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NoHo Arts District.Com

March 2008

Big Sky Success Story
From Montana to NoHo, Danielle Egnew is prolific, political and really enjoying her record deal!

by Sheena Metal

Photo by
Jonothan Tyler
In era of mumbling, disheveled, reluctant rockstars, Danielle Egnew stands out like a clown in church. With her huge voice, and three-toned hair, Egnew bounds into an interview like she’s just won a trip to Disneyland, firing off eloquent answers to questions with a mastery that would make any Presidential candidate envious. However, her soon-to-be-released Red Lodge is, in many ways, the polar opposite of the real-life Egnew. It’s broody melancholy, and rural sadness rattle your soul like a musical theatre production of “Brokeback Mountain” starring Morrissey and Kurt Cobain. How can the author of such artistic maudlin exude such a warmth and friendliness face-to-face? How can the musician who just endorsed Hillary Clinton with the unabashed political conviction young republican campaigning for George W. Bush at a gay pride festival?

How can this die-hard Montanan who professes to love the energy that comes from the ground in her home state, live in Los Angeles where mountains are buildings, trees are billboards and the closest thing we have to a deer is Paris Hilton? I mean, c’mon…who IS this woman? Read on, kiddies…all will be explained.

NoHo Arts District: Your upcoming album is entitled Red Lodge after your favorite town in your home state of Montana. How much of your upbringing and time spent in Montana is reflective in your music?

Danielle Egnew: I think a lot of my upbringing is packed into the playing and production style of Red Lodge. It’s sort of a melancholy album. A lot of Montana is open and vast. I love that, but a lot of people find the stark nature of Montana to be lonely. When you interpret that vast space into music, it either comes out enormously grandiose, or a bit on the stripped-down lonely side, and that’s okay. I grew up with my dad playing guitar, and my grandpa played guitar, plus my mom played a huge grand piano, a Steinway grand, that was in our living room all growing up. I played that piano, and my dad’s acoustic guitar, and both those types of instruments are really showcased in Red Lodge. I would have loved to actually use the actual instruments I grew up playing, but I don’t think my dad is going to part with his 1972 Gibson hollow body (laughs), and my mom’s piano is still up in Montana. But I did use my parent’s house in Montana to shoot my video last summer, and I played my family piano in the video, which was really special. I also played my great grandfather’s mandolin on the album, which is a 1922 Gibson A-style, and people don’t know this, but Gibson is a Montana company originally. Also, the Native American culture is very prominent up in Montana, and I am part Native, so I was using some flutes and tribal drums on certain songs for some great textures, as well as Tibetan bowls. It’s a gorgeous album, and it really does sound and feel like Montana, which, as a place, has a very distinct personality. So does the album, for that matter.

NoHo: You relocated to Southern California five years ago. What have you learned from living in Los Angeles?

DE: Well that’s a loaded question! (laughs) Don’t drink the water? Don’t get on the 405 from 3:30 pm until 7:30pm? I’m just kidding. Seriously, though, I’ve learned that I really am more comfortable in rural areas. I don’t like the impersonal nature of big cities. They’re very lonely places to live. Here, people seem to be much more interested in what you can do for them, or what you can get for them, than being your friend. That was tough to get used to. Also, so many artists live here, and so many people are vying for the same types of opportunities, that I ran into a type of desperation and jealousy in people that I thought were my friends, that I have never encountered before, and that was just mind-boggling. But once you put that personality type into place, you can see them coming from a mile away, and you just steer clear of those folks. Montana may be vast, and that vast may be interpreted as lonely by some, but if you’re from there, the land itself has a personality, and you can feel it. You never feel alone in Montana, even if you are by yourself, because you have the ground, and the ground has not changed for millions of years – so it’s a very reliable friend. Whereas in a city, the ground is covered in thick layers of concrete, it’s dug up and poured back in, it’s relocated, and re-touched, and buildings are knocked down and re-built, especially in Los Angeles, which is pretty obsessed with being the newest and the latest in all things. Los Angeles took come getting used to, and what I learned is what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger! (laughs) No, I am completely kidding, I sound so anti-LA, and I’m really not. I really do like it here. The restaurants and the professional opportunities are incredible. It’s just extremely different, and it’s taken five years for me to get used to the lack of nature. I’ve never lived somewhere where nature was completely extricated from the day to day culture. Even the trees in LA are carved up to look like something from another planet, or Dr. Seuss. It’s not a place that’s in sync with the ground, like Montana is, and that makes sense since the ground is always moving, but it’s just different. But the beaches are gorgeous, and if you go to the edge of the valleys, you really get a flavor for the desert. Los Angeles has desert energy, even though people think of beaches. And if you can find somewhere to access that desert vibes, the personality of the city makes a lot more sense. I remember being on a plane coming back from New York, and I overheard this guy talking to the woman behind me. They were both from New York, which of course is a city that is alive with its own personality, and said she had never been to LA, and wanted to know if he could describe the city. He said, “You know, I can’t. I’ve been to Detroit, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, New Orleans, and they all have a vibe. But this city doesn’t. It doesn’t have a feel at all. It’s strange.” And that’s the point – LA doesn’t have a feel of its own, because it is literally anything you want to make it. It’s on fault lines, and it’s transient, so the ground is too busy moving to establish a relationship with you. So you better have a great sense of self, because Los Angeles won’t be stable enough to give it to you. Its major industry is the entertainment business, which is all sets and false fronts and doors nailed to a wall to look like there’s a hallway there for a TV show. LA is like living in the holodeck in Star Trek. It can be anything you want. But it expects you to create your world because it’s too busy being fabulous and going with the flow!

NoHo: You live in the Valley. What's your favorite venue in NoHo to play and what do you love about it?

DE: I really enjoyed playing Moonshadow in North Hollywood – it was a great club, and a great crowd. And great bartenders, too!

NoHo: What makes a NoHo show different from a show in a huge entertainment Mecca like Hollywood or West Hollywood?

DE: Well, parking, for one! (laughs) You don’t have to valet for a million dollars, and of course, it’s just more kick-back and relaxed. North Hollywood is so much about chilling out, and the artsy vibe, and I like that.

NoHo: You are from a rural upbringing and in the 90's brought your band, Pope Jane, to national recognition from the sparsely populated state of Montana. How do artistic communities differ in a smaller town verses somewhere like the NoHo Arts District?

DE: NoHo Arts District reminds me of a smaller town, actually. Smaller towns have a really vibey artistic community where you get a chance to work with the same folks over and over again, and old buildings that have been refurbished to be used as performance spaces. NoHo Arts District is just like that, with the old theaters and buildings. I prefer the more neighborhood-y districts to go be artsy in, frankly. It gives you a chance to get to know the people you’re working on projects with a little better, and for me, artistic projects are a group effort, and all about the people you are working with. Smaller town arts communities afford you that sense of social network, and that’s where the fun is for me.

NoHo: With DVR, Tivo, home theatres, laptops and iPods making it easier for the average person to have an arts community in their living room, what, in your opinion, is it about areas like NoHo that keep people coming out in droves to see plays, music, comedy and fine art?

DE: Oh, I think it’s the vibe, definitely. You feel like you are really going out to see something special, and you feel like you are part of supporting an arts community, not just a big production budget, though there are big productions that go through NoHo. And NoHo is close to everything in the Valley, and since I live in Sherman Oaks, it’s not the hellish hike to Hollywood that can be such a parking and traffic nightmare.

NoHo: You recently got signed to Maurice the Fish Records. Was this the first record deal you were ever offered and, if not, what made you decide to sign with this particular company?

DE: I love my label. No, it’s not the first deal I’ve had. When I was 22, I had a deal with a regional Northwest label called Whatever Wreckards, and it was awesome. They pressed out vinyl singles for the album and vinyl was huge up there. I decided to sign with Maurice the Fish records because they are such an artist-friendly label, and they are a boutique label, so they never take on more artists to their roster than they can properly market. Plus, Maurice the Fish wasn’t making me chose one genre or another, and they were completely fine with me doing a solo project, with me doing Pope Jane or Junkie Cousin, or ambient material – it’s a dream deal. I could not be happier.

NoHo: Many believe that the record industry is rapidly declining into a state of complete and total disrepair, yet artists are still getting signed. What are your thoughts on the music industry as we know it now and where do you think it's going?

DE: I think that the music industry has gone through a lot of changes, and there have been some growing pains while the major industry fell in on itself and took a few years to try and re-group. But the changes are for the better, so I think artists get a little overly-zealous about banging the gong of the death of the music industry. It has changed, and it is different, but it’s not dead, for crying out loud. In fact, it’s been reborn, into a digital distributing system that favors artists, and has opened the door for a lot of smaller labels and boutique labels that are far more artist-focused. Artists have a much better shot at getting signed now, because more labels can afford distribution. Artists need to remember that even though it’s a DIY culture, there are still artists out here getting signed. I’m one of them! It really makes me sad when I hear people saying that no one is getting signed anymore. I think that attitude came from the several years after the majors collapsed and signings were just not happening, unless they were in-house, which means that’s an artist someone within the label basically creates, rather than signs. In fact, majors are still really slow to sign people. Last year, I think major label signings were at an all-time low. But that doesn’t really matter, because tons of mid-size and boutique labels have sprung up to take the place of those old, slow, million dollar dinosaurs that couldn’t keep up with properly marketing their artists anyway. I mean, fifteen years ago, a label would sign 75 artists, and maybe two would be pushed and have hits. This was a bad deal for the other 73 artists, who were then basically contractually indentured to the label, whose recorded music just literally got shoved up on shelves in label closets and never was released, and people lost all rights to that music. I don’t know why anyone would miss that! I really believe the state of our industry now is much better for artists: the deals are more flexible, there are more TV and film placement opportunities, and artists need to stop being so negative about the thought of never being signed, because there is a huge boom in signings in independent and boutique labels that are all up for grabs, and the deals are much, much better. I guess if you’re someone who thinks that a signing only counts if it’s to a huge label, then you’re going to have a harder time, because the majors are the ones who are barely signing. They’re broke!

NoHo: Do you think there will still be record labels in ten years? How about in 20 years?

DE: Oh yeah, ten, twenty, thirty years. Of course there will be. As long as there is a need for someone to conduct the sale of music, there will be record labels. The music business won’t go by the wayside simply because there are some format changes in how labels work. Their agreements may be a little more progressive with artists, and the distribution methods may change in 30 years – I mean, heck, maybe we’ll have holographic music that is downloaded right into your cerebral cortex via some half-flesh, half-hardware fire-wire port -- who knows. But I guarantee someone will be monitoring those downloads, doing stats on them, and counting the pennies. Labels deal in the business of music marketing, and artist are not always the best business people, so there will always be someone there to provide that service, to free artists up to do what they are best at. That would be like saying, if medicine gets more progressive, and we develop nanites that we shoot into people’s bloodstreams that are automatically programmed to seek and destroy viruses, will we still need doctors? Of course we will.

NoHo: Some musicians believe that terrestrial radio is the final word in radio play while others believe that satellite, internet, and podcasts are the wave of the future. Do you think that it's important to get radio play even if it’s on an independent, non-traditional genre of radio?

DE: Oh yeah, absolutely! The AM/FM market is really shrinking, mostly, the FM market is shrinking, because people will always want AM news on the radio. So many people download podcast segments to their iPods, and internet radio has blown up with the advent of greater bandwidth online and bigger processors in computers. I know people who will use their computer only for all of their TV, music, and telephone needs. Satellite radio is taking over terrestrial radio. I mean, you hear musicians say that it’s not really on the radio unless the music is spun on FM, but that’s really silly. FM radio is a dying, shrinking medium. People love Satellite because there are no FCC rules that govern space, so you can swear and talk about all kinds of stuff on Satellite radio that you can’t say on the airwaves. This goes for song lyrics. Satellite is huge because people don’t have to do a “radio edit” for songs with X-rated lyrics. We live in an exciting time where there are so many options for artists in broadcast media, that artists would just be thick between the ears not to take advantage of it.

NoHo: Do you think there will still be AM/FM in ten years? How about in 20 years?

DE: You know, I think we’ll still have it in ten years, but I don’t know about 20 years. I think there will be an AM emergency news radio channel, and FM will eventually go defunct to HiDef Satellite. AM radio waves travel faster and further, and are a little more durable than FM waves, plus AM/FM radio is an analog signal, and now with the digital satellite signals, you can actually hear that compressed “whistle” in the FM radio signal under the music. You can also hear an analog buzz in the AM signal. I have always been able to hear that whistling FM signal, and because of that the radio drives me crazy, but when I tried to explain it to people, they didn’t know what I was talking about until now, now that we have something to compare it to. You know, the powers that be are taking analog TV towers offline. Coming, I think next year, if you have an analog TV, you won’t be able to get a signal with your rabbit ears anymore. Everything will be digital and come through a cable. So the airwaves are going to be much quieter, I think, and if you have an analog TV and not a digital one, you have to get some kind of converter box from the government, because they can’t force everybody to go out and buy a $2000.00 new digital TV. Anyway, I’m not exactly sure how that’s all gong to work, but I figure if they are taking analog TV signals out of the bandwidth, then they will start weaning themselves away from analog AM/FM signals. That’s why artists need to stop living on this idea that alternative radio sources aren’t as valid. Actually, the old ones are really outdated.

NoHo: You record, engineer and produced your own recordings. Does it ever get exhausting wearing so many hats?

DE: I’d be a liar if I said it didn’t. Mostly, it’s time consuming. And sometimes, you get so worn out from setting up the right mic placement and engineering that by the time it comes to do the artistic part and record, you’re sort of burnt out on the whole thing. But, you know what type of product you’re going to get, and you never have to worry that someone is angling the 57 [microphone] wrong at the guitar cabinet, creating a problem that’s going to have to be something you fix in the mix. I would, of course, love someone else to engineer once in awhile, and on some of my projects, that has been the case. That’s always nice, believe me. But I do like to mix my own work. I get hired as a producer for other projects, and mixing, to me, is one of the biggest artistic contributions that I can make to my projects. I love the sound design involved in a mix, and to me, that’s where a great deal of my pride in my sound is – with the mixing of my songs. For whatever reason, I’m lucky in that I have really good ears for frequency separation, and that’s absolutely invaluable in my work. What artists don’t realize is that they could mix an entire album, and if each track were panned an EQ’d correctly, the album would just pop without using gobs and gobs of effects, which muddy things up. Geez, don’t get me going on the technique in mixing, I’ll turn this into a really boring geek-out techie moment, and I think I tend to drone enough as it is! (laughs) I just really love to mix and produce.

NoHo: You are often photographed in your own home recording studio. Is it more relaxing to make albums from home or are you often distracted by the comings and goings of your household?

DE: It’s both really. Sometimes, it’s a dream job, to just wander back into your studio in your pajamas at 3:00 am and go for it, at any hour of the day or night. Other times, I find it hard to make time to record at home because I have so many other things going on at home with film and TV, and like our interview here today which I am really enjoying, but I really have to block out very structured time to get back there and get the music done. If you are going to a third party studio, you have to get in your car and drive there, and no one is going to bother you about anything until your session is over. In a studio that’s located in your home, sometimes you absolutely have to take a phone call, or your dog starts barking at a really wrong time when you have the best take in the world, and the nice big vacuum tube mice you’re using that can hear to Mars and back picks up the dog, so you have to toss out the take and wait for the dog to quit making noise. Or a neighbor will do something really clunky next door, and bang a wall on accident – we live in a town home, so that happens sometimes. I don’t know how many takes have been ruined by a closet slamming next door, or one of our cats screaming in the hall, or some stupid thing like that. I do my best to insulate the studio, but if you share walls with anybody, or there are any other live people in the house while you’re recording, that can be a challenge. With studio mics, they are so sensitive, they hear everything. I have been doing vocal takes and had to stop because the mic was picking up a TV that’s two stories downstairs in our living room. So commercial home studios that are in your house do have their challenges, but they really do make it convenient when you’re having that Michelangelo moment in the middle of the night. They just require a lot of discipline, like any home business, I guess.

NoHo: Where do you write songs and what is the creative process like for you?

I write songs everywhere. I write them on paper placemats in restaurants when they go flowing through me. I never am at a loss in songwriting, and I am so lucky for that. I’ve heard of songwriters hitting dry patches, but I’ve been fortunate in that I don’t really experience that. I’ve written songs on bar napkins at a bar, I’ve written them on napkins at sushi places. I’ve written them on my bed with a guitar, back in my studio while noodling around on the piano, I’ve written them on coasters at coffee shops and in cars on the back of old envelopes I have found under the seat – wherever I can find something to write with, and to write on, I’m there. Usually, I get a melody line in my head with some lyrics, and I need to get the lyrics out right anyway. If I do that, I could not look again at the lyrics for ten years, and upon finding them, I would remember the melody -- it’s very weird, like a verbal trigger or something. One time, I was driving my Jeep, and I was playing with the latch on the arm rest. It made this “boing” noise, and I ended up making up this whole song while driving down the street, using this boingy sound as the backbeat. The whole song was inspired and built around the tone this armrest made. That kind of weird stuff happens to me all the time. I have to admit, I don’t really have some big creative process for songwriting. They [songs] come ramming on through my mind, like a bullet going down rapids, and I am usually diving for a pencil or pen in order to write them down quickly enough, before I forget them. If I don’t write the lyrics down, I could have the next greatest hit, but I won’t remember it later! (laughs) I find myself piecing through horribly smeared and crinkled pieces of paper in my pockets and in my purse, trying to figure out which mealy piece goes with the other, and which lyrics went to which song. I feel like a bag lady digging through my stash (laughs). So I guess the only methodology I have is that I usually keep something to write with on me. There’s always something you can find to write on, but when that song comes bursting through, I have to catch it on paper. And then later try and figure out exactly what it was I had written, because I am writing so fast, it looks like Aramaic sometimes! (laughs) I’ve heard of writers working and working and working a song, until they can get it just right, but that would drive me crazy. I’ve put a song away for awhile, and then took it out and finished it, but I can’t re-do a song a million times. I mean I can, if stylistically there is supposed to be another arrangement for some reason, like an acoustic version, but to just keep sculpting the same song over and over, crossing out one or two words or whatever, God, I think I’d rather kill myself than have to re-live that creative groundhog day, over and over again. I’ll just write another song, rather than beat the dead horse of the old one.

NoHo: Will you be touring to support this album and what cities are you planning to visit?

DE: I will be touring, and I am not sure which cities yet, as that’s also up to the label. But I know I’ll be hitting the Northwest in April. I’m really looking forward to it.

NoHo: Are there places in the US where your fan base is stronger than others?

DE: Oh yeah. Up in the northwest, Seattle, Montana, we have a huge fan base for Pope Jane. That’s where we came from, and that’s Pope Jane country up there. Also New York and the south east – lots and lots of fans there for my solo stuff.

NoHo: Do you prefer to tour solo or with a band?

DE: That really does depend on which album I am promoting, and what kind of tour it is. I love to tour with a band, but that can lead to logistical problems sometimes, and it costs more money to tour with a band, but it’s more fun than doing it by yourself. That sounds naughty! Sometimes it’s fun to just hit the road with your guitar. Every tour is different.

NoHo: You seem very humble about your celebrity. It seems that many well-known musicians use their celebrity to endorse their charity du jour. What causes do you support and do you find that working to better the world is an important use of your celebrity?

DE: Yes, I think it’s important for anyone who happens to have a position in life that gathers them attention to stand up for a cause of their choice. I think it’s disgusting when celebrities have the opportunity for so much outreach, but they are far more concerned with themselves, and what people think of them, and how amazing they are. Geez, it just gets old. Do something with yourself, for crying out loud! I support human rights issues. I’ve done a lot of grassroots campaign work and organizing, and I’ve worked on issue like Universal health care, same-sex marriage, living will enforcement, those types of things.

NoHo: Do you believe that entertainment and politics go hand in hand or should entertainers refrain from publicly endorsing political candidates?

DE: I think they really do go hand in hand, especially since so much of the entertainment world is political, and so much of the political world is entertainment! Oprah endorsed Obama and I’ve stepped up and endorsed Hillary Clinton this year. I think we’re lucky as Democrats to have two really great frontrunners, but after all the hype and promises and the election TV floorshow is over, I believe the best candidate for the job is Hillary Clinton. I think it’s important to put your money where your mouth is. So many celebrities are afraid that the public opinion will sway away from them if they endorse a particular candidate, but that’s just silly. Most of America really does think that celebrities are complete idiots anyway, so it’s not like everyone is making their voting decisions on who either Oprah or I think is a good frontrunner. It just helps get that candidate advertising and visibility.

NoHo: Since it's an election year, I'll ask...any aspirations for a political career of your own?

DE: I would love one. Sometimes, I think that I missed the boat in my aspirations as a kid. People used to say, “I would never be the president of the United States! I would never want that job!” And I would think, “I would!” (laughs) I like to rally for the betterment of people’s lives, and I can withstand a ridiculous amount of criticism and pressure without losing focus of what’s important to people who are counting on me – successfully working in entertainment means having nerves of iron, and if you’ve been at it for so many years it either toughens your hide right up, or you drop dead. (laughs) I don’t know that I would ever run for President, but maybe congress someday, or governor of a state, or somebody’s campaign manager? Entertainment is so political anyway in how it works, and at the end of the day, no one is helped out, and no social change has been created by all the politics of getting a project off the ground. I mean, maybe, it’s a socially conscious film, I guess. So if you’re going to bother will all those shifty games people play, why not at least get in the trenches and vie for some positive change, instead of vying for which film role you’re getting next? That seems like a lot of wasted bartering energy. Sometimes I just don’t think I’m self-obsessed enough to be in entertainment long term. I look at the pros, like Paris Hilton, and I am such a failure at self-absorption. I actually find myself rather boring after awhile.

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