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Question: Do DiFranco and Brown have all the answers?


JIM WALSH POP MUSIC CRITIC
Ani DiFranco and Greg Brown are two of the most revered songwriters of our times. As luck would have it, they appear on the same stage tonight, so it seemed like a good time to get them together for one of the Pioneer Press' semi-regular songwriters' round tables (Ani by fax; Greg by phone) to get their thoughts on songwriting, fandom and the art of gigging.

Q: What song by another artist best describes your life at the moment?

Ani: " 'Hey Baby Hey,' by Greg Brown."

Greg: "At the very moment, it'd have to be some kind of traveling song. Or an instrumental."

Q: What record changed your life?

Ani: "Laughing Stock, 'Talk Talk.' "

Greg: "Ray Charles, 'Greatest Hits.' "

Q: Given where you are in your career at the moment, what's the best advice you could give someone who wants to do it?

Ani: "Go get gigs. Play 'em. Go get more gigs."

Greg: "People do it for all kinds of reasons, but the thing that's gotten me through is loving the music. That is the one thing that's really sustaining. That's what keeps me going. I love the music, I always did."

Q: What's the single most memorable gig you've had?

Ani: "No such thing."

Greg: "For some reason, the first thing I think of is a really bad gig. About 10 years ago, Bo (Ramsey) and I had just done a really successful show in Boston. It was a great night, great groove. And the next night, we played in a little town called Liberty, N.Y. And I think there were four people there."

Q: What's the best piece of songwriting advice, or philosophy, you've ever heard?

Ani: "Making songs is a job."

Greg: "Reverend Gary Davis -- and he wasn't talking specifically about songwriting, but I think it could work that way -- said, 'Get as good as you can, and the people will come to you.' And what he meant by that, I think, was work hard on your music, and the career stuff will happen."

Q: Tell us about the last song you wrote, why it worked or why it didn't work.

Ani: "That is impossible to answer in a day, let alone a sentence."

Greg: "I can tell you about the 12 I just wrote. Late last summer, I was driving home from Colorado, and I was hearing songs like they were on the radio.

"I was tired, it was late, and I jotted down these songs as I drove, bang, bang, bang. Got home and had a lot of other things to do, and the songs went away. Went through the rest of the year, finished up this new album ('Covenant'), and as soon as I got back from the recording session, these songs -- they're kind of story songs -- were like a bunch of rowdy guys who'd been waiting on my porch until I was done, and they just came bursting in, like, 'Now you gotta write us.' So I did."


  • WHO: Ani DiFranco, Greg Brown, and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings

  • WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

  • WHERE: Northrop Auditorium, 84 S.E. Church St., Mpls.

  • TICKETS: $26-$23

  • CALL: (651) 989-5151


    Q: Ani, what is your single favorite Greg Brown song and vice versa?

    Ani: "Brand New '64 Dodge."

    Greg: "It might be a tie between 'Untouchable Face' and 'I'm Not Angry Anymore.' "

    Q: How do you approach songwriting these days?

    Ani: "Eyes closed, hands outstretched."

    Greg: "It's just such a part of my life, it's just in the flow of my life. I don't have a method, but I write all the time. And I listen to a lot of music and read a lot of poetry. I just kind of take them as they come."

    Q: Is there any topic you won't write a song about?

    Ani: "Living the vida loca."

    Greg: "Not so far. I find that the songs that come along that are a little thorny to get into are the most satisfying."

    Q: What's the last good book you read?

    Ani: " 'Fugitive Pieces' by Anne Michaels."

    Greg: " 'Difficult Women' by David Plant."

    Q: What's your favorite make-out music?

    Ani: "Ew. You mean, like, deep kissing?"

    Greg: "That can vary. I think probably Iva Bottova -- she's a Czech woman who plays fiddle and sings really haunting, sensual stuff."

    Q: What's your favorite spring record?

    Ani: "Huh?"

    Greg: "That would have to be Van Morrison's 'Moondance.' "

    Q: Is there a songwriter who you think is so good, he or she makes you jealous?

    Ani: "That's just dumb. Life is not a contest."

    Greg: "No, although that did happen to me when I was younger. I would hear someone like Richard Thompson and just go, 'Oh, man. Why am I even doing this?' And now I just find it inspiring."

    Q: Quick, what is your all-time favorite album?

    Ani: "Is this a trick question?"

    Greg: " 'Ray Charles' Greatest Hits.' "

    Q: Complete this sentence: "The perfect song . . ."

    Ani: ". . . is an entirely subjective concept."

    Greg: ". . . walked down 12th Street and turned left, and I haven't seen it since."

    Q: If any musician, living or dead, were to cover one of your songs, who and what would you want it to be?

    Ani: "Joseph Spence, 'Not a Pretty Girl.' "

    Greg: "If Billie Holiday could find anything in my book to sing, I'd be happy."

    Q: What music are you currently loving?

    Ani: "DJ Krush and Toshinori Kondo-Ki-Oku."

    Greg: "The Little Walter box set."

    Q: What is the first record you bought?

    Ani: "Dunno."

    Greg: "A 78 (rpm record) of Big Bill Broonzy in a garage sale in Kansas, when I was about 8."

    Q: What is the last record you bought?

    Ani: " 'The Way of the Cypher,' Steve Coleman."

    Greg: "A Thelonius Monk record."

    Q: What is the single strangest thing anyone has said to you about one of your songs?

    Ani: "Do you want fries with that?"

    Greg: "One time I was playing in Santa Cruz, and I was playing a song called, 'Oh Lord, I've Made You a Place in My Heart.' And a woman who had obviously just been born again stood up in the crowd in the middle of the song and said, 'Jesus died for you, what have you done for Jesus lately?' and stalked out of the room."

    Q: Who is the most underrated songwriter of recent times?

    Ani: "Greg Brown."

    Greg: "My friend Rainer Ptacek, who unfortunately died from a brain tumor two years ago. He was almost unknown in the States, although he was quite well-known in England. And during the time he was ill, Robert Plant and Emmylou Harris and a lot of alternative bands put together a sort of tribute album. He was known amongst musicians as just an unbelievable writer. His records are available from Demon Records in England."

    Q: What song proves to you that there is a God?

    Ani: "I'm an atheist, for Chrissake!"

    Greg: " 'God' is a difficult term, but if you say, 'God is love,' which I believe, then I would say all music is dealing with that."


    Pop music critic Jim Walsh can be reached at jwalsh@pioneerpress.com or (651) 228-5553.

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