Bloody good: an interview with Ana Egge in Gay Chicago
Bloody good: an interview with Ana Egge
A musical expression of out singer/songwriter Ana Egge’s personal struggles to cope with the mental illness that struck members of her family, “Bad Blood” (Ammal) is an emotionally visceral recording. But it is through the music, in songs such as the title cut, Driving With No Hands, Evil, Walking With the Wolves and Hole In Your Halo, that Egge confronts the situation with unblinking compassion, resulting in messages of hope and survival. I spoke with Ana in mid-August 2011 before she embarked on her tour. (Ana Egge performs on Sept. 10 at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn.)
GREGG SHAPIRO: Ana, who do you consider to be your musical influences?
ANA EGGE: Early on, I would definitely say k.d. lang was a huge influence and Bonnie Raitt. And then Lyle Lovett and the Grateful Dead and lots of bluegrass stuff. Definitely the Indigo Girls, too.
GS: As you say in the liner notes for your new disc “Bad Blood,” this is the fourth time that you are working with ParkinSong. How did you become involved with the label and the organization?
AE: Basically, Rob Litowitz, who founded ParkinSong heard me on NPR’s Morning Edition back in ’98. He produced a concert for me in the (Washington) D.C. area and we became close friends. He wanted to start doing something positively to effect what was happening to his mother (Selma) – she was living with Parkinson’s for many years. Eventually she passed away after living with it for 15 years, I think. He and his sisters started doing these annual benefit concerts and I played all of them. Then I worked with him on a CD he wanted to do to benefit the Parkinson’s Foundation. He got a lot of great artists to submit songs and in that he formed his label and then he signed me. We did three albums together. This one (“Bad Blood”) we produced together but it’s coming out on Ammal Records.
GS: Funds to pay for the making of your new disc “Bad Blood” were raised via Kickstarter. Why did you choose to go that route?
AE: Several people had told me about it and this album was a step up for me in a few different ways and we realized that we were going to have to come up with more money than before. We looked into Kickstarter and seemed like a really great model and it worked well.
GS: So you’d recommend it to other musicians and artitsts.
AE: Yes, I think it’s a great way for fans, friends and family to have an eye in on the process. It’s really a great way to engage and share all the different aspects of making a record. It’s not just all of a sudden I wrote these songs and here it is, it’s done. You can be in touch with everyone who is on your list about all the different steps of recording and picking the musicians and the artwork and the manufacturing.
GS: Last year, Rodney Crowell produced an album by out singer/songwriter Chely Wright and your disc “Bad Blood” was produced by Steve Earle, who along with his wife Allison Moorer, also performs on the album. Do you think that says something about changing attitudes towards the LGBT community and performers in musicians with connections to Nashville?
AE:I think so. Steve is very outspoken in support of gays and lesbians. He’s very liberal. He calls himself a socialist. I know that doesn’t necessarily mean that they support us and respect equal rights for everyone [laughs], but he certainly does.
GS: And what was it like to work with Steve on the record?
AE: It was really exciting and fun. He’s very full of energy and creative beyond where I expected. Every day was full of surprises. It was great.
GS: Your 2009 disc “Road To My Love,” was probably your most pop-oriented effort, while “Bad Blood” is undeniably country. Do you think one is a truer representation of you musically?
AE: I’ve always striven to write great songs. I feel like the presentation of them is always up for debate. What instruments I choose to play on the songs on the record, that begins to flavor the genre, if I have fiddles versus horns. The freedom of making albums and having the creative input in production is that you can decide those flavors that you are going to use. As I was writing the songs for the last record, I heard horn lines, so I was really grateful that I found great players to frame those songs in that way. With this new record, I was thinking of it as more a bluegrass country record and then Steve wanted heavy-hitting drums on the songs, so we made a country rock record.
GS: Do you think that the subject matter, dealing with family members’ issues with mental illness, was better suited to this style of music?
AE: Yeah, I think so. In a way, it naturally went that way in the writing process where I was dealing with these home and family-based topics. I was drawn back to the first music that I loved, which was mostly old-time folk, bluegrass music. Stuff I learned on my guitar and mandolin.
GS: Album opener Driving With No Hands perfectly sets the mood, beginning with the angry sounding guitar and the ominous strings, and the image of “concrete white sheets/blood in my teeth.” Was it always your intention to begin the album with this song?
AE: No, not at all. That’s an important thing that I want to communicate. There is some anger on this record. When you have family members suffering, I’m not angry at them. I have had a lot of anger at the illness, wanting it to stop, go away. A lot of the writing freed up for me when I started writing about the illness itself as a character.
GS: You mentioned the drums and the title cut “Bad Blood” has a beat like blood pumping through veins. Was this the way you heard it as you were writing it?
AE: No, that was Steve.
GS: Do you really have a motorcycle as you sing in the song Motorcycle?
AE: Yeah, I have a motorcycle. I keep it at my place in New Mexico. On the tank it says, “Yermama” [laughs]. It’s a ’76 Yamaha 650. I took the decals off the side and put them back on to say, “Yermama” [laughs].
GS: Now it’s customized. What do you like best about it?
AE: I have knobby tires on it so I can take it on dirt roads and it’s so much fun to ride. I remember when I first started driving cars and I went back to motorcycles, how much more comfortable I felt on a motorcycle.
GS: Please tell me that you wear a helmet.
AE: I do!
GS: Thank you.
GS: You are going to be on tour during the fall – what are you most looking forward to about that?
AE: There’s so much freedom on the road. I love the newness everyday of putting myself out there and not knowing who I am going to meet or where I’m going to eat or where I’m going to sleep [laughs] sometimes. I really love that. It feeds the creative side of what I do.
Gregg Shapiro- Gay Chicago