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Interview

 

Danielle Egnew Sees Red:

The Red Lodge Album

By Kelly Iverson

 

The word ďprodigyĒ should be reserved for people who actually are prodigies, like Mozart, Prince, and Danielle Egnew, because much like the others, Danielle Egnew is the type of musical talent that only comes along once in a generation. From scoring films to fronting band after band to producing artists, her latest album, Red Lodge is a solo masterpiece deceptively packaged as a ďsolo acoustic albumĒ, with tracks that include violin, mandolin, guitar, bass, drums and percussion, Tibetan bowls and piano, all played by Egnew, a two-time All Access Music Award recipient . Red Lodge is a complex personal diary, an emotionally explosive body of work that is bound to be labeled as a musical staple next to Carole Kingís Tapestry. A lonely overtone reminiscent of an empty boxcar traveling through barren fall-time prairies, Red Lodge is an Americana story crafted from heartache, isolation and self-discovery.

 

Danielle, an acoustic solo album is usually something an artist releases when they donít have a band to fill out their sound. You have several bands, so what made you go in the acoustic direction?

 

Danielle Egnew: Honestly, it was about getting out certain songs that I absolutely loved, but that were more intimate pieces. I mean, yeah, I play in a lot original full band projects, but they just arenít the right platform for certain music.

 

There seems to be a commercial stigma around acoustic albums. Were you ever afraid that all this effort youíve put into Red Lodge would be wasted?

 

DE: Oh, no, I wasnít. This album is all about reflection, and everybody reflects, whether they admit it or not. This album is all heart and all raw emotion. I didnít record this album from the place of grooming it to be the next number one charting record on Star 98 in Los Angeles, although that would be cool! Actually, Iíve had to really work to not produce the album like I would my other projects that were rotated on radio. Donít get me wrong, the album has plenty of cuts that could go radio ready, but the album is much more about telling stories. Not everything [musically] has to be framed up with a hip hop backbeat in order to get people to listen.

 

Your video for your single Swinging At Nothing is beautiful. The video was shot in your hometown up in Montana?

 

DE: Thank you. Yeah, the video has gotten great feedback, and you can see it online YouTube, MySpace, Google, Metacafe and Yahoo. Did I forget somewhere? Probably. Anyway, director Paul Mehlhaff, who is also one of my good buddies, lives up in my hometown of Billings, Montana. We shot the video in the house I grew up in, where my parents live, and the piano in the video is the Steinway baby grand that I grew up playing. So it was really a special project. Paul gave a copy of the video to my mom in her mailbox, and my mom called me up thrilled with it, and we were both so surprised that the inside of the piano lid was so polished and shiny! The outside of the piano has seen better days! (laughs) 

 

I looked through the tracks and I didnít see any reference to a Red Lodge. Where did the title of the album come from?

 

DE: Red Lodge is a tiny mountain town in Montana, and one of my very favorite places. Itís a sanctuary for me that I used to go to so I could process big emotional issues in my life, and I named the album after this place because the album is all about processing big emotional issues. Red Lodge is an earthy town and an earthy album.     

 

Stylistically as a writer and producer, you are known for very full arrangements. What were you trying to accomplish with such a departure from the musical style that you are recognized for?

 

DE: I canít say Iím trying to accomplish anything in particular except to put out these songs that are really powerful. I think artists fall down repetitive rat holes of their own fear of change. They think their audiences wonít evolve with them, and sometimes, thatís true, but in this case, itís my first big solo album, so thereís nothing to compare it to, and Iím not afraid of change anyway, at least not artistically. But donít ask me to give up my Rocky Road ice cream (laughs). I think it would be weird for fans if this album came out under Pope Jane, for sure, as thatís not the sound of the band.  But this album is actually very typical of stuff I do on my own. Itís either this, or really humongous orchestrated alt rock stuff. Yeah, true, I love a big sound canvass to work with. I love to sculpt with sound, and the more, layers, the merrier. But you can do that with acoustic albums as well. There are songs on this album with 38 tracks in them, yet itís considered acoustic. I think artists need to relax a little bit about their song choices ands just record what really sounds good, no matter what genre it ends up falling into. A good song is a good song. Itís not rocket science, itís music.

 

Speaking of your big alternative rock material, I heard a rumor that you scrapped half the material on Red Lodge and started over because it wasnít the right sound for your album. Is that true?

 

DE: (laughs) No, itís only half true. I had some material that was more mainstream pop and rock oriented that I had recorded previously to Red Lodge, and I thought I would include it since it was already done, but honestly, it just didnít fit and it sounded really stupid together. I mean, really, really stupid.  I tried to squish them all together, because some of these singles are tracks that have been doing really well on digital download sites and I thought Iíd give them an official album to land on, but it just sounded like a train wreck, and I couldnít handle it. I tried to be less anal about it, but it didnít work, so Iíll put them [the songs] on their own rock album.

 

So how many tracks did you scrap?

 

DE: Six.

You had to then write and record six other songs to finish your album?

 

DE: Well, some of the songs were already written for the most part and I did write some brand new ones, but yeah, I had to re-record. No biggie. Itís part of the job.

 

Itís part of the job for you, someone who regularly puts out volumes of material, but many artists would see this as a huge setback.

 

DE: It certainly was a time set-back, but I truly couldnít deal with the inconsistencies of the feeling tone of the album. Iíd rather be four months behind in releasing a great album than putting out something that sounds like a K-Tel sampler (laughs).

 

Am I right about the fact that one of the tracks on the album, Hey Sadie, is about a woman who kills herself by running in front of a train?

 

DE: Oh geez, it sounds terrible when I hear you say it like that. Yes, itís true, it is about a girl who runs in front of a train and kills herself.

 

You never say why she killed herself. I have to ask, what made Sadie do it?

 

DE: I almost donít want to say, because when someone takes their own life, the people left behind often times donít know why they did it. Theyíre just left with the hollowness of what happened and the song is about the hollowness.

 

But did you have a reason that Sadie killed herself?

 

DE: I did.

 

And?

 

DE: Well, in my mind, Sadie lives in a small town in Montana called Havre. Itís a real town, right up North by Canada. Sadie killed herself because she fell deeply in love with another girl, and had no way to express this love on the real world, and knew the love would never come to fruition in her environment, so rather than live an empty life without that love, she chose death.

 

Thatís not what I expected. Where would you get the inspiration for such a dramatic statement?

 

DE: (Pause) I think everyone has something they wish they could have, but they canít have it, whether itís a person, a place to live, a different job. Iím from Montana, and right next door is Wyoming, the state where Matthew Shepard was bludgeoned to death, and I know quite a few people who have not lived the way they wanted to live because they were afraid of the sociological consequences. Itís really sad, but it still happens.

 

Do you think that now, with this public knowledge of what the song is about, that it could inspire people to be who they really are rather than suffer in silence?

 

DE: Well I hope so. I havenít really thought about it, as I wasnít really intending on tipping why Sadie killed herself. But now that itís out there, I would hope that people would just be who they are, and be happy. No emotional pain is worth dying for, no matter how suffocating it feels. As they say, itís a permanent solution to a temporary problem. But the song is really about hopelessness, and unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of that in people that push them towards drastic measures. Everything has a solution, and if you want long enough, the emotional weather will change, so hang in there!

 

On a completely juxtaposed note, your song Me Me Mine Mine My is an upbeat country song reprimanding selfishness: Me, Me, Mine Mine My / You donít know why you even try / Lordy if thatís the best that you can do / Then go ahead and lay down and die / And give us all a break for awhile /  Iíve got news, it ainít all about you.  What inspired such a point-blank message?

 

DE: I work in entertainment! (laughing) Seriously, where Iím from Montana, weíre a pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps culture, and I canít deal with self-indulgent, whiny people who cry foul all the time when they bring a lot of their own misery on themselves, or they could be using that energy for positive change in their life. Iím all for being supportive and understanding, because we all get disappointed sometimes, but so many people just play victim and whine and cry, instead of doing something productive to better their lives. In Los Angeles, there are a lot of unhappy artists, and you hear a lot of whining and blaming about why theyíre not where they wanted to be, and it just gets old. Weíre living in an age where the polar icecaps are melting, where laying blame is the new black, where the country is completely broke and mainstream news reports here in L.A. include tips on how to live on a budget, and people still find time to drift around and wallow in their own self-pity because someone isnít patting their head and telling them theyíre fabulous enough. I just find that kind of emotional self-indulgence really pathetic during a time when people really need to be reaching inside of themselves and pulling their inner strengths forward for the betterment of the world, the country, their neighborhoods, their families, their jobs. Like I said, Iím all for being supportive when someone is having a bad day, but there is such thing as being an enabler when someone really needs to buck up, and I think that enabling is creepy.

 

Iíve read some of your other interviews and you come across as a very positive person. After listening to Red Lodge, I can easily see your dark side. What do you have to say to your fans that are used to a more upbeat Danielle Egnew?

 

DE:  I would say that Iím human, just like they are, and sometimes it rains in my corner of the world just like everybody elseís.

 

Were the dark overtones in Red Lodge a marketing decision, to angle the album toward more edgy subjects?

 

DE: Absolutely not. This album just poured out of me, and itís where I was at, at the time. Itís some of the most raw work Iíve done in a long time. Well, content wise anyway.

 

I must confess that your song Erased is the most heart-wrenching ballad Iíve ever heard. It was almost uncomfortable to listen to. Are you concerned as an artist that this album will be too exposing?

 

DE: Exposing? Like, as in, people will know what I really feel like or think? No, Iím not worried about any of that, because I think that makes for a great song, but then again, I donít think I see the album as being nearly as dark as you do.

 

If not dark, what would you call it?

 

DE: Iíd say itís just emotionally involved in places. But Iím not sure I think of that involvement as dark. To me, dark is like Marilyn Manson, or Type O Negative, or any of that growly grind core where theyíre eating body parts on stage as part of the show.

 

I think most people would classify that type of stage show as theatrics, and a woman choosing to be run down by a train as dark.

 

DE: Oh. Really? Okay. Well, then I guess by your definition, the album is kind of dark. But I still think Marilyn Manson is scarier than I am.

 

Do you self-identify as an intense writer?

 

DE: UmÖI guess not in that respect. I mean, IĎve been told that before, so I guess thereís some truth to it.

 

That label seems to make you nervous.

 

DE: (Pause) Nervous? IÖwell, no, not really nervous. I mean, okay, maybe a little, because Iím repeating you like a parrot, and that doesnít sound very intelligent, now, does it? Hereís the deal, itís just weird when people see something in you all the time that you donít see yourself. I hear this intensity thing a lot, and I donít see myself as predominantly intense per se, but I keep hearing about it, so unless everybodyís lying, it must be true.

 

How do you see yourself?

 

DE: Well, I see myself as maybe thorough, or maybe hyper-focused or overly detail oriented sometimes. Maybe a little overly-scrutinous? Is that even a word? I can get intense sometimes, but I think anyone with any semblance of grey matter and a decent sense of passion can be intense sometimes, and I think the word gets over-used in artistic circles, so maybe thatís my hang-up with it. We all know that one Emo girl who walks in and sheís wearing all black, and her whole identity is that Ďone intense artist chickí, and I know a million of those girls, and I just donít see myself like that. I donít think theyíd see me like that, either! (laughs) Mostly I see myself as rather dorky, and under-organized, actually.

 

Dorky? I donít think your fans would agree.

 

DE: Well God bless their hearts! Iíve got the best fans on the planet!

 

Your lyrics often times go uncommented on in the shadow of your music and your spectacular voice, yet your lyrical poetry has always been some of the best out there. What is your process for choosing the words to your songs?

 

DE: Oh, thanks! I love lyrics. Actually, there really isnít much of a process, they more or less just pop out with the music. Like a lot of artists, I write when I really have something on my mind or my heart that I need to work though, and I do have a bit of an obsessive compulsive need to have the lyrics metered. I could never write lyrics like Alanis Morisette who does a lot of off-cadence and off-stress pronunciations in order to make the words work the melody line. I have a natural attraction to internal rhymes and allegories, and thatís a big part of my writing style. I do have a really wonky sense of humor, too, and that comes out in my more country / Americana stuff.

 

Danielle, thank you for talking to me today, and I think Red Lodge is brilliant.

 

DE: Well thank you so much, and thank you for having me! And stay off the railroad tracks (laughs).

 

Danielle Egnew is a gifted musical artist, producer, actress, writer, and radio host. To learn more about Danielleís latest music, video, film and TV projects, visit her official website www.DanielleEgnew.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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