IMA Nomination for ‘Hole In Your Halo’
‘Hole In Your Halo’ has been nominated for best Americana song in the 12th Annual IMA Music Awards!
‘Hole In Your Halo’ has been nominated for best Americana song in the 12th Annual IMA Music Awards!
Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter gathers no moss
By CARLA GILLIS
Ana Egge will spend most of this year on the road touring her seventh album, Bad Blood, out on Ammal Records. She spent most of last year on the road, too. And the year before that, and the one before that, in part as a backup singer/musician on Joel Plaskett’s 2009 Three tour.
“I love cooking and napping and reading, and I also love, love, love life on the road,” says the folksinger/songwriter from her home base in Brooklyn. “The freedom of exploring new towns and back streets, thrift stores and diners – I find it all very romantic.”
Besides, nomadic living is what she knows best. A child of hippie parents, she spent most of her youth moving back and forth between a farm in North Dakota and a hot-springs commune in New Mexico. The experience, which she recalls with fondness, readied her for an indie musician’s often inelegant existence – the commune had no indoor toilets – and also set her on her career path.
“We lived on this beautiful piece of land that has natural hot springs, so there was communal nude bathing. I was a very shy kid,” she says. “I loved the outdoors, though, so building forts and playing in the creek was heaven. And growing up around so many creative adults instilled in me [the idea] that life as an artist was possible.”
On Bad Blood, in a clear, laid-back alto and thoroughly unique cadence, Egge vividly conveys the pain and confusion of struggling to acknowledge and understand the mental illness faced by some of her family members. Lucinda Williams once called her “a folk Nina Simone,” which seems about right.
The album’s dark mood (offset by orchestral touches), troubled characters and spacious production, which came courtesy of Steve Earle, who recorded it at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, New York, evokes the rust-coloured, arid landscapes of the southwestern States, with their lurking rattlesnakes and prickly scrub oaks.
So what did Egge learn from the Americana titan?
“That ideas have energy, and time’s a-wasting,” Egge says. “When something comes clear, do it right now! Don’t wait to put on your coat – the train’s leaving. That’s his approach, and it’s infectious in the studio. It all went so fast, with nothing wasted.”
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• NOW | January 17-24, 2013 | VOL 32 NO 20
Interview by Bill Bruedigam for Southwest Flair
SWF: How long has it been since you have lived in the Southwest, in New Mexico; Silver City to be exact?
AE: I haven’t lived there full time for ten years but I’ve been building a house out there for longer than that. So I have a place that I call my own outside of Silver. I’m there once or twice a year for a few weeks to a month or a month and a half at a time.
SWF: With Silver City being such an alternative place, what influences did Silver City give you and are these still affecting your life today?
AE: When my dad got out of college, he went to the Peace Corps and he made a good friend down there in Bolivia, Bjorn, and when my dad came back to the states, he met my mom and they moved to North Dakota and started a family and Bjorn ended up being a part of a founding group who started an intentional group down outside of Silver City which was otherwise known as a hippie commune. When my folks moved from North Dakota, when I was about ten, we went down and lived in the commune there and there’s still a lot of amazing people down there who are artists and intelligent bureau-syncretic characters who I grew up with. Lots of music fans and musicians.
My whole childhood growing up there, from eight to ten, that’s when I started to play and learned to write songs. All my folk’s friends had their favorite musicians that they wanted me to listen to so I had people coming up to me and giving me cassettes saying, “you gotta learn this song . . . “; Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis. I had all these people wanting to encourage me through the people that they loved.
SWF: Those are some great people too, classic stuff. You were kind of immersed in it; your entire lifestyle there.
AE: I was, and I was hungry for it just because it’s such a small town down there, but there’s so many creative people in it, you know there weren’t many people coming through touring or anything but all those people had such big libraries of music and they opened them to me.
SWF: Listening to River Under the Road, it’s easy to see how your first album propelled your success. With your talents, you could have likely tapped into any genre so what lead you to the folk/alternative country genre?
AE: I think mostly it just is where I came from growing up in North Dakota in an even smaller town, there’s twenty-three people there now. There were no paved roads there or street lights or anything. And since my parents were such alternative types, it wasn’t like we only listened to stone country; we listened to the Grateful Dead as much as we listened to Merle Haggard. But that open land and the dirt and the sky of North Dakota and New Mexico was my city-scape. The trees and scrub oaks, that’s what you see down there and that was what informed my place to write from and that was the music that I most identified with growing up and when I first started to write. I was really in love with bluegrass and singer-songwriter stuff and when I first heard that finger-picking style it just hit me and the songs that I wrote were about my life or people that I love and stories that were around me, and that was all my personal history coming from the west and from the country. So I think that the genre classified from the outside, being called folk or Americana, but that’s just where I was coming from.
SWF: Yes, it’s embedded in you. So the next question is, your career has taken you a long way from New Mexico. What has been one of your most memorable moments in all of your travels?
AE: (laughs) Oh, I was playing in a band with this guy Joel Plaskett from Halifax, Canada, and we opened for Paul McCartney two years ago in Halifax for fifty-five thousand people. And I just remember that buzzing feeling of not feeling like you’re touching the ground, and the sea of heads and sea of people out in front, and it was just kind of this electric charge of sharing music with that many people.
SWF: That must have been amazing. Next question, when you play for Ana, what do you play?
AE: I am usually just moving around on the guitar not knowing what I’m doing, unless I’m playing a song that I’m writing. It’s a kind of a dance of writing a song where I’m learning it at the same time and it can be an anxious dance or it can be a thoughtless being lead-by-the-hand kind of thing and then at once it can be this joyous I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening-right-now feeling. A lot of it is just like wandering around in a city you don’t know without a destination. Just playing and playing and letting go so that you do not know where you’re going.
SWF: Yeah, that’s the best music. Music is your life, that’s what you do, but what else do you do, what are some of your interests?
AE: I really love to read and I love going to see writers read; that’s one of my favorite things about living in the city is going to see people read from their new work, that’s a real special thing to me. I love to cook. And I love to go see music.
SWF: When was the first time that you went to New York?
AE: The first time was right after I had moved to Austin, in ‘95, and I entered a song writing contest and the prize was to be flown to New York City and play a show and get spending money and be put at the Chelsea Hotel. I applied for that prize with this great songwriter, we became friends on that trip, this guy Lee Barber, and that was the first time, 1995.
SWF: And what was it like after coming from out here in the middle of the desert to be in New York City all of a sudden?
AE: (laughs) Well, let’s see . . . ‘95, I was nineteen, and I was so excited. All my ideas of New York were from TV and movies. We stayed at the Chelsea Hotel and I didn’t even know why it was famous, I was just such a bumpkin, and my friends came with me from Austin and kind of showed me the ropes, showed me around, took me to Chinatown, took me to Little Italy. We went to The Blue Note. It was just a phenomenal experience. Basically all of it was shocking.
SWF: I can imagine! In watching a recent video interview with you, you seem to have a very relaxed, graceful composure . . .
AE: Thank you.SWF: You’re welcome. What do you to do keep from feeling overwhelmed or swallowed up by it all?
AE: I don’t know (laughs), I like taking naps. I drink a lot of water (laughs) . . . no, I’m just so happy to be doing what I do and I feel very lucky to be living my dream. I feel very grounded in the work that this is and that it’s also my dream, and I’m not trying to be anything or anybody, I’m just happy to be doing this work and connecting with people through the work.
SWF: Well that’s it then, you’re not overwhelmed because you’re enjoying it too much to be overwhelmed.
SWF: You’ve been touring for your latest CD, Bad Blood, produced by Steve Earle, and how is this tour going compared to previous tours?
AE: I’ve got to say that I’ve also been blessed in the fact that my career has slowly been growing and I’ve been taking steps gradually and it’s better than ever. I’ve had my band out for more dates with me than I ever have and it’s just so fun to be able to go from zero to ninety, you know fill the place and then rock out with them and make a bunch of noise; it’s really fun to get people movin’.
SWF: When you play in the Silver City area, you’ve probably played there a lot, is it like a coming home thing?
AE: Yeah, I’ve played there a lot over the years and it’s a lot of fun. I played the Thirsty Ear Festival out of Santa Fe the first year they had that, whenever that was, ‘97 or ‘99 or something, ‘99 I think, so it’s fun to return there, it’s a great festival, it’s an old west movie set on J. W. Eaves Ranch, it’s pretty cool. I played South by Southwest again and they have a day party out on Willie Nelson’s Luck, Texas Ranch, which is also a movie set that was built for Red-headed Stranger and he bought it and so that’s two old west movie set shows (laughs)
SWF: I want to touch on your guitar before we get to the last question . . . you built your guitar yourself, with the help of Don Musser . . .AE: Yeah, my parents have a school called Down to Earth School, it’s based in reading, writing, arithmetic, basic science and history but they have electives based on the student body and the teachers come wanting to teach electives at the school, so they have teachers coming saying, “I want to teach this or I want to teach that,” and the kids get to vote on what electives they actually want to take, whether it’s German or calligraphy or astrology. And so Don Musser came in saying he wanted to teach astrology, and a bunch of us wanted to take that class. He also is a luthier full time, making guitars so he came in then and taught that class and after every class I’d go up to him and ask him questions about guitars. He called me that summer, which was the summer between my junior and senior years and asked me if I wanted to come out and work with him and work towards making a guitar, and so that’s kind of how it started and I ended up making a guitar and it’s been my main guitar since then, since ‘93.
SWF: It sounds great. It has an excellent sound to it. What kind of woods did you use?
AE: Spruce and mahogany.
SWF: It’s got a really sweet sound to it.
AE: Thank you.
SWF: Does it have a name?
AE: Well, no, it’s just an extension of me ‘cause I put my name on the twelfth fret . . .
SWF: Oh really? It’s your alter-ego then ey?
AE: Yeah, it’s my shadow.
SWF: Ok, last question, any future plans or projects that our readers might like to know about?
AE: I am writing, I’m working on a bunch of new songs and I’m excited about them. I have some ideas but I’m not sure about them yet because I don’t ever know for sure until the songs are whole, until I know how they relate to each other and then what a record would be, but there shall be a new record and hopefully it won’t be too long
SWF: We appreciate your talking to us Ana.
AE: Absolutely, thanks for all the great questions.
SWF: Do you have anything you just want to say to people?
AE: I love New Mexico and I am always so inspired when I come there and I love working on my house and actually one of my thoughts about a future project, it’s not going to be the next record but I’ve been thinking about how fun it would be to make a record of songs about New Mexico ‘cause there’s so many great ones.
SWF: Yeah, a lot of great stories, a lot of great places!
AE: It’s such a feeling, you know? The sky and the high, dry air, it’s just such an amazing place.
SWF: New Mexico’s good for the soul.
AE: That’s true, it is.
For more information on Ana Egge and her music and show dates visit www.anaegge.com
Interviewer Bill Bruedigam is a musician, composer and songwriter.
BY KEVIN OLIVER
When Saskatchewan-born and Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Ana Egge set out to record her most recent album, 2011’s Bad Blood, she lined up some big time help. Steve Earle, who Egge first met when she sang on the Earle-produced Blue Boy album from Ron Sexsmith, served as the album’s producer, and the sessions were done in Woodstock at Levon Helm’s studio. The result is the most sonically immediate and impactful album of Egge’s decade and a half of releases, something she’s quick to credit Earle with.
“With Steve producing the record he had a big hand in how it came out sounding,” Egge says. “He’s a very dynamic fellow; anyone spending time with him is affected by his energy and ideas because he is so good at expressing himself.”
The other presence felt is that of Helm, who died less than a year after Bad Blood’s release.
“Just being around Levon and his kind and gentle presence was awe-inspiring,” Egge says.
The songs on Bad Blood allude to very personal struggles with mental illness in Egge’s extended family, whether it’s “Breaking branches in our family tree” in the title track or the vivid, visceral guns, blood and obsession of “Evil.” What keeps it from being a total downer of an album is the juxtaposition of relatively sunny melodies with the dark subject matter, like Shawn Colvin on a twangy streak.
“My favorite songs start from a place of personal honesty and have the means to communicate any hurt or suffering in an uplifting and somewhat addictive melodic way, like ‘What’s Going On’ by Marvin Gaye,” Egge says.
Earle’s influence shows up throughout in the groove and beat of the songs, and sometimes one can hear him clearly on a track like “Your Voice Convinces Me,” but it’s Egge’s voice that’s doing the convincing here.
“I still love all the songs on that album, and wouldn’t change a thing about it,” she says.
While she has been getting her fair share of attention since Bad Blood’s release — with appearances at Folk Alliance, the South by Southwest music conference and the Americana Music Association awards show in Nashville this year — for Egge, it’s all about the music.
“The industry festivals are mostly about getting excited about music for me,” she says. “Getting turned on to new bands and new songwriters. Besides seeing old friends and staying in touch with folks, I’m always looking for my mind to be blown.”
But what about all those networking and booking opportunities that most musicians seem to seek from those kind of events?
“Business-wise, it is harder to make sense of it except for seeing it as a long game, because it’s so expensive,” Egge says. “Work always seems to come from it though, somehow.”
An independent touring musician from the start, Egge looks at that long view and sees both good and not so good times as having been essential to where she is now.
“I have been so very lucky and it has also been a struggle at times,” she admits. “I look at all the work I have done that has not been directly music related as a way to feed the art, one way or another, and I have been blessed with an amazing manager who I trust and love. I try not to think about today’s music business climate too much because I’d like to think that the music I’m making will last on into the years.
It’s a knocking on the soul, not a video game.”
I just made up this recipe with some ingredients I had in the kitchen and it came out delicious so I thought I’d share-
Red Lentil, cabbage and parsnip soup
-bring 4 1/4 C water to boil
-saute on low 3 cloves chopped garlic, 3 chopped parsnips, 3/4 cup red lentils & 1 inch chopped fresh cayenne pepper in 2 Tbls olive oil
-add the water and veggie bullion to the lentils & simmer covered on low for 15 mins
-add 1/2 head of chopped green cabbage & cook covered for 5 mins
fyi the red lentils serve as a stock thickener so don’t worry that they cook away. Enjoy, and happy September cooking.
I have a show coming up this Saturday with my band the ohiomen at The 92Y Tribeca here in NYC. We’re planning special moves and spins and magic tricks.
Here’s the link for info and tickets.
I got back from AMA in Nashville and it’s taken me about a week to recover from seeing Bonnie Raitt and John Hiatt and Shovels and Rope and Kinky Freidman and hearing Richard Thompson’s new-unreleased album at a listening party at Buddy Miller’s house and eating fish and grits and drinking ginger lemonade and co-writing with Gary Nicholson!
The road stretches out before me. More shows are added all the time.I’m lucky beyond words that my folks happened to be farming in Torquay, Saskatchewan when I was born and for my birthday this year, the Canadian govt. gave me a passport. Stay tuned for news about the official release of ‘Bad Blood’ in Canada!