Ani DiFranco gets personal about penning memoir, blazing her own trail

Ani DiFranco, the Righteous Babes indie label groundbreaker who is at works on a memoir, is touring in support of her latest album, "Binary."

CONCORD — After writing and recording 20 albums of her own songs, Ani DiFranco was up for a new challenge.

A political activist, feminist icon and DIY music trailblazer, DiFranco had plenty of material for her latest project — a memoir.

After releasing her 20th album, “Binary,” just over a year ago, DiFranco set out to complete the book, which is due out in the first half of 2019.

“It’s kind of an idea that’s been floating around for a long time — sort of part memoir, part handbook on how to be an independent musician. Now, there are a bunch of people who know more than me in this world about how to do that. It became more personal. After 30 years of writing songs and hundreds of songs, I was looking for a creative challenge, and I got mine.”

Although the book will be less of a how-to guide, DiFranco started her career as a one-woman wrecking crew, and laid the groundwork for thousands of contemporary artists who have taken control of their destinies.

She started her own label, Righteous Babe Records, when she was just 19, and continued to find unique ways to advance her career and the careers of other independent artists for the next 25-plus years.

“I was the canary in the coal mine,” she said. “The indentured servitude system in the music industry is done. I provided inspiration for people in the direction the culture needed to move. Artists need to be masters and mistresses of their own destiny, of their own art. There are a lot of young people that know a lot ... That was a completely different music industry and country, and I did it in a very old-fashioned way. There are so many more possibilities now on how to have a career in music.”

With “Binary,” DiFranco reverted to her more ferocious style of confronting social issues after taking a more introverted path to completing “Allergic to Water” in 2014.

“I’m not trying to prove anything to myself,” DiFranco said. “I’m just writing to my spleen. The record that came out before that one, I had a new baby in my arms. I had a lot going on in my personal life, and that’s what I’m writing about. I had time and energy to dedicate to something, once I got through that slog (the whirlwind of having an infant) I was back on my horse.”

DiFranco enlisted the help of a number of local friends from her home in New Orleans to play on the album, as well as Justin Vernon, who sang on one of the tracks.

“New Orleans has very deep and very wide musical traditions,” she said. “Now I’m rubbing up against every day. With all these incredible musicians, I can make local calls and get a bunch of (formidable players) in the studio. The city itself, the soul of it, the vibe of it — it just gets in you.”

DiFranco, who has been an activist of liberal causes for decades, will head to Babefest later this month. The festival, which was founded in 2016 and benefits Emily’s List, promotes community and activism and is curated by DiFranco.

“It’s so, so, so inspiring, so helpful,” she said. “These people and especially women that are coming out of every corner of this country and running for office. I’ve been someone who has been a proponent of voting for decades. It’s been one of my strongest convictions. We have the power and just have to use it.”

Her tour, the “Rise Up” tour, is aimed at motivating change and getting people out to vote. In recent years, DiFranco has found herself with many more brothers and sisters in arms with political and social activism.

“People are being jolted into action,” DiFranco said. “I feel a lot less like a voice in the wilderness than I ever have. I’ve been pretty outspoken and politically active. I feel like just the general tolerance level for political discourse and trying to be accountable for talking and grappling with things is up. I find that really encouraging.”