Interview: Danielle Egnew – Rocker with Political Ideas and a Broadway Throat
INTERVIEW: Lead 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.
G-Man: 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?
Danielle 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!
You 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?
Why 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 of it.
How do you like to differentiate the music for your various projects?
Really, 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!
Are you compelled to make music? What drives you?
Yeah, 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 scan.
What are you searching for in a song?
I 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.
What’s first in your head: melody or lyrics?
Both, 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.
Describe how music touches people’s souls.
Wow, 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 Channel.
There 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 CafÃ© Press. There may soon be a merch page for the Junkie Cousin band. Tell us about how you see the gear in a career.
Whooo-hoooo, 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!
What are your ideas behind Vision Duds?
I 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 really 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.
Would now be the right time for me to ask the standard skeptic question about your being a psychic?
Hey, 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 consider the future, and chat with all sorts of entities who can help me do that more effectively because they’ve got a better view than I do. It’s no different than shouting up to the guy ahead of you on a hike, who gets to the mountain top first, because you want to know if he can see a river below because you’re thirsty. Basically, I’m an interpreter. I interpret a language of energy signatures that come in the form of visions, sounds, pictures, smells, analogies, you name it. I’m the chick who reads the tickertape that gets pushed through the ethers on behalf of a client or law enforcement case. I’m no different than the guy on a submarine who looks up the periscope and reports back what he sees. We all captain our own boat, but we often seek help in navigating. That’s my job, to help – not to make the navigational choices. I do all sorts of other stuff in terms of reading frequencies, or “energy fingerprints,” especially when dealing with law enforcement cases, or I utilize what’s called remote viewing to help find lost people and items. But in essence, this is all just glorified talk in describing the translation of energy signatures. It’s not nearly as mysterious as it seems. It has to do with reading frequencies – the same aptitude I use when I write songs! There’s a lot more science to it than mysticism, I’m afraid. I have my own private practice in Los Angeles and I really enjoy helping people. But word to the wise, real “psychics” don’t remove curses because curses aren’t real. We don’t cast spells, we don’t sell love potions, no one alive can ever tell you exactly who you are going to marry as love is a free will issue, and no human being is ever 100% accurate. Some of my best friends are still skeptical about all the psychic stuff, and I can’t say I blame them with all the wackos out there. I don’t even tell people I do clairvoyant work most of the time. It’s not worth the eye roll I get! But I understand where it comes from. Dionne Warwick and Miss Cleo really haven’t helped the plight of us clairvoyants much. Ah, well, I guess it’s up to Jennifer Love Hewitt and Patricia Arquette to represent to mainstream America. People like myself with clairvoyant or psychic abilities aren’t freaks or charlatans or occultists, for crying out loud. We’re interpreters. We’re here to help you navigate. You don’t see people accusing OnStar of heresy.
(Photo of DE by Paul Houston. Photo of DE with Minarik Samhain by Alexa Yassir.)
[tags]Danielle Egnew, Pope Jane, Paul Houston, Jesus, psychic, alternative rock, singer songwriter, indie music, religious right[/tags]