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March 2008

Danielle Egnew: Where The Girls Are
By Lindsay Kambouris

Editor's Note:

We are pleased to feature the Danielle Egnew interview which was submitted to Indietude by Lindsay Kambouris. Lindsay had the opportunity to sit down for an extensive conversation with Danielle. The interview is both informative and thought provoking and shows the intelligence and depth of this artist. Indietude would like to thank both Lindsay
and Danielle for allowing Indietude to publish it on line.

Female singers and songwriters seem to embody independent music. You’ll find dozens of female artists entertaining in corner coffee shops, local festivals, and SXSW stages. Women make up a majority of the vocal talent on stage today. But behind the curtain, the music industry is notoriously known as a Boy’s Club. Just try and find female music producers, composers, A & R Reps, sound mixers, or anything else that contributes to the nuts and bolts of the industry. You’ll have a hard time because it's all male all the time. At least that was the case before Danielle Egnew started kicking the doors down.

From music to movies, Danielle Egnew is famous for writing her own rules, whether it's behind the scene or center stage. She was DIY (Do It Yourself) before DIY was an

acronym. Danielle Egnew is one of the reasons we have the DIY movement. She rode the first brave wave of women warriors alongside the likes of Ani DiFranco with all-girl band Pope Jane.

Her brand name is recognized and respected through all levels of the industry, not only for her musical, vocal and songwriting abilities, but for her business savvy when designing and launching her many projects.

Danielle Egnew is an architect of the arts, and some of her most impressive credentials are from behind the scenes, where she has earned her reputation as a prominent producer and composer. I talked to Danielle Egnew about her amazing career, one that has kept everyone talking, and still keeps us on pins and needles.

Lindsay Kambouris: Thanks for talking to me today.

Danielle Egnew: I’ve been looking forward to it.

LK: Well thank you! That’s really nice of you. I’m going to get right to it because there’s so much I want to ask you about. They say it’s much harder for a woman to get signed than for a man or a band of guys. Is that true?

DE: I don’t think that’s true, actually. Women have always been a big marketing tool, as in our lovely traditional patriarchal culture, women’s sexuality is still considered deliciously taboo. And I think that it’s the taboo that sells, actually – not the sex itself. Anyway, I actually think women solo artists have an easier time getting signed than groups, or male solo artists.

LK: You went from the all-girl Pope Jane to playing with boys and girls. What's the difference?

DE: No one has ever asked me this, and it’s such a good question. As weird as this is going to sound there is a difference, for me, anyway. Not better or worse, just a difference. I’ve worked with one or two guys that are an exception to this rule, but women just tend to be more enthusiastically work-focused and work-oriented in a band, all around. Women tend to be in it for the long haul, and don’t mind the less glamorous times because they know the hard work will pay off. Women in music are much more interested in building their own long-term music career, brick by brick. Guys can be a lot more in the moment in music and more interested in the next big live show opportunity, where the fun is. Guys follow their noses more, can be a lot more hot and cold with a project, and you can lose a guy a lot easier in a band if they realize there’s a lot of work to do and they aren’t going to be a rock star overnight. Guys can be way bigger divas than women. It seems for guys that the whole social part of hanging with buddies and noodling around in original rehearsal with random cover song jams is a big part of what makes music fun for them. Women tend to be bigger work horses in projects, and tend to stay a lot more focused when they’re working, and they don’t want to bust up what they consider work time on the original project that will build their career with social time that can happen at the end. So you just learn to balance everything out with a mixed band. Jamming is way more of a guy thing, and rehearsing is more of a girl thing. Most women I know aren’t into a jam. Personally, I’m not. Jamming is like doing karaoke, which I don’t even do very often – once in awhile, but that’s when I’m out with friends on my own time, not in a rehearsal using everyone else’s time. If I want to play covers, I’ll go join a cover band.

LK: You hear it time and time again, but is the music business really a boy’s club?

DE: Well, on the administrative side, yeah. But it’s getting a lot better in the last few years since the majors [labels] all took a tank and everything has had to be restructured.

LK: You went from the early 90's grunge days in Seattle to the late 90's roots scene in Montana to Los Angeles in the new millennium during the breakdown of the major record labels and rise of the Indie DIY scene. What were the differences working within those three scenes?

DE: (Laughs) There’s no difference! Music business is music business, and promotion is promotion, no

matter where you go or what scene you’re in. If you change a tire on the interstate and change a tire on a dirt road, you may have some difference in where you anchored your jack, but at the end of the day -- you still just changed a tire. The good news is that the industry has changed for the better, and that makes tire changing much easier all the way around!

LK: Your story is clearly an inspiration to everyone hoping to succeed in music... especially women. You came from a rural area with no backing and made it in music, film and TV. How do you hope your experiences will help future generations of women in the years to come?

DE: Wow, well if anything I have gone through can help anyone at all in any way, especially for years to come, then my career has been a smashing success. The biggest thing I would hope people would take away from my career is to not give up, to be flexible, and don’t be stubborn -- learn to put your low ego on a shelf, because it will only stand in your way. I got my first record deal when I was 21, but my career didn’t get where I wanted it until I was 38. Just do what you love, work hard, be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, ask for help when you need it but don’t mooch and don’t manipulate, be humble and don’t panic and throw fits when you don’t get everything you want, and don’t stop learning and making changes to your game plan as the times and opportunity change, because everything changes. And if as an artist you
don’t evolve and change, you won’t ever go forward. If you do these things, eventually, brick by brick, you’ll build that yellow brick road to your own Oz. And that’s a great feeling.

LK: Everybody’s been talking about your record deal, so let’s get to that. In January you got signed to an unheard of deal with Maurice the Fish Records where several of your musical projects are represented at once. This is unique because most artists have to
choose a musical direction, and you didn’t have to. With that kind of freedom, what will be your first release with Maurice the Fish Records and what is the concept of the album?

DE: My first release with them is my solo album Red Lodge. It’s an acoustic album whose concept is based around the feeling tone of Montana – it’s very raw,and very haunting in ways. This has been a challengefor me to record, as I have played all the instruments on the album while engineering it, mixing it, producing it, of course doing all the vocal tracks – and that hasn’t been the hard part. It’s been hard because it’s been
such a collection of songs that I am so close to, and I want to make sure it’s done right, which takes time. I wanted to do everything on the album myself, as it’s part of the Montana theme -- which is a very self-sufficient, maverick culture. But also that I used to go to the town the album is named after, Red Lodge, by myself all the time. It’s a singular thing. I’m excited about its release this year, but it did occur to me that unlike any pf my other releases, this was going to be like somebody reading my diary. It’s a very personal

LK: Speaking of your personal opinions, in the midst of our impending presidential election, I saw on the newswire that you endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. Do you think that it matters to America if celebrities publicly endorse political candidates?

DE: Well…(laughs) I think a lot of America thinks that celebrities are idiots, and rightfully so. A lot of celebrities act like idiots. But that being said, yes, I do think celebrities should endorse candidates, if they believe in them. I think that more celebrities should be a little more interested in giving back socially, rather than always wanting to get some
thing, and an endorsement is something that is just so easy to do, and can help the visibility of the candidate. I went on record endorsing Hillary Clinton, as I really, really believe in her way of accomplishing change for our country. I’m a registered Democrat, and I’ve always been very politically active with initiatives and other campaigns,
and we have some great candidates this year, so we’re pretty lucky whichever way the chips fall. I’m a big researcher when I go into elections, and my choice is Hillary Clinton, and hopefully, she’ll get the nomination this year. But no matter which candidate people chose, republican, democrat, independent, I hope people get out and vote this year. This is a historical election with both an African American and a woman running for president, and it’s fun to be a part of history.

LK: You're from Montana, a sparsely populated state with less Indie artists and less places for Indie music to showcase than bigger cities like NYC, L.A. or Nashville. Did that make it easier to get attention in your city, state and eventually nationally?

DE: Actually, it did, and I recommend people staying put in their local music centers and building the world’s hugest buzz before moving into a big music center. We went totally off the grid, and created all kinds of opportunities for ourselves in Pope Jane, in Montana. You can do that when a place is more flexible and doesn’t have a scene in place. You can build your own scene, and that’s a powerful fan base later on. Believe me, moving to big, populated place just because there is a scene there is highly over rated. All it means is that you are going to be fighting tooth and nail for stage space, and you’ll have less
people in interested in buying your product, as every one there has a product. If more artists would put their ego in check a little, and develop their fan base where they are, and stop whining that they have to get a little creative in becoming their own promoters,
like going to a local bar where they hire cover bands and talking to the owner about doing a night of original bands instead of crying in their milk that no one carved a scene out for them, what they would realize is that people will come from all over to hear great original
music, and that buzz will spread.

LK: You are a music producer, film producer working on the upcoming Imogene's Waltz, and radio producer on the internationally syndicated "Music Highway", which you also co-host. How important to you is the work do you behind the scenes?

DE: Oh, man, it makes up most of my career. Peoplewould be shocked if they realized how much of my life is behind the scenes work. In order to get the artistic project you want a lot of times, you have to produce it yourself. I get asked a lot to come on board to projects because of all the structural work I do, and I consider it part of who I am, as a creative person. But I can say that I’ve gotten a lot more specific about the type of behind the scenes work I do, as it is a huge amount of work, and I’ve run out of hours in the day.

LK: How has your life and career changed as a signed artist?

DE: It’s gotten much busier! (laughs) I can’t just dink around and finish an album whenever I want, and my time is not as much my own, as there is an organization to consider. Plus I’ve had a lot of press to cover, lots of interviews, which is really great that people want to talk with me! It’s just more busy, but I like it that way.

LK: You started out on piano, yet in your 20's, you switched to guitar for a lot of your live shows and studio recordings. Is it hard for a woman to rock out on a piano?

DE: Nah, it’s not. Tori Amos has been dong it for along time. I prefer to keep my shoes, on though. Piano is a rhythm instrument, and it can rock pretty hard! But it is easier to play guitar and sing, because the guitar can move with your body, and when you’re playing keys, your stuck where your hands are, in front of you.

LK: You are known to be one of the nicest people in the business yet your songs' lyrics pack a real punch.Do you have a dark side?

DE: Aw, thanks! I think everybody has all sorts of depths to their personality, and certainly more of those facets come out in my lyric writing.

LK: You seem to be very socially and politically aware,yet I noticed that in some of your musical projects you wear very revealing outfits. Do you think it's okay for a woman to be serious minded and sexy looking?

DE: Sure I do. I think it’s ridiculous that people believe that a woman can’t be sexy and savvy at the same time. Hmm, that’s a lot of “s”es in a sentence, but you get my drift. Outfits for performance are just costumes, plain and simple. I don’t think what I wear for a performance has much to do with my political and sociological philosophies, except that I don’t believe in putting myself in a box. If I feel like wearing jeans onstage, I will, and if I feel like dressing up like a two penny whore, I’m going to do it! (laughs) I am really comfortable with my body at this point in my life, and I think it’s because I don’t take myself nearly as seriously as I used to, and realized, hey – it’s only a body. It’s a big prop. So have fun with it.

LK: Most people seem to be okay with tasteful nudity, but what do you say to critics that believe that women who take their clothes off are selling-out to sell records?

DE: I’d say they’re making an assumption that it’s all about record sales. Maybe wearing a guitar strap for a shirt is just an artistic statement or identity? I say lighten up. It’s a short life we’re living, and in this world that’s falling apart, being naked should be the least of our worries. Anyway, you usually hear that ‘selling out’ talk from other artists who aren’t happy with where their career is at, so I take it with a grain of salt all the way around.

LK: You are endorsed by Minarik Guitars. Do you consider yourself a lead guitarist?

DE: No, I don’t, thought I can play leads, and tend to like the ones I lay down (laughs). I consider myself a rhythm player, and I lead more with my voice. I use the guitar to do some pretty interesting things, sound wise, in recordings, and the Minariks have great tone particularly.

LK: You are extremely photogenic. Have you always been that way or does mastering a photo session take work and practice?

DE: Well thank you very much for that. No, I haven’t been good in photo shoots in the past – this is something that has come in through time, I think mostly from having so
many photos taken, so I guess that falls into practice, maybe? Eventually, you just get comfortable in your skin, and chill out in front of the camera. God, the old Pope Jane photo shoots were a nightmare -- Kristen, the drummer, would give me such grief for posing too much. It was brutal! Photo shoots used to make me really nervous, but I loosened up a lot over time, I think.

LK: Your music is very eclectic and your styles vary from album to album. Do you find it was harder to pitch magazines, radio, and labels before you were signed, when your songs aren't packed into a certain genre?

DE: Well, yeah, I mean, it was hard with labels. That’s why I was so excited about this deal with Maurice The Fish Records – I didn’t have to chose a genre, and can put out whatever I put out. It’s not like I’m putting out a hip hop album, and then a folk album, so I won’t be a complete marketing nightmare for them or anything. Although I do have a huge penchant for making dance music, but it’s white-girl dance music (laughs). Jumping
genres has never been hard with radio promotion, and radio is so focused on singles that they don’t care what the rest of the album sounds like. Genre doesn’t seem to matter as much as it used to in this new music industry, though, and that’s nice. When Pope Jane put out Hide Me From the Moon in 2000, we sent it to Daemon Records, Amy Ray’s label, and they said we sounded too commercial pop, while Atlantic Records told us it
sounded too Indie roots (laughs). So now that genre’s out of the way in many respects, that’s a lot easier.

LK: What artists have inspired you on your road to success? If you could put out a duets album, who would be on it?

DE: I am an Annie Lennox nut. She is so talented, having attended the Royal Academy of Music, and so amazingly gifted as a vocalist, and as a pianist and flute player. She
writes amazing songs, and is able to really put out a soulful album. I also love the Eurythmics, as Dave Stewart is really a great producer, and does some great writing, too. Sheryl Crow has been a big favorite of mine, though I tend to like her older, less lovey stuff a little better. If I could do a duets album, I would do something with Annie Lennox, or course, and some other great strong singers – Celine Dion, and Andrea Bocelli and Josh Grobin, even Sheryl Crow when they’re not making her under-sing in the studio. She has
some big pipes in there! All of those artists have such incredible voices that I would be honored to do something with any of them.

LK: You've scored films, radio drops, ads, and TV shows.Is it easier to write a song or score a piece?

DE: You know, I think it’s the same amount of work, only you have different focuses. If you’re scoring, you’re paying a lot more attention to the action of what you’re scoring to,
whether it’s a time code, or something onscreen. If you’re writing a song, you’re scoring to your lyrics. So it’s the same either way, I guess. I just love to write music. I can’t
wait to get back into chewing into some good composition, that’s for sure.

LK: If you could try something completely different with your life, instead of being an all around entertainment success, what would it be?

DE: I would have been an astronaut. But if I had to makea change right now at 38, I would go in to Physics, or the Acoustic Sciences. Or maybe Paleontology. I’m from Montana so I’m used to sitting in the hot dirt for hours at a time (laughs). Or I could go into politics. I’m big on human rights and there’s no shortage of needing people to stick up for those who can’t stick up for themselves.

LK: I’m surprised you had so many answers off the topof your head because you have what most people would consider a dream job – you’re a celebrity. You’re a rock star. You’re famous. But now I have to ask, do you ever wish you took another career path in your life? [Writer’s note: Prior to the following answer, there was a very long

DE: I think no matter who you are, or what you do in your life, you’re always going to wonder what would have happened if you would have taken another path. If you did something different. I’m very happy with how my entertainment career has turned out, and continues to grow. I’ve worked hard for it, and I am so filled with joy that so many people get so much out of my work. I’m a very blessed person, and I’m very aware if that.

LK: Danielle, thank you for this visit. It’s been great.

DE: Well thank you, Lindsay. You’ve been awesome yourself.

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