Born in 1970 in Buffalo, NY, to Elizabeth (an architect) and Dante (a research engineer) DiFranco; married Andrew Gilchrist (a sound engineer), 1998; separated, 2003. Addresses: Record company--Righteous Babe Records, P.O. Box 95, Endicott Station, Buffalo, NY 14205, website: http://www.righteousbabe.com.
Punk/folk singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco attained musical heroine status at the age of 25 among both fans and critics with her seventh release, Not A Pretty Girl, in 1995, and even greater popular success with Dilate, in 1996. She told Spin's James Patrick Herman, "People expect my kind of in-your-face approach from a punk, not some chick with an acoustic guitar. I prefer the power that comes with walking on stage with a little piece of wood ... that's more punk rock than making a lot of noise."
Her acoustic performances are part mosh-pit party, part hoedown, and part folk-hootenanny, punctuated with stage dives, broken guitar strings, and lyrics that cover issues like abortion, body image baggage, bisexuality, death, and fidelity. DiFranco alternates between a smoldering warmth and an angry explosion of sound, and defies categorization by blending the forthrightness and anger of punk rock with the simplicity, beauty, and poetry of folk music. She uses press-on nails reinforced with electrical tape when performing to bang-strum on her acoustic guitar, and performs both as a solo artist and with a backing band (though the band often consists of only drummer Andy Stochansky as musical back-up).
Wide Range of Styles and Fans
DiFranco's fans reveal her widespread appeal as they are as diverse and hard to peg as her style, ranging in age from teenaged girls to the middle-aged, and from alternative rock fans, to folk music and hardcore punk rock enthusiasts.
With a broad emotional palette at her disposal, DiFranco's vocal range fluctuates between gritty and airy. Rolling Stone's Fred Goodman described her as "a wonder to behold: a spiky-haired volcano ... (whose) songs, though mostly about independence and romance ... often take unexpected, jarring turns--such as when she recites a poem about an abortion or sings about being felt up in the subway." She told Out magazine's Ray Rogers, "I just sing my goofy songs about my goofy little life," underscoring the fact that she's her own person and without regard for those who might take offense at her uncensored output.
DiFranco was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1970, and began playing music at age nine when her parents bought her a Beatles songbook and an acoustic guitar. Within a few years, she was singing "Yesterday" at local coffeehouses with the guidance of a local folk singer. As Rolling Stone's Evelyn McDonnell put it, "She met a man named Mike, a 30-year-old 'degenerate folk-singer barfly' at a guitar store in Buffalo, NY. They began playing together and hanging out with other singer/songwriters, who would come up from New York to play." DiFranco's parents were absorbed in their own problems at the time, and DiFranco told McDonnell, "(They) were just happy from the beginning that I was self-sufficient. For me, it was the ideal childhood: complete emancipation."
In high school, at the age of 15, the independent and spirited DiFranco found an apartment of her own in Buffalo and started writing her own songs in order to pursue her already mushrooming career. At the age of eighteen, she moved to New York City and began touring the country in a Volkswagen Bug, performing at college campuses, coffeehouses, bars, and music festivals. She explained to Guitar Player's James Rotondi, "(My percussive acoustic technique) evolved out of twelve years of playing in bars, where people are there to pick up somebody and drink themselves into a stupor, not to listen to the chick in the corner with the acoustic."
Started Her Own Label
When DiFranco reached the point where she wanted to make an album in the late 1980s, the unresponsiveness of music industry executives prompted her to start her own label, Righteous Babe, in 1990. Dedicated to remaining independent, she told Rotondi, "If you want to challenge the system, you don't go to bed with it." DiFranco created her audience through a slow build-up of fans over the years and her ascent to fame was slow as she told Billboard's Roger Deitz, "Righteous Babe Records doesn't have a big publicity and marketing budget. My marketing and publicity, and the whole reason I have this big audience base, is because of years of playing." By 1996, she had sold over 200,000 copies of her albums.
Although DiFranco started her own label to retain complete control of her work, she also enjoys the notion that she negotiates how to reach her audience and how to juggle finances. She began by selling tapes as she toured across the country, and although Righteous Babe Records sold over 200,000 records by 1996, DiFranco still devoted three weeks out of every month touring, splitting her week off between Buffalo, New York, where the label is based, and New York City, where she lives. She told McDonnell, "that's the nature of a career that's built on toting your butt around the country and playing music for people as opposed to commercial airplay or national TV exposure."
Political and moral themes, often of a personal nature, dominate DiFranco's albums; an example is "The Million You Never Made" on Not A Pretty Girl, which offers the verse, "If you don't live what you sing about, your mirror is going to find out." On the same album, DiFranco sings about bisexuality, and the death penalty from the perspective of the condemned. By embracing the most controversial issues of our time, DiFranco hopes to diffuse them, discuss them, and deepen understanding of each topic's nuances.
DiFranco's most ardent fans are a possessive group. While performing at a concert in New York City in 1996, MTV News cameras filmed the show while DiFranco's fans shouted, "MTV sucks!" at the camerapeople. DiFranco toned down the angry outbursts with humor, telling the audience that the camerapeople were from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, there to capture her in her natural environment, and that she would soon be mating with her drummer.
Difranco released Dilate in 1996, the majority of which covered the subject of her newly-blossoming relationship with her sound man, Andrew Gilchrist (affectionately called "Goat Boy" by DiFranco because of his long goatee). The couple married in 1998. This relationship made some of her lesbian fans upset, but it wasn't the first time DiFranco had raised their ire. "I remember the first time that I started walking out on stage in a dress and hearing young women screaming 'Sellout!,'" she told The Progressive. "They were just coming to know their own anger, and it hadn't deepened with an awareness that feminism is truly about women becoming themselves, and having choices, and I remember those angry, angry responses...." Dilate debuted in the top 100 of the Billboard charts, a first for DiFranco, and brought her wider mainstream attention.
A long-awaited live album was released in 1997. Living in Clip featured 31 songs performed in various cities across the United States, as well as snippets of DiFranco's between-song banter that she has become known for. The album was widely praised. She also placed songs in six movies that year, including the title song to the Julia Roberts vehicle My Best Friend's Wedding, and her tour that year was confirmed as one of the top-grossing tours of the year.
DiFranco embarked on several collaborations with her personal idols in 1999. The first, a CD made with Utah Phillips, contained both Phillips's stories and DiFranco's vocals and music. She told The Progressive that a collaboration between her and the storyteller was a logical choice: "Our uniforms look very different, and our ages and our audiences, and yet we're telling a lot of the same stories in our own ways." She also toured with Maceo Parker later in the year, an inspiration for her own performances. "You just give it all up, what 'it' is. That instinct is maybe more important than what 'it' is on any given night. That's your mission. That's what originally drew me to Maceo as a performer, just going to a show and realizing this guy holds nothing back. He just plays until the last bead of sweat drips off and falls over. To me, that's what performing is all about."
She continued her prolific output into the new millenium, releasing at least one new studio album every year as well as another double-CD live album, So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter, in 2002. Her music took a jazz-influenced turn on the albums Up Up Up Up Up Up and To the Teeth, but her wide range of influences best manifested themselves on 2001's Revelling: Reckoning, an album Time called "her most ambitious, accomplished work yet, melding folk, jazz, funk, and rock into music that's as elemental and unpredictable as the weather."
DiFranco went through some changes in both her career and personal life in 2003. A split with her husband, a return to playing solo after years of playing with a band, and a move down to New Orleans promised to influence the music DiFranco composes and the direction in which her career moves.
As DiFranco's popularity grows, she's faced with difficult decisions and growing pains; she's caught between fans who want her to remain accessible, and her untapped fans, reached only through more exposure. She has managed to balance her increasing mainstream recognition with her staunch political beliefs, refusing to compromise her values and beliefs for money. She has kept Righteous Babe in Buffalo for over a decade, helping to grow the economy there. "[I] didn't think that New York needed another little business, but Buffalo did," she told Curve. "Now people move to Buffalo to work at Righteous Babe Records. There were probably only 6 people who moved to Buffalo in the last 30 years!" She has famously maintained her distance from major labels, so much so that she is rarely even approached about signing now. DiFranco told McDonnell, "I believe in ... not just making revolutionary music but making it in a way that challenges the system.... The possibility of emancipation and control and independence is so much greater now."
by B. Kimberly Taylor
Ani DiFranco's Career
Began playing music at age nine; sang in local coffeehouses starting at age eleven; moved out on her own at age 15 to pursue a career in music; at the age of 18 moved to New York City and began touring the country, performing at college campuses, coffeehouses, bars, and music festivals; started Righteous Babe Records music label in Buffalo, NY, 1990; released first album Ani DiFranco, 1990; released at least one album a year, 1991-.
- Selected discography
- Ani DiFranco , Righteous Babe, 1990.
- Not So Soft , Righteous Babe, 1991.
- Imperfectly , Righteous Babe, 1992.
- Puddle Dive , Righteous Babe, 1993.
- Like I Said: Songs 1990-1991 , Righteous Babe, 1993.
- Out of Range , Righteous Babe, 1994.
- Not A Pretty Girl , Righteous Babe, 1995.
- Dilate , Righteous Babe, 1996.
- (With Utah Phillips) The Past Didn't Go Anywhere , Righteous Babe, 1996.
- Living in Clip (live), Righteous Babe, 1997.
- Little Plastic Castle , Righteous Babe, 1998.
- Up Up Up Up Up Up , Righteous Babe,1999.
- (With Utah Phillips) Fellow Workers , Righteous Babe, 1999.
- To the Teeth , Righteous Babe, 1999.
- Revelling: Reckoning , Righteous Babe, 2001.
- So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter (live), Righteous Babe, 2002.
- Evolve , Righteous Babe, 2003.
- Billboard, October 22, 1994; November 4, 1995; November 11, 1995.
- Curve, May 2001.
- Down Beat, November 1999.
- Entertainment Weekly, May 2, 1997.
- Guitar Player, December 1994; November 2002.
- Interview, July 1995.
- Los Angeles Times, November 15, 1994.
- Ms., November/December 1995.
- New Yorker, October 2, 1995.
- New York Magazine, October 2, 1995.
- New York Newsday, June 30, 1995.
- New York Times, September 28, 1995.
- Out, September 1995.
- People, August 4, 1997.
- Progressive, May 2000.
- Rolling Stone, August 24, 1995; November 16, 1995.
- Sojourners, May-June 2002.
- Spin, December 1995.
- Time, February 9, 1998; April 23, 2001.
- Time Out, April 24, 1996.
- Variety, February 16, 1998.
- Village Voice, October 3, 1995.
- Washington Post, September 15, 1995.
- "Ani DiFranco," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (June 27, 2003).
- "I'm a voting adult and it's my job to fix it," Salon, http://www.salon.com/ent/music/int/2003/06/10/difranco/print.html (June 27, 2003).
- Righteous Babe Records Official Website, http://www.righteousbabe.com (June 27, 2003).