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February 8th, 2007

Eclectic singer names new album after Red Lodge
By Alastair Baker
News Editor

Danielle Egnew, once of Billings now L.A., has named her latest album 'Red Lodge' in honor of the town she misses "something fierce." Red Lodge, said Egnew, is a place that has always "represented utter freedom to me."

"It became," she added "a place where I could go and feel complete abandon, outside the pressures of my everyday life which, at the time, was in Billings."

"Red Lodge also represents the emotional quiet I used to feel when I would go up to the Beartooths and wander off into the woods, and it's in that 'quiet' that everything in your head comes to the surface -- your fears, your hopes, your pains -- it all comes out and looks you in the face, when you're by yourself in the wilderness," said Egnew.

Egnew admits to having some deep emotional issues that Red Lodge helped to check and the new album is named after the town because all the songs off it reflect this state of mind.

"That sounds a lot more pretentious than it's meant to! In essence, I carry a piece of the freedom of Red Lodge with me all the time, living here in Los Angeles, where a person can literally be hemmed in and trapped by the five o' clock traffic and 30 million other people in the surrounding areas! I'm a Montana girl -- I don't like to be fenced in! It's during those times that I turn to the town inside of me, or I'll have a claustrophobic meltdown! Red Lodge, as an album, very stripped down and acoustically driven, production wise -- I usually have extremely big arrangements on my albums, but Red Lodge is very earthy in how it is put together -- just like the town."

Egnew has many fond memories of the area, taking in a weekend at the Pollard with her "honey" before topping up the days "with a romantic dinner at Bridge Creek -- the old location, before it moved to the mainstreet -- man, the salmon melted in your mouth."
"That coupled with the mountain air -- there was nothing better."

She remembers Red Lodge also for its laid back artistic aura.

"When my former band Pope Jane was going strong, I used to play music solo, Sunday afternoons, in the front window of the Snow Creek Saloon. I would drive up from Billings and Carl Jr. would set me up with a hot Toddy, and I'd plug in my acoustic Marshall amp, my guitar and my mic, and play for a couple of hours. It was actually blissful -- the wood stove popping -- it was the best gig ever. I loved those Sunday gigs."

As a child Egnew recalled hanging out with her grandparents to fish, and play in Rock Creek. "My grandpa would always insists that we get the fresh baked French bread for our picnics, and we'd always hit the candy store for snacks on our camping trips, which were up around Greenough Lake or Limber Pine. Geez, I loved that bread! The crust was perfect."

Although not much of a skier by her own admission, she remembers sledding "our fool heads off."

"That activity, of course, was always topped off by the reward of piping hot Bogart's Pizza."

Egnew's chosen profession had a perfect lift-off because both her parents were involved with music. "My dad has an incredible tenor voice and he plays guitar, and my mom has a voice that would blow Julie Andrews out of the water, and she plays piano."

"My folks used to listen to a lot of old musicals on vinyl. So that's really present in my song writing -- big vocals and a lot of orchestration. That's not to mention the Italian arias that we used to sing around the piano at family gatherings. I had a lot of classical music in my upbringing, with my parents 'Time Life Collection' of all the classical masters on vinyl -- more so classical and musicals than rock and roll, really. Also, musically, my folks spun a lot of Beatles and Cat Stevens and John Denver, so I grew up on incredibly strong melody lines and deep-rooted hooks."

Today Egnew is a self-confessed Eurythmics nut. "Annie Lennox is an amazing vocalist and musician, and Dave Stewart is an incredible songwriter and producer."

So surrounded by music from all sides growing up it is not surprising to learn that Egnew's first public performance was singing with her parents in front of a crowd at the age of two.

Theater was also as much an influence as music and Egnew threw herself in to script writing at an early age because "there wasn't much else to do."

"I started acting in children's theater -- I'll never forget -- my Granny and Grandpa Charlie enrolled me in The Rainbow Children's Theater in Billings -- and I just went nuts from there! I always loved performing. I find it really freeing. I did a lot of theater in junior high and high school, won three state competitive drama championships, then got two full-ride scholarships to The University of Arizona in Tucson for Musical Theater, and The Montana State University - Billings for Theater. From there, I went on and got a record deal from a smaller regional label in Seattle during the Grunge boom, and when my contract was fulfilled, I moved back to Montana with then Pope Jane drummer Kristen Coyner, and we started the band out of Billings, with bassist Holly Hoagland Shawver. The rest is history."

When asked what the philosophy was behind Pope Jane, Egnew (Laughs) "Well, the philosophy at the time was, 'Let's do something that no one else has done, and everybody says is impossible!'"

"See, Pope Jane was an all-female band launching out of Billings in 1994, and we played all original music... I was told by everyone who played the Montana circuit that no one would book an all-original band because people wanted to hear covers."

True to her independent self Egnew didn't buy that reasoning. "I was playing to some really big crowds out in Seattle, and saw that people really dug originals. So I called up these clubs all throughout Montana, and told them that we were an all female band, and that we played all originals, all night -- four sets of all original music from 9:30 p.m. until 1:30 a.m., just like a cover band -- but that their patrons would love us because we would be the only all-female gig in town."

The ploy worked and Pope Jane had booking after booking even filling up venues in Wyoming. "We would make up really great show posters and send them to club ahead of time -- something other bands in the area weren't really doing at the time -- and we'd get paid great cash for the weekend, just like a cover band would -- all for playing our own music and selling our own CD's! Pope Jane was really a magical band that hit at the exact right time."

Another side to Egnew is that she is "heavily into Gay Activism" but strictly from a human rights standpoint and "not to 'shove the lifestyle down people's throats', as I have often heard."

"In fact, it's to simply educate people. I get a belly chuckle when I hear people say, 'Gay lifestyle" -- I wonder -- what exactly IS that? I am a gay woman. My "gay lifestyle" consists of paying my taxes, going to the grocery store, singing with my mom and aunt in the church choir, decorating my Christmas tree, calling my dad and BSing about semi-boring daily stuff, bickering with my partner occasionally about how the money is spent -- really, it sounds like most everybody in Montana is also living my 'Gay Lifestyle' (Laughs)."

Egnew was born gay she says but that "it's like having brown or blue eyes."

"It's not something you choose. Heck, with all the bigotry out there towards gays and lesbians, who in their right mind would choose that life? So the legal bigotry against gays and lesbians, especially in the area of marriage, is just unconstitutional, clean and simple. If there were laws enacted against only people with brown eyes, we would find those laws unconstitutional and prejudicial. But because there is so much religious ta-do that has been attached to being gay, it's become the last acceptable sociological demon, and that demon is in place solely through fear and a lack of education."

Egnew that there is more and more acceptance towards gay couples. "I'm glad to hear that there is a growing acceptance towards gays in Red Lodge -- I would hope so. Red Lodge has always been very kind to me, and though in my everyday life I don't shout through a bullhorn that I'm gay, the folks who have asked I have been honest with. And my favorite response in Red Lodge was from a gentleman wearing a Harley dew rag in the Snow Creek Saloon. He asked me out, and I thanked him, but told him I had a girlfriend. He said, 'So what, are you a lesbian?' I said 'yes', and he took a sip of his beer. He finally looked back at me and said, 'Me too. Bartender -- a beer for my fellow lesbian.'"

On a final note, Egnew is asked who her heroes are and immediately she says her family. After her parents divorced, her grandparents, Grammy Pinkie and Grandpa Louie, and Granny and Grandpa Charlie "dived right in" to help her, teaching her "what it was to put another person before yourself, and how to honor your word, and that if you work hard enough, anything is possible."

"I miss them very much -- but I'm really glad I still have my parents around. My mom is now retired after 25 years with an abundant and successful career in teaching in Billings, my step dad (who I call my pop) is almost retired as a teacher, and plays mandolin in many bands around Billings including the Long Time Lonesome Dogs. My dad is in New Zealand as a Fulbright Scholar assessing cutting edge medical training techniques in the area of death and dying, and his wife is a doctor who is also practicing medicine in New Zealand for the next six months."

"My family are my heroes," she said.

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