Maïa Davies: ‘Takes A Woman Like You’, Vol. 9: Ana Egge
Maïa Davies of Ladies of the Canyon is back with ‘Takes A Woman Like You,’ a new feature blog at Music Canada that brings a twist to the traditional music interview. This summer, Maïa will pick the brains of smart, strange, and relevant women working as part of the Canadian music industry. In her seventh update, Maïa speaks with Ana Egge:
The first time I heard Ana Egge’s music, she had until that moment been unknown to me. I was on a wintery Ontario tour, checking in to another strange hotel. We laid our bags down and my tour mate pulled up Ana’s video for “Morning” on my laptop. Within 15 seconds, I was in tears, flooded by the raw emotion and stunning beautiful quality of her voice and songs. I later had the honour of playing a few shows opening for her in Toronto and New York City, watching her badass band (featuring fellow Canadian Peter Elkas on guitar) tear through her haunting, powerful songs. Raised in North Dakota and Saskatchewan, now living in Brooklyn, Egge is a somewhat best-kept secret of the music scene. Ron Sexsmith is her biggest fan. So is Steve Earle, and he produced her last record, entitled “Bad Blood”. Do yourself a favor and discover her, if you haven’t already. I am fortunate enough to call her a friend, and an inspiration. Here is a conversation I had with her a few weeks ago.
I’ve heard you like to read a lot. What inspirations or life lessons can you tell us about that you’ve pulled directly from your literary adventures lately?
Lately… let’s see.. I just got my first book on Audible for my last flight home from touring in Alberta. That’s been a new experience to listen to a book, on my phone. It’s the new novel by one of my favorite authors, Louise Erdrich. She mostly centers her stories around people of the Ojibwe nation. Weaving in the spirituality, politics and humor of Native American life in the past and present in such an earth bound yet ever uplifting way. And the land that she inherits and evokes is that of the plains of North Dakota and Minnesota which is where I spent most of my childhood.
You’re on the road quite a bit and have made some great musical friends along the way from what I can gather. What is your favourite thing about being a part of such a nomadic musical community, how has it enriched your life experience?Any specific meetings you can recall that have changed you?
My big dreams as a young picker were to meet my heroes and heroines. It’s such a beautiful and rare thing to be so moved by the work of an artist or musician. And to meet them and collaborate is just mind blowing. Yesterday I got 4 copies of my debut, self titled cassette (1994) in the mail from a store that just went out of business in Texas. I remember sending that tape off to Iris Dement and then getting a call from her to tour together. I gave that tape at least 3 times to Shawn Colvin and then when my first full length CD ‘River Under The Road’ came out in 1997 she called me at work and asked if I wanted to open some shows for her. Crazy town.
What differences, if any, have you observed in the way women and men approach songwriting? Do you believe their perspectives are different, or inherently linked?
No I haven’t really noticed any difference between the sexes. To me there are two very important things that go into songwriting, craft and inspiration. One who is continually in touch with who they are and what moves them and works to explore expressing that is an individual artist. They have a unique voice and open themselves up to that kind of personal inspiration. This takes as much practice and ‘showing up’ as learning the craft of how a song works, architecturally speaking.
What are your favourite moments like onstage, what is happening that gives you those magical moments while performing?
1. Feeling energy pour through me, smiling.
2. Connecting on another level with the band when everything just feels so connected and right.
3. When I hear someone in the audience whoop or holler!!!
What advice would you offer to other artists on searching for success?
First, we all can get to know our personal definition of success. I vacillate between feeling like the luckiest person alive to pouting and wishing that I could just get a break. My hope is to keep reaching more and more people through music. It’s the most fun, healing and positive way to communicate and I’m completely in love with the mysterious pioneering spirit that it set up inside me.
Preview: Singer-Songwriter Ana Egge Plays Cactus Cafe
While many musicians have time when they’re specifically on the road or off, singer-songwriter Ana Egge is perpetually touring. But the fact of the matter is, regardless of how punishing it may become, maintaining a fan base is a full-time-plus job nowadays – especially when you cannot depend on a record label to help with some of the heavy lifting. Egge, who plays UT’s Cactus Café on Saturday night, knows that keeping her fans close-by is up to her; she tows the line by performing as many dates as she possibly can.
A Canadian native, Egge grew up with parents that moved her between North Dakota and a hot springs commune in New Mexico, something that has undoubtedly made it easier for her to adapt to a transient existence as an adult. She uses the ever-changing landscape of cities and faces to color her songwriting, which brims with fleeting encounters and snapshots of rugged humanity. And while Egge definitely qualifies as a folkie, each one of her releases has had it’s own distinctive flavor, unified by her breathy, booze-lilted pipes and inherent gift for storytelling.
The most recent, 2011’s Steve Earle-produced Bad Blood, focused on the resulting emotional fallout from relationships tainted by mental illness. Her foray onto the dark side proved quite striking, and Earle revealed himself as the ideal musical partner for the project. No stranger to such struggles, his musical instincts lent themselves to the songs quite naturally. The collection continues to turn up well-deserved accolades even as Egge readies her next album: in March, the track “Hole in Your Halo” was nominated for the Independent Music Awards’ Best Americana Performance.
We had a chance to catch up with Egge, a former Austin resident and happily married lesbian who now calls Brooklyn home, for a brief chat earlier this week.
As you’ve progressed through the years, has the process by which you write songs changed at all? Tell us a little about your process. Do you write one at a time, or do you always have a few songs going at once?
Songwriting for me is something akin to being a thermometer… or being turned on, or sensitive. Maybe I’ve become more attuned to the feeling that I should step away and work on a melody that’s running through my head, or write down the lines that are coming up. It’s like I’m writing songs that I fall for, that I want to sing over and over again.
Have you found time during your schedule to begin work on a new album?
Yes – I just recorded my new record and will be mixing it next month. I love it! I recorded it with a great young bluegrass band, The Stray Birds, from PA, backing me up. The working title is Bright Shadow.
If I’m not mistaken, you’re married now… how has that affected your ability to tour like you always have? Is it an issue?
No, not really. My wife is completely supportive. It’s hard though, to be away on those long 4-6 week tours. Especially if it’s overseas, with the time difference.
Bad Blood was dark – has playing the material for nearly two years now helped you work through whatever forces influenced the writing for that record?
Yes definitely. I’ve had a lot of open conversations about mental health with strangers because of these songs, which is powerful.
When you lived in Austin, what was your favorite thing about the city?
So many things were my favorite. My years in Austin – from 1995 to 2000 – were amazing. I fell in with the best crowd of musicians and writers and just flowered there. I loved living in South Austin. Barton Springs, Artz’, The Continental. I still miss Las Manitas big time.
Traveling as much as you do can be really hard on folks that don’t naturally embrace the ‘nomadic’ life – tell me a bit about why you love it as much as you do, and what you could change if you were able.
To quote Willie, “…the life I love is making music with my friends.” And when I met him a couple years ago, when we said goodbye he said, “I’ll see you on down the road.”
Ana Egge at Cactus Cafe
Saturday, June 1
Doors @ 8 PM, Show @ 8:30
Tickets are $12 – purchase here
Austin Chronicle 5/30/13
Sat., June 1, 8:30pm
Cactus Cafe, Texas Union, UT campus, 512/475-6515
The quiet, homespun folkie living here in the late Nineties has been supplanted by a NYC singer-songwriter with an East Coast edge. Ana Egge’s latest, the Steve Earle-produced Bad Blood, deals in a natural and uncompromising way with her emotional struggles following a family member’s bouts with mental illness. Appearing on campus unaccompanied, she continues to tell previously unsung stories with simple melodies, compassion, and charm.
– Jim Caligiuri
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!
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