When musicians pass through town on tour you don’t usually get the chance to have a few beers with them. Grab dinner. Relate to them as people. There’s no special ticket for that. The freeways that cut through my little country town feed the coast from San Francisco down to LA. Any band on tour just passes by our exits, never stopping. No need to.
Mostly farm land and mountains, this little community is home to a group of friendly locals that throw house concerts, inviting touring bands and musicians to stop by and play in a living room. A barn. Nothing fancy – just a room of good folk, a table of wine and food.
A few weekends ago we had musician Ana Egge stop by and play to a hushed audience of forty crammed into a living room. We were family and friends, like a Sunday barbecue with a special guest. Ana said a few words and gave us her music. There was a microphone, but she didn’t need it. We were close and Ana is a master at filling a room with her songs.
Egge’s music straddles country and folk, Americana, but hearing her without the full band of her records you can hear a rock and roll chug to her strums. Her voice has depth and there’s warmth there. A tender instrument. Powerful and confident. What struck me were the songs, those quiet little monsters with the inspired melodies.
A musician with a guitar is nothing new, but Ana Egge finds new wonder in the folk and country structure of guitar and voice.
After the show we drank a few beers, some wine, and ate. The sun was dropping and the heat died so we took to the backyard. Ana was heading back home to Brooklyn but offered to chat with me over email about her music, her travels, and the songwriting process.
ETDC: On your recent tour through California you played a pretty unique setting – someone’s living room. I’ve been seeing more and more of these house concerts pop up around town. What inspired you to play a show like this?
AE: I tend to do at least one house show at month lately. It’s a great way to reach a new audience. And a place for people to experience music in a new way. It’s really old fashioned when you think about it – inviting a musician into your home and calling all your friends over to have a party:)
Does the setting change the performance for you? Do you approach playing a house concert the same as performing in a theater or other venue?
I feel even more relaxed. And I can carry on a conversation with folks during the set, which is totally unique.
Getting the chance to see you in such an intimate setting as a house concert was pretty amazing. As an audience member, it’s incredible to get such a unique perspective on your music. Is there freedom in playing solo or do you prefer the collaboration that a band provides?
I enjoy the freedom of both. With a band I can stretch out in another way, they’ve got the beat so I can play more lead and move around rhythmically and solo I can decide to add extras or take away shit anywhere it feels right.
What’s your approach to the recording studio? Do you go in with a set plan for instrumentation?
I record a lot solo and then listen for the songs to tell me what they need. And I’ve also gone in with a band and done it live all together from beginning to end. The secret is to keep changing it up and doing new things for me.
You tell the story of how you handmade the guitar you’ve been playing for twenty years. Recently you’ve been playing a different guitar, a Harmony I think? Do you hear new things in your songs with this guitar? How critical is your handcrafted guitar to your writing process?
Every guitar has a different voice for sure. I keep coming back to my homemade Junior when I’m writing though. There’s something between us from the beginning, obviously, but after all these years of being there for each other. I trust it.
You mentioned that the song ‘Bully of New York’ was inspired by a park ranger in Central Park. Looking at the end of the songwriting process, when do you know a song is finished? Do they evolve over the years of playing?
The interesting thing about being a songwriter is that you write them and then you have to learn them. Part of learning them sometimes is the tweaking that needs to be done to finish writing them. Arrangement, little hooks that sprout up. The bits and pieces that come in at the end can be the wings of a song. I know when it’s done. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like knowing when fruit is ripe, you just know.
You’ve been writing and performing your own songs since you were a kid, and your first album came out ’97. It’s impressive how mature and strong that album is. I mean, I don’t know many 19 year-olds that have written something as beautiful as ‘Made of Iron.’
Are there any songs that you look back on that make you cringe or just won’t play anymore? Any sentiments or thoughts you wrote over the years that you’ve outgrown?
Good question, no not really. There’s a few songs I don’t end up singing much anymore but I don’t disagree with them.
When you started playing, did you know immediately it was the path for you? Did you ever have a back up career prepared or did you just go for it?
No back up. I’ve done a lot of side jobs along the years like most artists of all disciplines. I tend to think that all work makes me a better writer and musician. But I’m an optimist.
I knew immediately that it was for me, but I remember distinctly dreaming of the day that I would confidently answer folks when they asked what I did with the words, ‘I’m a musician’.
That’s incredible. You definitely have the talent and work ethic that helped that dream come true. Now you’re a working musician, performing all over. How much of the year do you spend on the road?
Depending if I have a new record out, I’m always busier then. This past year I think I played about 80-90 shows.
With so much of your time spent touring, how do you balance the life of a musician with a family life? Does your partner ever travel with you?
She rarely does. But she makes it out to nearly every show in NYC. When I’m out of the Country or gone for over 3 weeks, we talk every day. It can be difficult, but it keeps it exciting too!
During your show you talked about playing in Denmark. Did you do a full a tour through Europe?
I did. There was a backing band based in Copenhagen who learned my songs. They were great and we had an amazing tour, The Sentimentals.
What are the audiences like in Europe?
Every country is different. They tend to really listen to the lyrics though and take it very seriously. There are also a lot of collectors who come out to shows and get every record, posters from every show and have them signed etc.
When you’re home, how often are you playing locally? Do you ever take partially finished songs out to feel them out?
This is where I’m at right now. I’m home and writing for my next record. I have played partially finished songs, but rarely. If I want to try them out I’ll sing them for friends or other songwriters first.
Various photos courtesy of Steffen Paulus at TurnItUpOrTurnItOff Dot Com. Check out the site for more live rockin’ photo goodness.