MILAN, Italy -- Though she has been labeled as a folkie and doesn't
necessarily dismiss the idea, Ani DiFranco is growing concerned about her role
as a modern folk-singer in the grand scheme of things.
"I think (that role) is very much what it always was," the 28-year-old Buffalo,
N.Y.-based songwriter said on a recent tour of her father's homeland. "Folk
singers made community-based music that speaks about what's going on in
that community. I'm not a traditional folk-singer. I don't play union songs -- you
know, 'there's power in a union' -- and about going off to war. I think more about
my personal experience. But there's the same mentality, the same idea to speak
about my society, my community."
DiFranco's "community" is, literally, all over the map these days, as she pushes
her music out across the waters to the ears of millions of new listeners. Now that
feisty, modern folk-singer DiFranco has made something of a name for herself
at home in America, she's out to try and do the same overseas, where she
recently toured. (ATN's April feature story will be a profile of the
And in the middle of all the media attention is DiFranco, taking notes and putting
her own personal experience into her songs. "(I'm) the 1990s; New York; young;
female. That's my folk, where my information comes from. But what I find also
really interesting is that if you are honest about your experience, if I talk about
love or if I talk about power in relationships in my life, other different kind of
people have shared experiences. Even though I talk about my life, I think that
people who come from a different place, different sex or different age [can
relate]. There's a lot in common, you know. [It's] the human experience."
While DiFranco has issued 10 albums in the U.S. on her own Righteous Babe
Records label, her latest, Little Plastic Castle, is the first to be released in
her ancestral country. (Her father comes from a town near Rome.) With her new
material ready for the stage, including the new album's
HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/DiFranco,_Ani/Little_Plastic_Castle.ram">ti tle song
tle song(RealAudio excerpt), DiFranco journeyed to Italy recently to
promote her latest work and to generally spread the word about her music ...
After a showcase performance at Milan's Propaganda Theater, DiFranco,
dressed down in a pair of blue jeans and a black cotton vest, held an impromptu
backstage press conference. The next day, she met with SonicNet Music
News to discuss what she's about, what she's up to, where she's been and
where she's going. She has been compared to many artists, but she's quick to
note that her style of guitar-playing and music-making was mostly picked up
along the way. "When you play in clubs, you have to develop survival skills,"
she said. "You have to get people to shut up and turn around. I think that my
playing was influenced by years of playing in clubs. I sort-of started my own
style when I was younger. I didn't really listen to other acoustic-guitar players.
After a while people started to say, 'Do you listen to Michael Hedges?', and then
I went back and I started to listen to other people. But I think that while I was
growing up, I was just going on my instincts."
While DiFranco denies having any musical heroes, she does acknowledge
being a huge fan of American folk-legend Woody Guthrie. In fact, her record
label will release a Guthrie tribute album that will include performances by folk-
inspired rockers Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, Indigo Girls, Ramblin' Jack
Elliott, Pete Seeger and others.
"Woody, he was just an amazing writer," she said. "His songs sound very tiny,
very folkie-hokey. But if you really listen, if you really get into the mindset and
into the time and place he was working in, his writing is incredible. He was one
of those who invented the idea of music as political."
And while she sees how her musical style can be traced to Guthrie, she said
she's not as clear on any relationship between her sound and Guthrie's most
famous disciple. "I don't think I was directly influenced by Bob Dylan," DiFranco
said. "I think that Bob Dylan was directly influenced by Woody Guthrie. I think I
was very influenced by Woody Guthrie. We have different ways of following him
and his footsteps."
It's not that she doesn't respect his work. It's just that she sees their musical
careers and styles as coming from very different personalities and generations.
"He's a very solitary man," she said of Dylan, for whom she has opened several
concerts. "He pulls up in his bus, just before he goes on; then, he gets off. He
plays, and then he gets on the bus and drives away when people are still
clapping. We talked a few times, and he's very nice. He's been so important in
certain things in the singer/songwriter culture. But he was a little before my
(Correspondent Claudio Todesco contributed to this report.)