In a recent phone interview from her New Orleans home, DiFranco spoke about each track on the album.
“I have this friend Valerie Kaur. She and I connected a few years ago. She’s been a fan of mine forever and ever, but I just got hip to her work. I just love her. The way she articulates what revolutionary love is and how you do it helps me to understand what I’ve been trying to do all these years. She actually came to me a year or more ago and said she wanted me to write her songs. She said, 'I need songs to make people connect with my work and my teaching.' That was the first one I wrote for her. I wrote three songs for her, but that one really meant so much to me. I said, ‘Instead of just leaving this song on your doorstep in a basket, can I put in on my record?’ It comes from this friendship I have with her.”
“I joked with myself and an occasional other human since releasing this record that this is sort of like a breakup album without the breakup. The relationship that a lot of these songs come from persists. The reason I titled it ‘Revolutionary Love’ is because, as is typical of me and all my hundreds of songs, that correlation between the struggle for revolutionary love that you go through in your family and the struggles you go through on the macro level with your community and your opponents and society, when I feel that deep resonance between the two, that’s when the songs just pour out of me.”
“I’m known for my open tunings on my guitar. I like to mess with the tunings on my strings. I have very rarely played in standard tuning over the years. Having come full circle, standard tuning just feels like the most radical open tuning to me. This particular song was one where I pushed further into open tuning madness. The actual tuning was very dissonant and strange. I was exploring whether I could make a song out of such radical tuning. That exercise came up because I was dealing with a very dissonant feeling. It was very metaphoric. Can I make something beautiful out of this incredible dissonance?”
“Is it about the pandemic? I think so. But it was written just before. The virus was out there, but it was before it hit our awareness, and the shelter-in-place happened suddenly. I wrote the song while I was on tour in February of 2020. This, for me, is a song that exhibits this thing I have come to know about songwriting, which is something I think is true of all elevated forms of consciousness and something you can find in art and all sorts of ways and people do. You are deeply connected with a knowledge that is seemingly beyond your own experience or not wedded to linear time. Our consciousness encompasses much more than we are consciously aware of on a daily basis. When I write songs, they often tend to be premonitions, and I think that’s because the art making process exits linear time a little bit.
“Do or Die”
“I was out there doing shows and harping as I usually do about how essential it is to vote and be a part of democracy to keep it alive even though you feel disillusioned and even though you have all kinds of issue with the system. You have to vote your way to the solution. You have to vote your way to a better system. I wanted a rallying cry and a song I could carry to the stage that was new and vital and alive and spoke to the moment. That was where ‘Do or Die’ came from.”
“This was the first of several improvisations that are on the record. Most of the record was recorded with a group of musicians in North Carolina, but I did do a session before the pandemic hit with my regular band recording a few of these songs just in between tours. That came out of those original sessions. I was just playing this guitar groove that I was feeling at the time. I thought there would be a poem that would happen over the top of the music, but I just decided to go with the music to put more breath in the record.”
“It’s a real tough one to write and a tough one to sing. It attempts to show something about myself. In this song, I’m scared and compliant. It’s not my usual persona. The reality of my life is that my persona and my person are different. Like many performers, there is something of the alter ego that takes the stage and there is a different side of me in my personal day-to-day life. When I think of that song, I think of Roosevelt Collier who plays slide guitar on it and turned it from a song I was singing to a duet as far as I’m concerned.”
“That’s a ballad that comes from the flip side of a very difficult relationship when you find a moment of belief and a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s a moment of emotional exhale within a relationship. The fun thing about these songs is that when I’m singing them, I can either picture a person and the micro context of me and my person or I can sing them to my society.”
“There is flute on it. Why haven’t I had more flute on my record? I want to ask, 'Where have you been all my life?' The flute player was just so great. It started with a guitar groove that I was so into playing. It’s about that cognitive dissonance that is life in the modern world.”
“That was one I did with the musicians in North Carolina. It started with this guitar figure and was almost like this meditation I was having with my guitar. All the other musicians just improvised with me.”
“That was a song that was somewhat transformed in the process of recording it. The original vibe was jauntier. It had a little swing and more of an Ani vibe on the guitar. Brad [Cook], who I was working with on the recording process suggested I slow it down and open it up and play it with a more traditional melancholy chord progression. It works really nicely as a way to leave the record. Playing the song live, I might hit the jauntier version now and then instead.”
Ani DiFranco, Elizabeth Moen, 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 27, the Kent Stage, 175 E. Main Street, Kent, 330-677-5005. Tickets: $41-$61, kentstage.org.
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