Ani DiFranco Breaks From Folk Traditions

Singer/songwriter/indie label-owner sees herself as new breed of folk singer in a long line of legends.

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

multifaceted singer/songwriter.)

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 (RealAudio excerpt), DiFranco journeyed to Italy recently to

promote her latest work and to generally spread the word about her music ...

and herself.

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

time."

(Correspondent Claudio Todesco contributed to this report.)