Danielle Egnew - Rocker with Political Ideas and
a Broadway Throat
27 Jun 2007
by Scott G - The G-Man
singer of indie bands Pope Jane and Junkie Cousin,
film actress, political clothing designer, and outrageous
singer/songwriter, Danielle Egnew has a huge voice,
legit stage training and a compulsion to rock. Scott
G interviews the forceful yet friendly femme fatale.
You have created more music than anyone else from
Billings, Montana, I believe. Between the Pope Jane
material and your own recordings, there are a dozen
albums now, is that right?
Egnew: Oh yeah, there are. The thing is, I do so
many different kinds of music that eventually I
compile enough for several different albums. I’m
almost done with “Red Lodge,” my solo
CD that’s sort of taken it in the shorts schedule-wise
with everything else I have had going on, and Paul
Houston and I are starting to record our Junkie
Cousin CD, so it’s going to be ‘album
central’ for me for awhile. Plus, I just love
album releases. Any good reason for a big event,
and I’m in!
have a Broadway theater voice, but you’re
a singer-songwriter, an alternative rocker, a creator
of meditation music, and even an experimental art
rocker. Would you agree with that assessment?
yes I would. It’s weird to be considered
a pop artist but have a voice that’s better
suited for “Wicked” than it is for
“American Idol.” Just look at Jennifer
Hudson - that girl has singing pipes on her
for days, and they bounced her right off of
Idol and into an Oscar for “Dreamgirls!”
So I guess there is hope for us big-voiced broads!
I’d love to do more musical theater, actually.
It was my college major. I’d like to see
some edgy new musicals, but the singy-dancy
nature of the musical doesn’t really lend
itself to being edgy. Although, I have been
working on writing a musical that’s got
some edge to it, so we’ll see what comes
How do you like to differentiate the music
for your various projects?
it boils down to which songs go together. Sort of
like tonal Garanimals, those clothes we wore as
kids where you matched the animals on the tag to
see which pants and shirt went together? I’ll
end up creating a song and if it doesn’t go
with an album I’m working on, I just put it
aside until I get enough songs that “match”
for a body of work. Then that body gets evaluated
and earns its own genre, whether it’s rock,
ambient, or country. I had a problem with my album
“Red Lodge,” as I really, really wanted
it to be a stripped down acoustic album with all
acoustic instruments, and sometimes a real huge
production rocker would come out of me during a
session, so I’d record the big rocker, and
just put it aside for the next album. “Red
Lodge” has been a challenge to keep it true
to my idea for the album in the first place. But
it’s sounding great, now that’ I’ve
weeded out the stray huge production numbers!
you compelled to make music? What drives you?
I am compelled, all the time. It’s sort of
creepy and maybe irritating for people who live
with me. Sometimes I’ll be sitting out at
fancy dinner with my honey, and a song will just
fly through, and I have to start writing it on a
napkin until it’s finished. I sort of have
musical Tourette’s. For me, music “comes
through” in the ethers, and you grab onto
whatever song is trying to make its way through
your built-in radio antennae, scribbling like crazy
until you can catch it all before you lose the signal.
That’s if the song has lyrics. Sometimes I
just go back into my studio and I start composing,
and it’s the same process, only instrumental.
I’m constantly outputting music. I think something
may be wrong with my brain, like John Travolta in
“Phenomenon.” Maybe I should get a CAT
are you searching for in a song?
guess the more accurate way to put it for me would
be, why is that song searching me out? The songs
always seem to be finished when I pick up on them
and try my best to get them out before I lose the
clock on them. When I record, I always feel like
I am doing it twice, because it’s all finished
in my head. All my songs tell stories. I think that’s
part of my western culture heritage, being from
Montana, which is a yarn-spinning state, and I’m
not talking about knitting! I also tend to write
songs when I am trying to figure out something in
myself or someone else. Or I use the song to process
my feelings when I feel very, very hurt, and I’ll
tell someone off in a song. That’s not very
mature, but it’s true, and it makes for a
great tune, because there are a lot of people out
there who want to tell people off but can’t
form the words to sum up their journey in three
and a half minutes, and they can really relate.
Some of my best albums have been after break-ups.
I don’t write very happy happy joy joy lyrics,
though I tend to write very uplifting instrumental
music. That’s a weird dichotomy. I’ve
got this song, “Cracker Jack Box Hero,”
that’s being used in the film “Changing
Spots,” and it’s got this bouncy, happy
pop/Americana arrangement in G, but the lyrics are
about someone who is hideously unhappy and drowning
in their own life. Yeah, I’m a ball of fun.
first in your head: melody or lyrics?
at the same time. I get the finished choruses first,
and have to build in the verses. Or, if I’m
writing songs with Paul, he’ll be strumming
along, and I’ll get the melody first, and
then the lyrics. But if it’s something I originate,
then it’s both at the same time.
how music touches people’s souls.
I think that the way it touches people is as unique
as the person it’s touching! All things made
of any sort of particle exist on a frequency. Atoms
resonate at a certain frequency. Light waves get
to earth from the sun on a certain frequency spectrum.
Depending on what those light waves bounce off of,
some of the light is absorbed and some is reflected,
and a person may see blue, or green, or red. But
the light “creating” the color is the
same. Music, by its very nature, is a frequency
based form of communication, and works affecting
the soul of an individual in the same manner as
a light wave does. Depending on who the music is
bouncing off of, someone may be touched to feel
happy, or sad, but the music is the same. I believe
that the terrain of a person’s soul directly
determines what music is absorbed, and what music
is reflected back. So I think more people could
use music to help figure out parts of their souls
that they can’t find with their naked eye,
much like sonar assists in finding parts of the
bottom of the Mariana trench that are miles beneath
the ocean’s surface. A ping is sent down,
bounces back, and is returned with information about
the bottom of the dark crevice that we would otherwise
never see, because it’s out of our reach.
But it’s not out of the reach of frequency.
If a person pays attention to what bounces back
in them when they listen to certain music, maybe
they’ll find some deep places in themselves
that they were never able to see before, just by
paying attention to the emotional image in what
is reflected back? Music as a tool for emotional
self discovery and healing is unparalleled, in my
opinion. Better than the freakin’ Discovery
are 3 merchandise pages online, one for you as personality
and singer, another for the band Pope Jane, and
then there are the slightly shocking Vision Duds
items on Café Press. There may soon be a
merch page for the Junkie Cousin band. Tell us about
how you see the gear in a career.
I am a gear junkie! Gear is the best! Swag rules!
I myself buy tons of gear from bands and films and
TV shows that I love. I completely dig wearing another
band’s T-shirt. It’s like bumper stickers
for bodies. I think gear is a way to connect with
your fans and supporters by creating something that’s
a little piece of you, and getting it to them. I
especially think that because I do all of my design
for my projects. It’s important to have retail
items because not only does the sale of the items
help offset other hard costs, like pressing CDs,
advertising and such, but it really is a great way
to get the feeling or tone of your project out.
Not to mention, it is just so much fun to design!
I just love graphic design and marketing. It’s
a guilty pleasure, and it’s half the fun of
releasing a project. It’s like styling your
own hair once the hairdresser finishes the cut.
Swag rules, rules, I tell you!
are your ideas behind Vision Duds?
just wanted to re-claim the actual character
of Jesus for the masses, not as a boutique savior
with only the Right wing in mind. I thought
it was about time that He stopped getting passed
around as the poster child for judgment, when
in fact Jesus was the original peace-lovin’
anti-establishment hippie guy. My Vision Duds
clothing line brings the focus back around to
what the documented character of Jesus Christ
truly is, in an attempt to remind so many people
who claim to be Christians that taking a tone
of judgment toward another person is in absolutely
no way being “Christ-like” or Christian.
A big part of my interest lies in activism.
As a gay
woman, I’m a big human rights activist,
and one of the things that
chaps my hide is when any one person or group
claims that another group does not deserve the
same rights as the other. We find this in our
society, especially in terms of religious groups
utilizing iconic figures such as Jesus to push
their own opinion as legally credible, based
on a religious reference. This gets confusing
in a country where the law is supposed to be
separate from religious beliefs. I’m all
for anyone believing anything they want to,
but I think it’s a cop-out to blame a
personal opinion on a religious icon, as in
“the devil made me do it,” or “god
told me to.” The Vision Duds clothing
design line is a statement on how religious
organizations use the identity of Jesus to back
up actions that are very un-Christ like, such
as hate and war. My designs all include a picture
I created of Jesus Christ, with sayings beneath
them addressing a lot of the dichotomous Religious
Right propaganda. One of the sayings is “My
name is Jesus. I don’t hate anyone.”
This was of course inspired by how the Religious
Right likes to push the notion that Christ was
anti-gay, which is absolutely not true according
to biblical texts, but the Religious Right’s
anti-gay propaganda conveniently eliminates
this important historical fact, teaching its
congregations otherwise. According to record,
Jesus was a very inclusive individual who only
took outward offense to those who judged and
condemned others. Though my personal spiritual
belief system is pretty varied, I have a ministry
license, and I’ve pastored Christian churches,
and I have poured over the life of Christ. He
himself was a tremendous activist who spoke
out on unconditional love for all people. Another
hideous piece of the Religious Right’s
propaganda has to do with the war in Iraq, how
we are waging a holy war, etc. One of the Vision
Duds T-shirts says “My name is Jesus.
I died for Peace.” My dad was a captain
in the US Army, and I wholeheartedly support
our troops, but I think that pretty much sums
it up. Frankly, the best Christians I have ever
met are Buddhists.
now be the right time for me to ask the standard
skeptic question about your being a psychic?
right on, man, all’s fair in love and
press! I think it’s good to be skeptical.
I work in this field, and I’M skeptical!
Everyone alive has intuitive abilities, as its
part of our design as spiritual creatures, but
not everyone is aware of them, or knows how
to use them well. And there are a lot of people
out there who claim to be psychic, but really,
don’t have those abilities developed,
but they have an interest and bought some Tarot
cards and a black cape, and they love the ego
of being the guru, so they start up a practice
on Venice Beach. So using some discernment in
the whole issue of psychics is a good idea.
I don’t actually like the word “psychic”.
I go by clairvoyant, or clairvoyant channel,
as I look at what we