Interview with Ana Egge

Ana Egge is very typical of the type of artist that appeals to us at Lonesome Highway and one that is greatly admired by our team. Difficult to slot into any one genre – even Americana – she has recorded ten albums over a career that spans two decades, together with appearing on records recorded by Ron Sexsmith, Nels Andrews, Joel Plasckett and Matt The Electrician. She has toured with Iris DeMent, Ron Sexsmith, Shawn Colvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore and performed on stage with Lucinda Williams, John Prine and Sinead O’Connor. Her pedigree was recognised early in her career when, at 19 years old and following the release of her debut album River Under The Road, she was voted Best Singer Songwriter and Best Folk Artist by the Austin Music Awards. Her latest recording White Tiger, released in June of this year and reviewed by ourselves, is yet another wonderful addition to a catalogue of recordings that should take pride of place in every serious music lovers collection. If in any doubt Lucinda William’s declaration should convince you. "Listen to her lyrics. Ana is the folk Nina Simone!’’ Ana took the time out to chat briefly with Lonesome Highway about her roller coaster career to date and her latest recording.

By modern day standards your upbringing would be considered unconventional. Did the freedom and lifestyle you enjoyed growing up inspire you as a songwriter?

Yes absolutely. We didn’t watch much tv and I had tons of time outside in the quiet. I still love and long for a quieter time in my life. Space and time is mostly what I need to write and I had loads of that when I was young that taught me a hunger for that.

Your music has evolved and varied over the years, Americana long before the genre was recognised. I expect your inspiration came from a diverse range of artists?

I was just a guest DJ on a radio station in Boston and got to pick 10 songs that inspired me. I included songs by The Buzzcocks and Django and Dolly Parton.

Has the emergence of the Americana genre given your music a home or managed to introduce your work to a wider audience?

I still don’t really fit in there either unfortunately. I think I do, but I haven’t really been welcomed or acknowledged by the powers that be. Still an outsider.

Your homemade guitar Junior seems to be leading a life as charmed as Willie Nelson’s legendary Trigger! Do you still tour with it?

I do! Just had a crack in the back fixed and had to play one radio show in NJ last week without her. I REALLY missed her.

Recording albums in to double figures is no mean career achievement given the vagaries of the music industry. How do you compare the industry of today with your early career years?

It couldn’t be more different. My first album came out in 1997. Tower Records was still everywhere. People still bought physical albums and streaming didn’t exist. 

Your debut album River Under The Road was recorded with Asleep At The Wheel back in 1997. How did you get them on board and what were your career expectations back then?

I was mostly just blown away about everything that happened for me back then. Many doors were opened by incredible people. I didn’t understand how I could be so lucky but now I see more like they recognized me as one of their own. Music brings people together for a reason especially when it brings us together to collaborate! I lived on an intentional community in NM with Sarah Brown’s family. Sarah Brown was the bass player in the house band at Antones in Austin. She’s played with Bonnie Raitt and so many others. She was my entrée to the scene there. She introduced me to everyone, taking me around with my guitar to sing my songs.

Your 2007 covers album Lazy Days featured material from a range of artists including 60’s Brit pop bands The Kinks and The Zombies to Arcade Fire. Did the album reflect bands that had an appeal to you or was it about the particular songs that featured on the album?

I am a fan of all of the songwriters I covered for that project. There were a couple of songs that I wasn’t previously aware of that I found for Lazy Days however. It was an interesting thing to keep it to laziness. Not allowing songs about love or romance or sleep. Only laziness. There were a couple Nina Simone songs and Dylan too that I really wanted to do but after really pouring over them I had to admit that there weren’t really about that.

Your recently released album White Tiger, with it’s laid back and peaceful vibe gives the impression of an artist in a very comfortable place at present. A fair reflection?

Yes, that’s fair. 

I had recognised many similarities in the work of both yourself and Anais Mitchell prior to hearing White Tiger and was therefore pleasantly surprised to learn that she features on the album. How did you both connect?

Anais and I first met in 2004 and have been friends ever since. She’s brilliant.

Producer Alec Spiegelman (who also worked with Anais Mitchell) co-wrote three of the album tracks. Had you worked previously with Alec?

Alec has been touring with me for 3 years. Eventually we started writing together (I’m goin’ bossa nova) which led to making this record together.

Tell me about the album’s title track. Obviously dealing with a friend in help of support. Was the song written in reaction to a person’s actual predicament or is the individual fictional?

Based on truth. And a very difficult time that my friend has been going through. Sometimes it’s hard to bellieve that things will get better. When things are so bad you just want people to acknowledge that. And not have to make up some silver lining ya know? Just, as a friend to say, yes, this is just horrible. But I didn’t want to leave it at that. I wanted to say, you’re going to make it through this. It’s horrible now, but soon you’ll be in another place. A better place.

Equally is the gorgeous Dance Around The Room With Mea personal reflection of motherhood?

Totally. I wrote it for my daughter who’s 4. Such a simple song and so uplifting!

Girls, Girls, Girls is such a killer song.  It’s so catchy and radio friendly that it could feature in a TV commercial in the future! Your pension royalties secured perhaps?

From your lips to God’s ears!

You’re presently residing in Brooklyn which is as far away as possible from your childhood residence in North Dakota. Are you well and truly a city girl at this stage?

Oh man, I long for my space and quiet! But I so love living here. NYC is a special place. I’m in love with this city. I am amazed by all of the great music and constant influx of talent and art and all of my favorite writers coming through town to read from their new books. It’s a wonderland in many ways. 

I believe you are due to play the U.K. in October of this year. Any possibility of a trip across the Irish sea for a few shows?

We are working on that! I so hope so!

Interview by Declan Culliton  Photograph by Shervin Lainez