After Dark: Ana Egge's new music travels to dark places

11:00 AM, Jan 16, 2013

Ana Egge will perform in Rochester this week. (

Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic

If you go

What: Ana Egge.
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Abilene Bar & Lounge, 153 Liberty Pole Way.
Tickets: $8.

Ana Egge asks questions. She always has. “I’d walk up to people and say, ‘Hi, what kind of guitar is that?’ ” she says. ” ‘What are you reading?’ ‘Where are you traveling to?’ “

And during the course of this interview, she gets around to answering those questions herself.

That guitar? She built it herself.

What’s she reading? Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, “My first Russian literature at all,” she says. And On the Nature of Things, the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius’ book-sized poem — poets tackled such ambitious projects centuries ago — addressing the marvels of the physical world. Lucretius didn’t get it all right: He believed wet dirt gave birth to earthworms. But he also understood that everything in the world was composed of tiny particles. Which we now call atoms.

And where’s she traveling to? Dark places.

Egge, who plays Thursday at Abilene Bar & Lounge, is a singer-songwriter who’s taken very seriously by her peers. She’s often compared to Gillian Welch. A more-rocking Welch, thanks to that home-built guitar, which she handles well. And she’s taken quite seriously by singer-songwriters like Steve Earle, who produced her seventh and most-recent album, Bad Blood. Egge closes Bad Blood with “There Won’t Be Anymore,” a sweetly-sung version of the Charlie Rich breakup song that makes you wonder if there’s a place for Egge in big-time country music as well. But that would be fooling ourselves; unfortunately, Nashville doesn’t exactly embrace gay people.

Egge’s seen a lot of the world from small places. Born in Canada, she was raised by motorcycle-loving hippie farmer parents in Ambrose, N.D., “a population of about 50 people,” Egge says. “It was, like, haul your own water. Coal furnace.” After a couple of bad years on the wheat farm, the family moved to a commune in New Mexico. Silver City had that alternative-ethos vibe. Egge played in a bluegrass band while attending Down to Earth, a high school founded by her parents. Egge’s astrology teacher was also a luthier — a builder of musical instruments. With his help, it took her a little over a year to assemble that guitar.

Egge began writing her first songs when she was 15. “About fights I had with my mom, what would you write about when you’re 15,” she says. By 17, Egge had split for Austin, Texas. “I got a job in a coffee shop and found a cheap place to live,” she says. “The best thing was, they let me into the bars to see music, even when I was underage. I could see all of this amazing music, that was what I was really after. I just wanted my mind to be singing. I wanted to wake up thinking: When am I gonna see Jack Black playing?”

That goal has gone unrealized. Egge has yet to cross paths with the comic actor with an aggressive musical heart. But, hitting the Austin bars, she did see the likes of Asleep at the Wheel, Lou Ann Barton, Marcia Ball, Lyle Lovett and The Flatlanders, the iconic alt-country trio of Butch Hancock, Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. “Jimmie Dale and I are still close,” Egge says.

In fact, she’s still connected to a lot of these people, even though she’s lived in Brooklyn for the past 10 years. They must have just liked this young kid who kept asking questions.

I like to be interested in everything, somehow,” she says. “I like ideas. Music, things that move people in ways that are deep.”

Deep can be uncomfortable place to travel to. And on Bad Blood, Egge goes somewhere for the first time, at least consciously. Into the mental illness of some of her family members. Egge demurs on speaking of them specifically, only saying that she first picked up on the family troubles 15 years ago. One is bipolar, another undiagnosed.

I spent a long time trying to avoid writing about it,” Egge says. “I did write about it all the time, in journals. And when you’re expressing yourself in a moment, you can put things a certain way, you can get a different story about it. Start somewhere, and you don’t know where it ends up. But it became too hard not to write songs about it at a certain point.

Love is the most real thing about these people. And the wanting and hoping for help, all this frustration and fear and anger that’s there because of the illness. That’s the crazy thing about this. They turn into something else that’s not really them.”

Egge relays these frustrations in the out-of-control fatalism of Bad Blood’s opening song, “Driving With No Hands.” And in “Hole in Your Halo,” drawn from Egge’s visit with a troubled relative who’d been jailed: “Speak of the devil,” she sings, “and he will come up inside the minds of the ones you love.” And in the title track’s outright anger at the troubled soul:

I loved you and I hated you

I prayed for you and I stayed away from you

I called the cops and I blamed you

Eventually, I knew I would be letting it go across into my songwriting,” Egge says. “But choosing to put that out there is a whole ‘nother thing.

I have to do it now,” she says. “It’s a compulsion.”