Synonymous with folk music ever since her earliest days singing on college campuses in the 1960s, Joan Baez has never been one for silence. She's released dozens of albums featuring her distinctive voice over the course of her 50-year career and she's still an active performer, touring cross-country this summer before heading to Europe later this fall.

This Staten Island native has also long been synonymous with political activism. Whether championing civil rights, human rights, or anti-war causes, Baez is ardent in her beliefs and not afraid to speak out on their behalf. In fact, she's in New York tonight for that very reason—she's headlining an "Elect-A-Lujah" benefit concert at the Highline Ballroom for Green Party mayoral candidate Reverend Billy Talen. Joan Baez talked with us about her work for Rev. Billy, her perspective on the Iranian election protests, and her latest album, Day After Tomorrow.

Tell me more about why you're performing in New York this month. We're on a tour—a 28-concert tour—and Reverend Billy invited me to take part in his event. He's running for mayor in New York City and when the Wall Street Journal gave him a very favorable report [laughter], I thought it was something really worth doing. I've known him and his church for quite some time now and I definitely thought it was something I wanted to take part in.

How did you come to know him? How did you first meet him? I knew about him but I hadn't met him personally until my one visit to Burning Man. It was the year of Katrina, and we were out there when tragedy hit. I learned that Reverend Billy was giving a fundraising event in the middle of the desert, so I offered to join in, which I did. That's where I met him for the first time.

Something that strikes me about this is that, for most of your career, you weren't involved in party politics. You've done political activism but never specifically for a candidate until Barack Obama. [Laughter] I made a pretty big crossover.

Right, so what’s gotten you to come back to party politics? Well, you know, I didn't know Reverend Billy was running for mayor—I just thought he was giving one of his "Stop Shopping" shows in New York City when I signed on. It was after that I heard he was running for mayor, which I think is absolutely marvelous. So I did not enter this as party politics—I entered it as Reverend Billy and his "Stop Shopping" campaign, so I really didn't have anything to do with party politics.

What about Reverend Billy's platform speaks to you? It makes sense. It's a man who's concerned about kids in Sri Lanka being paid 17 cents a day and literally starving to death, being abused, and having essentially no rights, and we're unaware of that in this country when we buy clothing, when we buy stuffed animals at Disney. We're just unaware of what we're doing to people in other parts of the world. We're just not aware of it.

He really is just trying to bring that to light. It's like he's channeling Elmer Gantry. It's channeling something other than Christ. He's facing the deal with human decency—where is it? How are we going to root it out? How are we going to show it to the world? He's taken on a monumental task and he's taken it on with such heart, with his choir, and with his following that it's just a glory to behold that he does this work. I choose to support that work.

So joining his campaign for the Elect-a-lujah—is that an endorsement from you for his candidacy? It's an endorsement for his campaign, it's an endorsement for him, and I don't feel—the same as most people—that I have to know all the intricacies of New York City policy.

Let's move to about a month ago. You taped a YouTube video of "We Shall Overcome" with a few of the lyrics in Farsi—what were you seeing and hearing in the news then that moved you to make that tape? It was so impressive. Fortunately, for the revolution in technology, we were able to see footage of a million people or so walking in silence through Tehran, and in the face of this hideous terrorism, they showed off around the world that Iran consists of professors and doctors and housewives and kids rather than screaming maniacs. They were walking in silence, demanding not an overthrow of the government but just simply intelligent things like their right to a decent vote.

It was an extraordinary thing. We haven't seen that kind of behavior anywhere in the world for a long, long time—certainly not in those numbers—and I felt it really important to support that. So, I sent some lines of encouragement and then was able to use my own particular talent to send that simple little song and one simple little line in Farsi, which apparently made a huge impact, from the response that we got.

What sort of things did you hear in response? That they were grateful and very moved and a lot of tears and a lot of heartfelt response. People in those situations don't know what the outside world has received or thought or responded, so any little glimmer means a lot to them. My own particular little act got into Iran and traveled very quickly around the country and the world, actually, and it was often remarked in their responses how much it meant to them that the outside world knew about them.

Did it take you back to your own days helping to protest? Yeah, at different times throughout these many decades, depending on whatever part of the world it was—whether it was Poland or Argentina—when people have been relatively shut up by their own dictatorships, if you get a chance to be heard in there, then it's always the same thing. It's some kind of line from the outside world, and then when they live through all that and they manage to come back in the open air after whatever kind of revolution they have—like Czechoslovakia was a Velvet Revolution that was with no violence or little violence; it was just held in a different way—I've always been proud to have been a part of that.

What would you have in the way of words of encouragement for them now? Stay the course. Many of us are with you in support and in prayers.

Let’s come back to your music now. I want to ask about your most recent album, Day After Tomorrow, which came out about a year ago. It was the first album in 29 years to make it on to the top-selling album charts. What's it like to be back in that limelight? It's nice, if you put it that way. It's a nice album. It's accessible to the public in a way that some of them have not been. In other words, you play a song people haven't heard before and do maybe four or five of them in concert, and they're well-received.

I think a lot of it's due to Steve Earle's production of it and the way he and I got along personally and musically. It just came out the way we wanted it to come out—a kind of rustic sound that reminded people of my early beginnings, but it's made to be a contemporary album.

What's the biggest change you've noticed about recording and releasing an album in 2009 compared to, say, when you first started out? Let's see. When I began, I recorded in a ballroom. I had two microphones—one for my voice and one for the guitar—so that meant two wires running across this room and into a little tiny room at the top of the stairs somewhere. There was a tape recorder spinning around in there and that was it. [Laughter] And they would make a splice by actually cutting the tape. It took four days to make the first album.

Then I went on tour—I was all by myself. I carried around a guitar when I flew, and I'd show up for a college and someone would come pick me up and I'd stay in their house and then I'd sing a concert. So, over the years, all that's changed a whole lot. Now I travel on a bus with four musicians and a tour manager and a sound man. We get to the bus at night, we watch movies, and we eat stuff that people prepared for us and have an absolutely splendid time. Then we go out on the stage, sing, and go back to the bus, ride bicycles, and hang out.

Will you be doing anything else while you're in New York? A lot of times the most fun activities nobody's planned at all. It's difficult to plan when you're on tour, because if you do, then you arrive and it's absolutely the opposite of what you planned, then it interrupts everything.

So you'll just take it as it comes. Exactly.