Ani DiFranco is a social activist, feminist, independent music pioneer and a consistently challenging folk-pop singer, songwriter and performer.
She’s also a mom. And being mom had much to do with what was on her mind as she started her touring behind her current album, “Allergic to Water.”
“I’m good,” she said just after answering her phone. “But my brain is a little scattered. I’ve got both my kids with me.”
Those kids are 7-year-old daughter Petah, a veteran of mom’s tours, and son Dante, who was born in 2013.
“It’s a grand experiment,” DiFranco said of taking Dante on the bus.
“I actually brought him on the road when he was five months old and it didn’t go so well. He’s now a year-and-a-half. We’re going to do this for a while and see if we survive.
“I went to Europe for three weeks last month,” she added. “That’s a long time to leave a 1-year-old when you’re mom. It’s hard. It really f***s with a baby’s head to have a disappearing mommy and it’s hard for mommy, too. So we’re trying this. I hope it works.”
Even if Dante is back home in New Orleans, the little guy will still have an impact every time DiFranco performs one of the songs from “Allergic to Water.”
The album was recorded, for the most part, while she was pregnant with Dante and completed after he was born.
“I started making the record with him in my belly and I finished with him in my face,” she said. “He affected the whole process. He’s a demanding guy. So I found myself working on this record in little snatches, in the wee hours, whenever I could.”
Dante’s also the main reason that DiFranco produced “Allergic to
Water” by herself, rather than teaming up with her husband, Mike Napolitano.
“It was hard for me to steal away and get anything done and we don’t have the childcare thing down so we couldn’t steal away together,” she said. “So I did a lot of work alone.”
Even more important for listeners, “Allergic to Water” has a Dante-related theme: “Relationship, family — the last two years of my life has been a lot of family…Having kids has affected me,” DiFranco said.. “It’s not in that classic way — now I need to worry about the future, environmental apocalypse, whoa, eternal warfare, whoa’ I was always on that tip. Kids, conversely for me, have brought a kind of balance in my life. I can put down the heavy things and play with the little things, the small things.”
DiFranco and her band, bassist Todd Sickafoose, drummer Terence Higgins and, on some shows, violinist/vocalist/opening act Jenny Scheinman, will likely perform many of the songs they recorded for “Allergic to Water” nearly every night. But there’s no guarantee what she’ll play.
“I pull out whatever my spleen leads me to do on whatever day,” DiFranco said. “But we’ll still probably play lots of songs from it.”
DiFranco, of course, will be playing songs from throughout her 20-year career.
A social activist and feminist, DiFranco said her music, which blends folk, rock, jazz, soul, electronic elements and, early on, even some hip-hop, has always had some messages.
“I think there are different themes that run through my work,” she said. “For me, there’s a lot about becoming yourself, on your own terms. One of the things I try to inspire (people) to do is not come up your own answers, but come up with your own questions. Something that’s been a theme in my music and in my history is ‘jump out of that box and that box and that box. Burn ‘em. Set yourself free.’”
A second viewpoint that has informed her writing is DiFranco’s knowledge of patriarchy, which she said permeates thinking in, not just America, but in every society in the world.
“What we think of as human nature is predominantly masculine,”
DiFranco said. “Is it human nature to war, to be dominant and submissive? All you can do is ask ‘what is patriarchy like’ and work for balance. It’s a big, big task to create balance between the sexes.
But we have to do that. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 43 years on earth, it’s balance is the prerequisite for peace.”
DiFranco was in the midst of a discussion of the state of feminism today — “it’s not what it should be” — when she stopped the conversation and said: “Just a minute, I’ve got to talk on the phone for a couple more minutes.”
But daughter Petah had a pressing demand, and DiFranco, as any good mother, politely had to end the interview. After all, being a mother now ranks ahead of promoting her records and her career. As it should.