The backbone of Binary’s sound is DiFranco’s long-time rhythm section of bassist Todd Sickafoose and drummer Terence Higgins, but on much of the album, the trio is augmented with some all-star guests. “I knew I wanted to involve some of my brilliant friends this time out,” she says. “We made some calls and got a party going. That was the idea, to reach out and have some other spirits enter.” When it came time to mix Ani turned things over to Tchad Blake (The Black Keys, Pearl Jam), the result a bold sonic imprint elevating the songs to a new level in her canon.
Virtuoso violinist Jenny Scheinman and keyboard wizard Ivan Neville both join in for more than half of the record; “they are so captivating and they elevate my shit whenever they come near it,” says DiFranco. Other contributors include the legendary Maceo Parker, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and Gail Ann Dorsey, longtime bassist for David Bowie. New Orleans resident DiFranco takes special pride in the Crescent City funk spearheaded by natives Higgins and Neville on a number of the tunes. “Their souls are of this place,” she says. “The feel they bring is something they got in utero.”
For the better part of 2016, DiFranco beat the drum for voter turnout on her “Vote Dammit!” tour, focusing on registering and inspiring people to vote. In the days following the election, fans turned to her for guidance with renewed earnestness, anxious to hear music and wisdom from the longtime activist. Ani encouraged fans to take political action and did the same herself, participating in the Women’s March on Washington and performing at the official Women’s March after party benefitting Planned Parenthood with The National and Sleater-Kinney.
Binary, of course, is being released into a world in which music distribution and consumption have transformed rapidly and dramatically. For DiFranco, a true pioneer in the music industry with her Righteous Babe label, it’s a time to reconsider the possibilities and ambitions of her business.
“While I was precedent-setting at one time with Righteous Babe and my indie crusade, I feel like, in the time it took me to nurse another baby into being, I’ve fallen behind,” she says. “The universe and technology have continued to evolve, and the idea of harnessing technology and crowd- sourcing everything—money, knowledge, revolution—is a very powerful concept that I’m ready to get more involved with. Righteous Babe is starting to grow now into something that will hopefully become avant-garde once again- more of a collective, more dynamic.”
“I’m trying to figure it out daily,” says Ani DiFranco. “Just like always.”