2019 was a big year for Ani DiFranco.
She spent a lot of it on the road, reciting words never spoken to an audience before. However, it wasn’t from a new collection of songs, but rather her first-ever book, No Walls and the Recurring Dream. A memoir detailing her early life and entryway into the world of music, the acclaimed singer-songwriter holds nothing back within its pages.
“It was an unprecedented level of exposure and vulnerability,” says DiFranco, speaking to Beat from her home in-between tour dates.
“After hundreds of very personal songs, not even that could prepare me for writing a memoir. It’s funny… the way I got through it was pretending that I’m alone when I’m writing. If I let in the eyes and the ears of the world while I’m in the creative process, I just freeze up. There’s no way that I can write. I faced a lot of things along the way, but somehow I made it through to the other side.”
The book was ultimately published last May, with DiFranco working on it at the same time as her previous studio album, Binary. It wasn’t until DiFranco got into the studio to record the audio version of No Walls, however, that the reality truly started to sink in.
“What you hear on that audiobook is five straight days of me reading from nine to five,” she says. “I sat down on day one, and I just panicked. I felt trapped. It was then that I realised that this was happening.”
“‘I can’t do this! This is insane!’ – I almost felt violated. Getting through that process was a real moment of reckoning.”
DiFranco is used to having her words pored over, with 30-odd years in the game, over a dozen albums and even a few collections of poetry. The way that one tours and promotes an album, however, is considerably different to how one goes about doing the same for a memoir. This is something DiFranco herself found out the hard way.
“When I go out on stage with a new song, the reaction is immediate and palpable,” she explains.
“You know how much it’s connecting, because you’re experiencing it in real time. When you put out a book, however, it’s comparatively like some sort of deafening silence. 25 years ago, I vowed to never read about myself in the media again – which I’ve mostly stuck to.
“The only feedback I’ve gotten is when I went out on the book tour, and I got direct responses and thoughts from people there. It made me really happy to know that something so terrifying to me was appreciated.”
Although DiFranco’s work is critically acclaimed, the woman herself wouldn’t know. As far as she’s concerned, that’s one part of the discourse surrounding her music that she is decidedly not interested in. It’s not for thin skin, either – rather, it’s about a clear headspace to continue working in.
“Reviews, even positive reviews, aren’t helpful to me,” she says.
“It all makes me feel claustrophobic and self-conscious. Being endlessly described, defined and judged… I find it a weight, a burden. It’s essential for me to keep the energy I can, to keep creating intrepidly. I need to keep tuning out all of the assessments. I still have that vital one-on-one relationship with my audience through my shows, and that’s what remains the most important thing to me.”