Protests and political gridlock may not inspire all musicians, but for folk singer Ani DiFranco, that’s the stuff lyrics are made of. The 41-year-old Grammy winner will make her return from hiatus next month with “¿Which Side Are You On?,” an album she calls her “most political yet.”
DiFranco chatted with POLITICO about the music, her thoughts on the Occupy movement and her take on the 2012 presidential race.
What’s the political message of the album?
There are a lot of political ideas and songs on the record. “¿Which Side Are You On?” — the title track — is sort of a rabble-rousing call to action. It’s a song that dates back to the 1930s and the labor movement. I sort of wrote my own version of it to update it to the political now.
How is Pete Seeger, who popularized that song, involved?
From beginning to end. I learned the song to play at his 90th birthday party, a big event held at Madison Square Garden. We were all playing songs that Pete had either penned or recorded, put out into the world. … I was compelled to update it, [so] I rewrote the verses. … Then after I recorded it, I called Pete up [and asked him if he wanted to participate]. And he did, so we went and met him at Hudson, N.Y. We did sort of a field recording of him in a few minutes. He played the intro once or twice on his banjo. And that was that.
You’ve been addressing political issues through music for a while now. How does the climate now compare to how it’s been?
There’s no end to things to address these days. … Meanwhile, I definitely think the atmosphere out there is more hopeful than it has been in a long time. I think the Occupy movement has a discourse going that sorely needed to get going. … The tax system is completely unjust. The corporate control of government is dishonorable and undemocratic. I think that that’s one thing that the Occupiers have been doing a great job of: pointing to the inequalities and giving voice to our massive frustrations.
Have you been paying attention to the 2012 presidential race?
Yeah, you can’t not really.
What do you think?
Well, I think the Republican field is bad to worse. And I very much hope for a [Barack] Obama reelection. In his second term, he will have the courage to really represent his progressive base and stand up to the corporately controlled Congress people — people who are trying to obstruct the democratic process, who openly say their mission is to defeat Obama.
So you think Obama is doing a good job?
Well, no. I don’t think he’s done a great job. But it depends on your perspective. If you take into account the brick wall that’s been built around him by the Republican-controlled Congress, it’s amazing that he’s gotten done what he has.