging. It was kind of this desert island operation.
Well it turned out pretty well.
Did Todd [Sickafoose – Ani's touring bass player] record his stuff in Buffalo, too, or did you already have that when you left New Orleans?
Well the basic recordings were Todd accompanying me on his bass. A couple of the songs, he actually played Wurlitzer with me and then we overdubbed the bass. He actually brought those recordings back to his house and put pump organ and piano, I believe, on a few tunes. And then I did the rest mostly in Buffalo.
Right on. So did you lose all that gear?
No I didn’t lose a thing. We lived on the edge of the quarter three stories high in an apartment building, so we had one broken window and that’s it.
Speaking of Buffalo you produced Mike Meldrum’s record. How was that for you?
Oh well that was wonderful to come full circle in that way with him. He’s been, at turns, my mentor, my friend, my comrade … we met when I was, I don’t know, nine years old. And he was my first real teacher of music. I mean, I didn’t literally take lessons from him, but he taught me lessons in how to be a musician and what a folksinger is. And he brought me around to his gigs and got me onstage immediately. I really think of him as my mentor. And he’s such a cultural figure in Buffalo, New York. He fosters a lot of young musicians and promotes a lot of shows in bars. He’s just a really active member of the community for ever and ever, and finally he was making his first recording … it was way, way overdue. So to take part in that and help realize it and put it out was a great feeling all around.
Yeah I went to Buffalo State, and so I spent a lot of time down at Nietzsche’s. It was exciting to see all these songs that I knew from when I was in college finally on record, carved in stone.
Yeah and a good record, ain’t it? I’m really happy he finally got a record of his own happening. You know, [he’s been] promoting so much other music.
He used to say that he taught you when you were a kid and now you teach him.
Well that’s how any good friendship is, I guess.
Page 2: Ani and I talk about the state of folk music and protest songs
Page 3: Ani talks about feminism and its role in her music